David Bowie – Blackstar

9.5 Overall Score
Originality: 10/10
Videos: 10/10
Songs: 9/10

David Bowie changes the world one last time.

A couple of the songs are not as good as the rest. But still better than anything else out there today.

David Bowie
Blackstar
ISO Records
2016

The world has lost a true artist. David Robert Jones, born on January 8, 1947 and died on January 10, 2016 of liver cancer, was better known, as you probably know, as David Bowie.  No matter what sort of music you like,  you most likely have at least one David Bowie favorite. His output transcended race, creed, style and everything else related to music. Rarely has their been one man responsible for so many musical and artistic innovations. He was more than a musical genius, we was a genius as an artist, a genius as performer as well as a trendsetter of fashion. The world often followed David Bowie instead of the other way around.

Like many youths in England in the 1950’s, Jones was influenced by American rock and rollers such as Elvis, Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon and Little Richard; in fact he was quoted as saying that when he first heard Tutti Frutti he “heard God.”  However, in contrast to somewhat older youths such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and other soon-to-be legends of the time, he was exposed more to rock and roll as opposed early blues records and therefore did not really go through much of a blues phase.  In 1962 Bowie formed his first band at age 15, The Konrads, who played teen dances and weddings. Shortly after the Konrads he formed Davie Jones and the King Bees, and was promoted heavily, but their first recording met with little success.  In an amusing Mr. T reference, Davie Jones and the King Bees next release was entitled I Pity The Fool, although this too met without success. Following that he joined The Lower Third, a band strongly influenced by The Who, yet they fared no better than his previous two bands and at this time his promoter left. However Bowie stayed true to his course, studying art, music, performance and fashion as well as typesetting. He also continued to perform wherever possible and acted as a mime.

In 1967, frustrated with being confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones, he changed his last name to Bowie, after American frontiersman Jim Bowie. In April 1967 he released a single under his new name of David Bowie entitled The Laughing Gnome, complete with sped up, high pitched vocals, but was again unsuccessful.  Six weeks later he released his first album, entitled David Bowie, which sank like a lead balloon. He did not release anything after that first album for two years, but stayed with his performances as a mime and continued to study.

In 1969, two years after the release of his first lp,  Bowie’s fortunes began to change. He released his second album, Space Oddity, in 1969, five days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and the single Space Oddity reached number 5 on the UK charts and is still a staple on radio today. David Bowie was finally on his way and there would be no stopping him. As an aside, the album Space Oddity is an often overlooked, yet excellent, record and is my favorite David Bowie album. Standout tracks like God Knows I’m Good and Cygnet Committee are as good as anything he ever did and the whole album is great. I recommend it.

Following the success of Space Oddity, Bowie released his first “recognizable” album, entitled Hunky Dory. From here on in it was all good for Bowie. He charted numerous times in the 1970’s, he took on personas such as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke and was constantly on the cover of every teen pop magazine published. There is no need to go over every album here, at this point you probably would recognize most , if not all, of them and songs like Fame, Golden Years, Changes, Suffragette City, Heroes, and many more are still regularly played on radio stations around the world. If you are not familiar with any of them then I suggest that you investigate.

David Bowie continued to enjoy massive success in the 1980’s, working with many other performers such as Iggy Pop and introducing the world to Stevie Ray Vaughn on the hugely successful Let’s Dance album. If you were alive in the 1980’s then you heard Let’s Dance. It was everywhere, perhaps his biggest success.

In the 1990’s Bowie stayed busy and released singles and albums which met with more success. In 1997 he released Earthling, my second favorite of his records. As usual he was right on top of things. The record sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released. It was also in that year that he undertook a small club tour, and I was fortunate enough to be among the 200 or so people there in Fort Lauderdale for his Florida show.  He rocked the place for 4 1/2 hours and looked like he could have done 4 1/2 more. He did not do it for the money; in fact, were it not for clubs needing to get paid he probably would have done it for free. It was very obvious that night that the man simply loved to play and to entertain. He was very humble and repeatedly thanked us for coming to see him. If I did not respect David Bowie before that show (although I did) I sure would have afterwards.

In December of 2015 word began circulating about a new David Bowie album called Blackstar to be released in January 2016, and eventually the title track’s video was pre-released. It is a very ambitious video and contains many clues to Bowie’s health issues, although we did not know this at the time. Bowie kept his cancer secret from the world and his death was a huge shock. But if you listen to the words of the various songs you can find many references to his illness. For example a “blackstar” is a medical term for a cancerous mass. That is just one of many. David Bowie knew he was was going to die, and soon,  but he did not make a fuss about it and passed away with grace.

I recommend Blackstar wholeheartedly. My favorite tracks are the title track, which is ten minutes of music unlike anything you have heard before; Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) which is more of a rocker, and Lazarus. However all of the songs have something to them, this is the kind of album that you can listen to time and time again and keep on finding new things. Also, you will recognize many references to his impending death. He knew it was coming soon, yet he did not rest on his laurels like so many aging rock gods. Rather, he continued to experiment and create until the day he died. As I said he was a true artist.

Blackstar was David Bowie’s way of saying goodbye to us, even if we did not know it know it at the time.  Goodbye Mr. Jones, may you sprinkle your magic dust upon us from time to time because we need it…

 

 

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Jeff Strichart
Author: Jeff Strichart View all posts by
Jeff Strichart has been a frustrated musician for almost forty years. He is also a producer and has mixed and/or mastered many local Colorado bands. Aside from his music and production he enjoys his dogs, motorcycles, collecting vintage BMX bicycles, reading and his new found love of sound design using hardware synthesizers and has licensed material to the BBC for use in their television programs.

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