On Friday, January 9th, the day of his 69th birthday, David Bowie released his acclaimed new album Black Star. I listened to it several times that day and well into Saturday trying to figure what exactly he’s singing about on this densely layered and intense record. On Sunday, Bowie died. By Monday the lyrics had a completely new meaning and suddenly much more became clear.
The haunting and much talked about track “Lazarus”, which is also the title of Bowie’s new musical adaption of his 1976 movie “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, contains these words “looking down from heaven. Now everybody knows me”. The eerie companion video shows Bowie wearing a rag mask with buttons for eyes, singing from a bed as his body tries to resist levitating upwards and downwards. No explanation needed.
“Black Star” is ten minute opening title track dramatizing three somewhat obtuse song plots stitched together as one bewildering tale. It seems to involve the death of a mysterious leader and the black star that takes his place. When he finishes, Bowie takes a recorded deep breath and launches into “It’s a Pity She’s a Whore” that will forever be known for this choice Bowie-ism: “She punched me like a dude”.
New band and new direction
For Black Star, Bowie jettisoned the usual cohorts he’s worked forever in favor of a group of NYC up and coming young jazz musicians. An alien saxophonist himself, Bowie has formed a sort of cosmic jazz band where horns dominate over guitar. It’s an entirely new musical direction impeccably guided by longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Former Santa Cruzian Donny McCaslin supplies outstanding sax and flute. He’s an absolute killer throughout the album right down to the final touching track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” punctuated with a tasteful solo as Bowie takes his final bow.
Black Star is an album that it may take many spins to fully comprehend its fascinating lyrical complexity. It’s one last journey through familiar Bowie themes that ponder life and death, anxiety-alienation, space and time, and of course, an infatuation with the cosmos. David Bowie’s Black Star is an eloquent goodbye from this visionary Star Man. - Eric Berg