David Bowie’s prolific and inventive recording career began over 50 years ago, and he achieved fame early on with the release of “Space Oddity” in 1969 (see our post from 2013). Over the decades he was called a “shape shifter” for surprising us regularly with changes in look and musical style. It is a bittersweet final chapter to his story that he passed away on the day he released “Blackstar”, with its full serving of new musical direction. We won’t have the opportunity to hear Bowie expand and expound upon this new direction in interviews or performances, so let’s make sure to do a little examination of his last work on our own.
Blackstar was recorded with the backing of jazz musicians saxophonist Donny McCaslin, guitarist Ben Monder, drummer Mark Guiliana and keyboardist Jason Lindner. Bassist Tim Lefebvre was on hand as well. Bowie met McCaslin in 2014, and McCaslin, Monder and Guiliana played in the orchestra on Bowie’s 2014 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)”. The track is in a straighter jazz vein than the more eclectic sounds the group created on “Blackstar”.
The songs from “Blackstar” getting the most early attention are its nearly 10-minute title track and “Lazarus”. Both are the subjects of elaborate videos, the latter taking on a special meaning in light of Bowie’s passing. But the videos can frankly be a distraction from hearing the music, so let’s start with “Dollar Days” which has no video – but close your eyes for good measure.
Now that you’ve practiced listening with closed eyes, listen to “Lazarus” once that way, then take the last look at one of Rock and Roll’s geniuses he apparently intended us to take.