Thursday, 14 January 2016

Recommended music: 'Blackstar' by David Bowie

Reviewing this album now, after everything that's happened this week, is in parts futile and in parts essential. I first listened to it on Friday and was struck by how cohesive it was, how much of a 'proper' album it is. To me 'The Next Day' started brilliantly but fizzled out, but this is great all the way through. Musically the tracks gel well together, existing in a somehow separate universe of Bowie's own devising. It sounds like nothing else around at the moment, with its mix of the jazz quartet (playing both within their comfort zone and outside of it), underpinning Bowie's ever-distinctive vocals. Lyrically it's off the wall in places - quotes from A Clockwork Orange, a woman who "hits you like a dude", titles from 16th century plays etc. - but somehow it all hangs together, brought together by a quiet contemplation of what the future holds, and what death might be like. At that point it was already sounding like a few more listens might reveal it as a real 'classic' album, one that really holds its own in the Bowie cannon.

And then - Monday. By 7am the news was coming though that he'd died, unbelievable, unfathomable news which turned out to be heartbreakingly true. The tributes piled in, and the detailed analysis of what this album actually meant began. And throughout it people began posting their favourite Bowie songs on social media. My timelines were full of them, and mostly everyone was picking something different - a true measure of both his genius and diversity. By the end of the day the "Where the fuck did Monday go?" line from 'Girl Loves Me' could've applied to any one of us as we stumbled to bed with his songs in our heads and a sense of loss in our hearts.

I've listened to this album every day since Monday, some times pouring over the lyrics and meanings, and at others just letting it flow through me. Was he expecting to be dead before it came out? "Look up here, I'm in heaven", the opening line from 'Lazarus'. certainly implies that. And the line that "Everybody knows me now" could't have been more true by the end of Monday. Then there's the title track 'Blackstar' (possibly named after a cancerous lesion) - "Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre and stepped aside". Or 'Sue...' -  "The clinic called, the x-ray's fine, I brought you home" or 'I Can't Give Everything Away' - "I know something is very wrong, the pulse returns the prodigal sons, the blackout hearts, the flowered news, with skull designs upon my shoes". It's just impossible to hear it and not think of it as his parting gift to the world. And although it's sad, we should rejoice in the fact that he was able to do that, that he was well enough to craft something as beautiful as this record to leave with us as he departed.

There are plenty of Bowie records that everyone should own, but this has definitely become one of them.

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