Album Of The Month: David Bowie’s ★ (Blackstar)

blackstar-bowie

The await is over.

David Bowie‘s ★ (Blackstar) album is finally out and it immediately gets the title of album of the month, at least for me.

The 25th album studio of the Thin White Duke (or maybe now he could be called Dark Duke) in its 40 minutes brings the listener in another dimension, with an interchange of mystical and avantguarde moments and jazz vibes. The whole Bowie’s essence once again surfaces in these seven tracks because it’d sound odd call them songs.

Title track of the new album, lead single of this new chapter and according to Bowie it should be simply illustrated with the symbol of the black star and not with the meaning of it in the brackets.

Just like it happened with the title track Station To Station of the namesake album of 1975 it’s one of his longest songs ever written or at least released by Bowie and immediately put the listener in a peculiar mood.

With its almost 10 minutes is a real composition with three different parts: the first one, particularly mystical with a sort of laments, in which is portraited a solitary candle in the villa of Ormen (it’s a village in Norway), we see this candle also in the music video and we can notice it has to light for such a long time. The second part is a sort of interlude, with 70s sonorities between soul and jazz for then come back to the darkest part, the one we have listened in the beginning, with a finale played by a saxophone, a dear instrument for Bowie (he got his first one for his 13th birthday), that gets a space between the other instruments.

The song originally lasted over 11 minutes but it was cut also for a stupid iTunes rule that don’t permit to upload a song that lasts more than 10 minutes, (“it’s a shit” for using Visconti’s words).

In the music video there’s an astronaut skeleton found by a girl with the tail in an unspecific time. She brings the skull to other women and together they start a sort of ritual to worship the relics of the late astronaut. There’s also a blindfolded Bowie that in the central part shows his gestures typical of his earl period, in the 60s when Lindsay Kemp was his teacher, for then turning in a kind of prophet, maybe the Black Duke, holding a little notebook with a blackstar on the cover. There are a lot of elements that make you think about the unknown, the science, the religion. Themes that always attracted the human being.

‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore

The title is also the name of a theatrical tragedy written by John Ford (1629). This track is already known by Bowie’s fan, because it’s the B-side of Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime), single for Nothing Has Changed (2014), the ultimate Bowie’s greatest hits for celebrating his 50 years of career.

Both ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore and Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) has been rearranged for this new album.

When this song was released a post on Bowie’s Facebook calls the tune a “demo track,” which the singer wrote, performed and recorded in his home studio, and offers a description of the song from the singer: “If Vorticists wrote rock music it might have sounded like this.” Vorticism was an art and poetry movement in the UK around the time of the First World War so the song “acknowledges the shocking rawness” of that war.

When the lyrics give space to the music, it’s a sparkling moment for listener’s soul and ears.

Lazarus

Second single of this album and title of the off-Broadway production co-written by Bowie and Enda Walsh, directed by Ivo van Hove, a sort of sequel of The Man Who Fell On Earth (1976), the movie directed by Nicolas Roeg in which Bowie plays the role of the alien Thomas Jerome Newton.

Just like in ★ the mood changes compared with the previous track, we come back in a particular status. The lyrics can describe the character of Thomas Jerome Newton but since he was personified by Bowie in 70s and thanks to him he became the Thin White Duke, the song can talk about Bowie himself.

Look up here, I’m in Heaven,
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now

There are really deep words and in some way they could reflect the world of fame and how a celebrity can be seen, usually worshipped like a God forgetting he is a human being just like everybody else.

By the time I got to New York
I was living like a king
Then I used up all my money

In the last 10/15 years Bowie moved in New York with the family and probably the words I was living like a king can mean it was pretty hard for media and paparazzi to find him, just for having an interview, before his come-back album The Next Day (2013) it seemed he was disappeared and maybe retired.

Lazarus sounds like a second chapter of the title track, once again the use of the saxophone is dominant and instruments reflect the lyrics and their paranoia, especially in the end.

Click HERE for a full review also of Lazarus music video.

Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)

After dark sonorities, Sue arrives like a fresh breath. The track has been rearranged for this album,( it was previously recorded in Summer 2014 with Maria Schneider Orchestra) and if in Nothing Has Changed it keeps an intimate atmosphere, here the instruments are free to move and to conduct the melody.

It’s a depressing, dramatic, impressionistic jazz-pop odyssey about a fated relationship that plays out for almost five minute (originally over seven minutes).

Girl Loves Me

This is probably the most criptic and misleading song of the album, but if you have familiarity with Bowie’s lyrics isn’t a surprise. He’s not the kind of songwriter that use simple words for describing something and so it’s Girl Loves Me.

Musically it’s really catchy and exhilarating, if you take a look to the lyrics in a first moment you can’t understand the sense but with a research you will find the most part of the words are from Nadsat, the artificial language used by some A Clockwork Orange charachters, novel written by Anthony Burgess. Nadsat is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian.

