David Bowie – Blackstar – First Spin

db-vinylcoverThe record didn’t arrive until late Monday. It was supposed to be delivered on Friday, but UPS was late. So I did not hear it until long after I got the news (delivered to me by Jack at 6:30 in the A.M., while I was working out).

So my first listen to Blackstar was inevitably colored by my feelings toward the loss of, for me, the only rock and roll hero who stands the test of time and circumstance. When everything is a pose, finding out your hero is posing is no shock.

What’s shocking, or most arresting here, is the difference between this Bowie album and most Bowie albums (though perhaps not The Next Day). Some people might call some of the stuff here “experimental,” but these songs aren’t experiments – they’re statements. It’s being compared to the Berlin trilogy, which tells me not enough people have listened to 1.Outside, which is the clearest precedent to this album. Albeit, this is comparatively tight and focused, while 1.Outside sprawls, goes everywhere, does everything (not all of it equally well).

But 1.Outside was explicitly experimental (most of the songs were written in improvisation sessions, with Bowie handing out songwriting credits like he’d never done before – or would do again). Blackstar is firmly in the pocket of where it wants to be – spare, and only containing a nervous energy when it’s looking for it. This is Bowie doing exactly what he wants, echoing himself whenever he feels like it. The album has also been compared to Scott Walker, but these are still essentially rock songs.

Since Hours…, Bowie has (seemingly) been looking for a way to express himself outside of the pose: to figure out how to play the character David Bowie, authentic man. The Next Day did it with a nostalgia that lacked sentimentality. Blackstar eschews even the nostalgia.

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com