Marking his 69th birthday on January 8th, David Bowie released his 25th studio album titled ★ (Blackstar). The days leading up to the release date included the near 10 minute video odyssey which is titled track of the album, the opening of his off-broadway show Lazarus, (the track itself has this amazing feeling of detachment) and interviews with Bowie and bandmates discussing the process of ★ . With jazz and Kendrick Lamar influence, this is quite the flavor to blend in an album. Does it work? Yes it does.
The album has a definite swagger to it, soulful undertones throughout. Beginning with the title track, Bowie and long time producer Tony Visconti create a two layered song that begins with eerie, dreamlike rhythm while incorporating an aggressive electric drum cadence. Around the midway point, it changes and it becomes this tight and confident piece with a menacing soul polish. Track 1 laid down the foundation of the 7 track LP.
Bowie reworks two previously released track in 2014, ’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore and Sue (Or In a Season of Crime) refining their early incarnations. The two singles before their recent changes, ’Tis a Pity was surrounded by unfitting background electronic noise which Bowie has eliminated and added some backing vocals and some saxophone accents. With Sue, the brooding avant garde jazz vibe has been toned down and given a sleek, sense of urgency feel.
Lazarus, a piece taken from his off-broadway show has a seductive tone. This track is a fine example of the passionate saxophone work from Donnie McCaslin whom throughout the album along with the track, Dollar Days and the closing, I Can’t Give Everything Away performs with the emotion that will urge you to revisit the work of Andy Mackay of Roxy Music and other favorite saxophone solos during the mid to late 70’s.
The outstanding tracks for me on this album are tracks 6 and 7. Bowie’s voice at 69 years of age still has the impactful feel that it did in his peak years. It yearns of beauty and reflection. These two tracks are easily repeatable multiple times. I constantly find myself listening to the two respectfully 3 times before beginning a full listen of the LP. Bowie definitely dusted off “The Thin White Duke” delivery for a thoroughly concentrated release.
If you enjoy ★ as much as I have, I would suggest revisiting his past recordings in the 21st century starting off 2002’s Heathen and 2003’s Reality-listen to the road traveled to get to ★.