★ (pronounced and stylized as Blackstar) is the twenty-fifth and final studio album by English musician David Bowie. It was released worldwide through ISO, RCA, Columbia, and Sony on 8 January 2016, coinciding with Bowie’s 69th birthday.
The album was largely recorded in secret between The Magic Shop and Human Worldwide Studios in New York City with Bowie’s longtime co-producer Tony Visconti and a group of local jazz musicians. The album contains many styles of music throughout, including jazz and experimental rock among others. Two days after its release, Bowie died of liver cancer; his illness had not been revealed to the public until then. Co-producer Visconti described the album as Bowie’s intended swan song and a “parting gift” for his fans before his death. Several lyrics throughout the album reveal this theme.
Upon release, the album was met with critical acclaim and commercial success, topping charts in a number of countries in the wake of Bowie’s death, and becoming Bowie’s only album to top the Billboard 200 in the United States. The album remained at the number one position in the UK charts for three weeks.The album received two nominations at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in 2017, with one for Best Alternative Music Album.
Blackstar—-You notice now, looking back on the way things played out, that this release has a dark and morose feel that is unaccustomed for most long time Bowie fans. This track has an experimental feel to it…the beats behind the vocals coming at you in a much more rapid pace than the vocals are delivered. I can’t imagine singing over this.There are intermittent strings and horns that appear…giving the track a lazy and gentle sound. Superb! At almost 10 minutes in length, there is a lot of room for experimental sounds and exquisite instrumentation.At times, the song becomes a totally new song…with Bowie showing a vocal finesse that is incredible. This track takes you everywhere…..now that you look back on the scheme of things, this is just phenomenal.
‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore—-With a bit of a noisy intro, the track shapes up very nicely as it progresses. The horns…in the backdrop sound a bit abrasive to me…I’ve never been a huge Jazz fan. The pace of the song is nice and then Bowie enters with his vocal…sounding fresh and years younger than his age…making me think back on the Heroes release. This is just wonderful….I can even get past the horns.There is a bit of humor for me to be found in this track….but most amazing are the stellar vocals from David.
Lazarus—-Darker and less convoluted, the horns are here none the less…but playing with a dark beauty that helps to shape the song. The lyrics are foreboding and immensely sad considering the circumstances. I’m still not sure how Bowie kept his illness a secret…..he;s never been quite hidden in his life events. But indeed, death is personal. I love this track…..at first it was hard to wrap my head around it…but now it has become a favorite of mine. The anguish in the vocal is heart breaking. The almost wailing and pleading is just incredible.
Sue [Or In A Season Of Crime]—-Having appeared previously in various forms, it only seems appropriate that this was included here simply for the jazz elements of the song. Bowie still sounds fresh and driven…the almost trip hop beats in the background giving the song a frenzied delivery….despite the drawn out vocal that has to be overlay-ed…how can you sing on top of the chaotic music? I like this song…and was glad it re-appeared on here.
Girl Loves Me—-This again includes the slight trip hop element to the music…but the vocal is ghostly and incredible….overlay-ed with words and phrasing that are classic Bowie through and through. The delivery is so strong…I’m amazed that he was so sick at the time. This is masterful and filled with determination. The almost wail of the vocal makes me sad….and elated at the same time.The notes he manages to hit have me shaking my head in wonder…..just fantastic.
Dollar Days—-Dense and morose at the onset, the sad piano and saxophone lend you to sway back and forth in a mood all of your own. Bowie enters with his vocal…delivering a lyric that is full of fore-shadowing and telling messages now that you look back on it all. This is just wonderful…..I can’t help but reflect back on the images of Bowie with Warhol in the glory days….reminding me of the storied life he has lived. Just beautiful….sad….and inspiring.
I Can’t Give Everything Away—-Kicking off with sounds reminiscent of the latter 70’s, Bowie enters with a strong vocal and reminds us of the fact that he keeps some things close to the heart. This song can be construed in so many ways. I hope there is more music after this…it is hard to believe this may be the end. I own 90 Bowie releases….I am a true die-hard fan….but my heart and my mind wants so much more. I miss and love you David.
***** out of 5