01-13-2016 09:23 AM - edited 01-13-2016 10:46 AM
I have a pretty vast music collection that encompasses virtually every musical genre known to man. This isn’t boasting, more a testament to how much of an obsession music appreciation is for me. One major section of my collection is vocal classical music, and the biggest subset of that is Requiems, those mournful, yet often bombastic, celebrations of mortality. A Requiem Mass is often – in my opinion – the most exceptional and profound work of a composer’s career. Requiems are contemplations of mortality, of time and life passing, of loss and regret, or even the celebration of moving on to a higher dimension.
From time to time, a secular composer will undertake their version of a Requiem, using a different selection of Psalms, or original lyrics or poetry, or only instruments. Many are the equals of their Liturgical counterparts, brave or brazen, rash or reasoned, quiet and solemn, or terrifyingly atonal.
David Bowie’s final opus, Blackstar, is one of these to be sure. Released only a few days before his passing last Sunday, it was greeted with high praise for its finesse, daring, and innovation. These words have been used to describe Bowie throughout his career, so they came as no surprise hearing them about his new work. What so many didn’t seem to know about (me included) was of his failing health and that the context of his 25th album would change dramatically and suddenly. As such, it’s difficult not to ascribe pre-meditation to the tone and texture of Blackstar, to the discussion of mortality repeated over and over in his lyrics. It’s as if he knew the inevitable was approaching – honestly, how could he not – and he wanted to provide a vehicle for mourning and celebration, a final glorious gift, the capping stone of his illustrious career.
I first listened to Blackstar on the Saturday after its release and knew at once that I would be spending a lot of time with it. It is musically and lyrically compelling. It has all of the hallmarks of classic David Bowie records – adventure, surprise, invention – and still points boldly to an unknown musical future. But I confess that my first in-depth listening to Blackstar was Monday, the day after his passing, and probably like everyone else, what I suspect was the album’s true intent was made abundantly clear.
I’ve listened to enough Requiems to know one when I hear it. There are metaphors for mortality galore. Themes of loss, explanations of intent, and contemplations of regret abound. Flourishes punctuate laments. The end of the world, the end of time, and the end of a man echo among the notes and chords. Blackstar is as fine a Requiem as you will ever hear.
Bowie released two videos for this album, “Lazarus” and “Blackstar.” I encourage you to find them. Even through the occasionally troubling imagery – also something of a Bowie touchstone – you can clearly see that he was yet a vibrant man, full of life and energy. “Lazarus” is a downtempo pop song. “Blackstar” is an adventurous, avant-garde, ten-minute epic. Both are beautiful, spacious, and horrifying.
I don’t rate or compare albums very often. One artist is so much different from another that direct comparisons are often difficult if not impossible. Not to mention that David Bowie was incomparable anyway. Were I to rate Blackstar, however, it would earn an easy five stars out of five. It is a delightful listen, exciting to the ears and brain, even though some of its subject matter and chord changes are complex. It hits close to the bone, invites contemplation and, in the best Bowie tradition, in a few places there’s even room to dance.
01-13-2016 07:41 PM
In my musical library I have 19 David Bowie albums. Needless to say I am a big fan.
I listened to Blackstar for the first time Friday morning. I liked it right away. My second listen was later that afternoon.
I heard the news about his passing as I was on my way to work on Monday. That morning at work I listened to it again. And then listened to 6 straight hours of David Bowie.
You nailed it. I distinctly felt he was saying goodbye. He knew he was dying and left with style.
I have now listend to Blackstar 5 times and I like it more each time.
01-16-2016 11:11 AM
Oddly, about a week before David Bowie passed away, I started to remedy the egregious gaps of his albums in my CD collection. On the day he died, I received a box with ten CDs by him that I'd never heard. This morning I'm listening to Lodger. What an extraordinary record!
Blackstar is up next. I may just put it on repeat.
01-16-2016 02:35 PM
This reminds me that I want to re-rip all my CD's. I noramlly rip them all rightt away. But now I want to do it again and do it as Loss Less instead of MP3. I once I have everything ripped I can run a print from a command prompt to print out a list of all my music and find the holes.