The world was shocked to learn of the sudden passing of David Bowie.
Two days after his 69th birthday, as well as the release of his final album, “Blackstar,” Bowie succumbed to an unspecified cancer. Bowie’s legacy and influence crossed genre lines, and artists from every facet of music and entertainment have paid tribute to the legendary musician.
Likewise, Bowie’s fans helped Blackstar reach the No. 1 spot on the U.K. album chart (the first Bowie album to accomplish that feat) and the second spot here in the States.
While Bowie’s condition was not widely known before his death, much of the album’s lyrics clearly reflect his confrontation with his own mortality.
This is particularly true in the track “Lazarus,” in which Bowie sings, “This way or no way/ You know, I’ll be free/ Just like that bluebird/ Now ain’t that just like me?” Bowie’s voice sounds frail and worried, affected by time and sickness.
In a way, “Lazarus” is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” with both songs’ haunting melodies and lyrics further darkened by the knowledge that the artists were nearing the end of their lives.
Another highlight of the album is the opening title track. At ten minutes long, the song is the second-longest in Bowie’s discography.
The avant-garde jazz horns and chaotic dissonance of “Blackstar” lay the groundwork for the rest of the album. Bowie’s final album also proves to be one of his most bizarre, with jazzy horn sections taking up space right next to the feedback of an overdriven electric guitar in “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).”
In a way, the dark, eclectic sound of “Blackstar” reflects Bowie’s output from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Some moments would feel right at home on the “Heroes” album. At other times, Bowie draws from his early influences, such as the Beatle-esque “Girl Loves Me” and “Dollar Days.”
Other than “Lazarus,” “Blackstar’s” strongest track is “Dollar Days.” Like “Lazarus,” “Dollar Days” is a melancholy, reflective piece. Admittedly, it’s hard to hear Bowie repeat the phrase “I’m dying to,” but then again, maybe it was meant to be that way.
The dissonant instrumentation paired with Bowie’s strained vocals make much of the listening experience an emotional one. If circumstances had been different, perhaps “Blackstar would be seen in a different light.
However, it is those dark circumstances that make the album what it is. At its heart, “Blackstar” is a beautiful glimpse at an iconic artist coping with the most human of issues.