But also come from Polari, a form of British slang used by gay men in mid-20th-century London. “The lyrics are wacky, but a lot of British people, especially Londoners, will get every word.” said Visconti.

These are the lyrics with some of the words translated in English:

Cheena (woman) so sound so titi (dick) up this malchek (man) say

party up moodge (man), nanti (in the future) vellocet* round on – tuesday

real bad dizzy snatch makin’ all the omeys mad – thursday

popo (police) blind to the polly (sex) in the hole by – friday

where the fuck did monday go?

i’m cold to this pig and pug show

i’m sitting in the chestnut tree**

who the fuck’s gonna mess with me?

girl loves me / hey cheena / girl loves me

where the fuck did monday go?

i’m cold to this pig and pug show***

where the fuck did monday go?

you viddy (seen) at the – cheena

choodesny (wonderful) with the – red rot (mouth)

libbilubbing (making love) litso – fitso 

devotchka (young girl) watch her – garbles

spatchko at the – rozz-shop (sleep at the police station)

split a ded (old man) from his – deng deng (coins)

viddy viddy at the cheena

girl loves me / hey cheena / girl loves me

where the fuck did monday go? where the fuck did monday go?

*it’s a kind of drug, from the word speed.

**The Chestnut Tree is a cafe from George Orwell’s ‘1984‘, another book David Bowie liked.

*** probably a police reference

But the frequent question “Where the fuck did Monday go?” brings you in mind the verse “It’s Monday“, always of Bowie, included in Joe The Lion (“HEROES”, 1977). That song was inspired by the American body artist Chris Burden, notorious for such works as being bolted to a gallery floor between two buckets of water, each with a live 110-volt electric line submerged in it, so that a viewer could, if they wished, kick over a bucket and kill Burden; being crucified on the hood of a Volkswagen; and having his friend shoot him in the arm with a .22 rifle.

Dollar Days

It starts like a ballad but then it turns to be not the classic ballad because after the intro it gets more “body” and it’s a succession of verses in which Bowie promises to don’t forget his lover and definitely the last bunch of seconds aren’t typical of a ballad.

Once again what catch the attention are the words “It’s nothing to me. It’s nothing to see” that can be related to the ones included in Bowie’s Sound And Vision (Low, 1977) and say “Nothing to do. Nothing to say“.

One day, David just picked up a guitar,” said McCaslin who plays saxophone, flute and woodwind in the album “He had this little idea, and we just learned it right there in the studio. I didn’t even remember it until months later when someone told me it was on the album.” Visconti loves the finished version. “It’s the lush track on the album,” he says. “It has strings and gorgeous backing vocals. It’s beautiful.

I Can’t Give Everything Away


The album ends with the soaring I Can’t Give Everything Away featuring amazing guitar work by Ben Monder. “I don’t know what the song is referring to,” said Visconti. “But what he gives away is what he writes about. I think a lot of writers feel like, ‘If you want to know about me, just study my lyrics.’ That’s why he doesn’t give interviews. He’s has revealed plenty in past interviews, but I think his life now is about his art. It’s totally about what he’s doing now.”

Seeing more and feeling less

Saying no but meaning yes

This is all I ever meant

That’s the message that I sent

I can’t give everything away

I think these verse more than any other else express Bowie’s nature and especially the first two should sound like a motto for life.

***

Produced and mixed by Bowie and his historic producer Tony Visconti, recorded in New York between The Magic Shop (where also The Next Day was recorded) and Human Worldwide, ★ is a sophisticated and detailed album. There aren’t commonplaces buta lot of research in the use of the words, quoting the Bible, using titles from ancient tragedies and an artificial language.

Another intersting work firmed David Bowie.

Even though Tony Visconti said with this new album there weren’t elements of the past I still see them, especially from Berlin trilogy (Low, “HEROES” and Lodger). It’s a such particular period of Bowie’s life, even more deep than Ziggy Stardust era, that everybody remembers but the real turning point of Bowie’s career are just those years, in the second life of 70s when he was addicted to drugs, he was living on th edge and in that moment he was able to say: “I have to move on, I have to change life, I need a new place to live where I can find a new language, a new music language” and then he moved in Europe, before in France and then in Berlin and worked these three wonderful albums. And I think that period will always be dear to him and will always be present in what he will do and maybe more than in The Next Day I see it now, not only in melodies but also in the music videos, a reflection of what Bowie is.

Today is also Bowie’s 69th birthday and he proved, once again, to be an ARTIST with all the capital letters and his art is full of meaning or maybe it doesn’t have it at all. That’s for this reason Bowie is still one of the few or the only one artist to be able to create and recreate himself and his music without sounds boring and to be always a step beyond everybody else.

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