By: Willem Kline
It’s been a tough year for artists. Death paved its way through almost all of 2016. We lost some greats: Alan Rickman, Prince, Lemmy Kilmister, Muhammed Ali, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Cohen. For me, however, there was no death that was more impactful than Ziggy Stardust himself.
David Bowie was possibly one of the greatest influences of the last 30-40 years. I met a great many of people who were extremely affected by his death. My entire family felt like they were hit by a truck. My mother and I spent days listening to Hunky Dory in the car on the way to the store or school. I remember waking up and my mother sitting on my bed telling me that he was dead and I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. I felt like hell the rest of the day.
But that’s not the point of this review, that’s not the point of any of this.
Blackstar by David Bowie is perhaps one of the most maddening music ventures released this year….or possibly ever released. With a runtime of almost 42 minutes, Bowie’s 25th and final studio album stares death in the face with a somber but beautiful glare. Bowie, after being diagnosed with Liver cancer, was on his last limb after suffering for almost 2 years with the disease. With the build up to his coming release, many believed it was going to be his most experimental album yet, and it was. Many failed to see what would come directly after its release however.
David Bowie in his final months decided that he needed to leave something for his legacy. As portrayed in his Lazarus music video, it’s almost as if he frantically clawed and scratched his music down to achieve some form of frantic perfection. His life coming to an ever climactic end, he penned an astonishing 7 tracks, which carry some of the most thought provoking, poetic lyrics to ever reach a Bowie listener’s ears.
One of Bowie’s singles Lazarus, talks about the artists resurrection of fame posthumously. How his entire persona will almost blow up into the stratosphere after he dies and he’ll become a social icon much along the lines of John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix.
“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
Look up here, man, I’m in danger
I’ve got nothing left to lose
I’m so high it makes my brain whirl
Dropped my cell phone down below.”
The melancholy tone of the track complete with an astonishing saxophone performance by Donny McCaslin. The music tends to create this sort of Jazz/Rock/Funk hybrid which outline the more soulful and somber subject matter present throughout the album.
David Bowie’s most powerful track however is Dollar Days, a look back on Bowie’s past life and the future of his music career after his death. Bowie addresses the horrid nature of record companies and their quest for money, his success and failure within the music business, and his death. Bowie is angry on this track, but he’s broken. He feels as though nothing can be done anymore now that his time is up, but the man’s lyrics speak otherwise.
“I’m dying to
Push their backs against the grain
And fool them all again and again
I’m trying to
We bitches tear our magazines
Those Oligarchs with foaming mouths come
Now and then
Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you
I’m trying to
I’m dying to”
It’s Bowie’s lament before the final track comes into his final stage of grief, which he portrays rather beautifully through the song I Can’t Give Everything Away.
There are volumes that could be spoken about this album. I myself have been speaking about this album since its release back in January, and how deep its mark was left on the music scene. It’s one thing to write about your death, but it’s another thing to know about your death, fear that you haven’t done enough, and write an album about your fleeting life all in the span of a year in hopes that you might leave something behind to carry on your spirit. Bowie did just that, and that’s why it is absolutely, positively my Album of the Year. Rest easy, Starman. You deserve it.
Willem Kline, from Belvidere, Illinois is a first year student here at Illinois College, pursuing a double major in English and Theatre with an undecided minor. Willem is a newbie to The Rambler roster, a member of the IC Wind Ensemble, and avid pursuer and connoisseur of anything artsy-fartsy.