David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’: Review Revue
Blackstar, (aka ★) the 26th studio album from the forever cool Thin White Duke known as David Bowie, was released today (January 8), on the boundary-pushing musician’s 69th birthday. Though there are only seven tracks included, the Bowie’s first LP in three years is an immensely forward-thinking ride filled with plenty of synths, sax, slang and ready-made lyrical Bowieisms — and it’s garnering the iconic English pop-rocker some of the best reviews of his career.
Below, we rounded up some highlights of what critics are saying about Blackstar.
:: Consequence Of Sound gives Bowie props for moving ahead, rather than standing still: “It would have been so easy for Bowie to make Next Day after Next Day, to satisfy the nostalgists with carefully measured Bowie rock. But Bowie has always been more of a pose than a sound, and to see him fall into complacency would disrupt his cultural standing more than any deviation from his formula. ★ is a battle cry against boredom, a wide-eyed drama set in a world just beyond our scopes. It doesn’t get more Bowie than that.”
:: The A.V. Club offers the following on the “intoxicating” album: “For all its jazz accents and solos, Blackstar ends up becoming a stage for the things that first made Bowie a pop star: his incessantly catchy melodies and elastic voice. With its simple (though oblique) lyrics and endlessly repeated choruses, it’s a secret pop record submerged in the dark places of studio improvisation.”
:: SPIN says “★ finds Bowie and longtime producer Tony Visconti as hungry as they ever were, and with no modern context into which the artist can insert himself (including rock) he’s free to do what he likes. Keep throwing darts in fans’ eyes.”
:: Pitchfork zeroes in on the final two brilliant tracks on the album: “Though this mix of jazz, malice, and historical role-play is intoxicating, Blackstar becomes whole with its two-song denouement, which balances out the bruises and blood with a couple of salty tears. These are essentially classic David Bowie ballads, laments in which he lets his mask hang just enough for us to see the creases of skin behind it. ‘Dollar Days’ is the confession of a restless soul who could not spend his golden years in a blissful British countryside even if he wanted to… Then, on ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, he once again sounds like a frustrated Lazarus, stymied by a returning pulse. This tortured immortality is no gimmick: Bowie will live on long after the man has died. For now, though, he’s making the most of his latest reawakening, adding to the myth while the myth is his to hold.”
:: The Guardian also has praise for “Dollar Days”: “Blackstar lacks the kind of killer pop single Bowie would once invariably come up with amid even his most experimental works – a ‘Sound And Vision’, a ‘Heroes’, a ‘Golden Years’ – but only ‘Girl Loves Me’ feels like a slog: lots of Clockwork Orange Nasdat and a smattering of polari in the incomprehensible lyrics, thuddingly propulsive drums, no tune. Instead, you’re struck by the sense of Bowie at his most commanding, twisting a genre to suit his own ends. ‘Dollar Days’ might be the most straightforwardly beautiful thing here, a lambent ballad that doesn’t sound jazz influenced at all.”
:: Clearly critics, including the New York Times, are taken with those final tracks: “This album’s last two songs, ‘Dollar Days’ and ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, circle back toward a familiar Bowie approach: the richly melodic, slow-building mid-tempo rocker. ‘Dollar Days even allows itself some lush strings. But Mr. Bowie isn’t suddenly going cozy. In ‘Dollar Days’, he croons, ‘I’m dying to/Push their backs against the grain/And fool them all again and again’. He may be briefly dropping his mask; he may be trying on a new one. Either way, he’s not letting himself or his listeners take things easy.”