David Bowie’s career has been up in the air since his 2013 surprise retirement-busting record, “The Next Day.” Fans and critics alike were treated to a well-received, full album of Bowie material that broke his dry spell of 10 years. After that release however, Bowie seemed to vanish once again into solitude and left fans contemplating whether “The Next Day” marked the culmination of the glam-rock legend’s career.
After leaving fans salivating for more, Bowie has once again crawled out of the public underbelly and announced a new effort along with a new single, both called “Blackstar.”
The 20-minute single foreshadows what Bowie is planning with this release and from first listen, it is clear the album is going to be radically different from “The Next Day.” “The Next Day” highlighted a version of Bowie creating a pure rock- and blues-driven record, free from a spotlight on any alternate ego that would result in a concept record (i.e. Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke eras). An overarching introspective spirit revealed a human side to Bowie that resulted in it being billed as one of his more personalized efforts.
If “The Next Day” highlighted Bowie’s inward-looking return to earth, “Blackstar” will surely mark his voyage back to a modern-day glam-drenched galaxy that is unfathomable to any other artist in modern music.
The single begins eerily with dissented synths carrying a sparse guitar arrangement that could pass as a soundtrack for a trip into a black hole. Then starts a jittery, off-time drum and bass rhythm with a mind of it’s own prancing through the melody. From this we hear Bowie quivering H.P. Lovecraft-esque hymns like a senile fire-and-brimstone preacher trekking through space.
The song becomes texturally enhanced from this point on with stacking melancholy synths and chaotically panning vocals and instruments. From a distance arrive sullen, tense yet languid, free-formed saxophone lines resembling a modern day Sun Ra composition.
When the space-jazz tendencies are all stretched to the bone, the uneasiness seizes and segues into a more controlled, funk-tinged avant-garde pop song. “Blackstar” at this point closely resembles Bowie’s 1976 dive into kraut-rock “Station to Station,” with obvious contemporary renderings of music from pioneering bands like Can, Faust and Tangerine Dream.
This break in tension uncovers the ideology of Bowie’s songwriting on his upcoming record. “Blackstar” seems to be a homecoming for Bowie’s extraterrestrial- and science fiction-induced interests. Many fans claim Bowie alludes to Major Tom (from “Space Oddity”), Satan and other occult figures . Whatever the case, the music, paired with the music video, proves that Bowie’s creativity currently may be at an all-time high.
The song eventually slips back into the friction-filled space-jazz ambience that it begins with to close out this fantastic single.
Bowie has proved that age has nothing to due with productivity and creativity. In fact, Bowie’s new album may become the most fully realized and engaging effort in his discography as a whole.
Overall, “Blackstar” is an excellent teaser for the album ahead and is definitely going to leave diehard fans reeling until the Jan. 8 release date.