Basement Dwelling// David Bowie: Blackstar

rp_2429021.jpegHello and welcome to Basement Dwelling, a column written by me Daniel R. Fiorio where I review new records that should be on your musical radar. What sets Basment Dwelling apart from other music review columns is that these are all albums that are currently residing in my record collection. No promo copy was given, no stream was listened to. Instead, a record was purchased (even if I didn’t like it). Don’t think of me as a critic but as a music obsessive looking to open a dialouge about some of the best tunes that are currently being released. Let’s head down to the basement and listen to….

 

Atmosphere, intensity, a skittering drum beat, distorted vocals, a sonic pallet that sounds at once past, present and future. These are all elements that greet you, the listener, on the opening of this record and title track “Blackstar”. When you look at the source of the music’s creation these are all things that you would expect from living musical Icon David Bowie, although at the same time, maybe you wouldn’t. David Bowie is an artist who is known for covering new sonic territories and changing his musical shape with almost every release he puts out. He’s covered so many territories over the course of his lengthy career that he’s had create a new one with Blackstar. Bowie has proven wrong the oft- thought notion that just because you’re a veteran artist your new music will be nothing more than dull or a shameless retread of the past. Blackstar  completely spits in the face of that notion, offering instead a work that is just as bold and exciting as some of the records that have made David Bowie such an icon.

What sets Blackstar apart from other works in Bowie’s catalog is its deep sense of urgency, a feeling that carries throughout the entirety of the record.

 

 

We’re going to break away from the article that you were reading. I know, it throws off the structure of the review but I don’t care. The above paragraph was written on January 9th; a day after Blackstar was released.  Two days later David Bowie was pronounced dead. I decided to keep what was written above to prove a point. That point being one with a double edge: The first, how life can be so cruel yet beautiful, presenting you gifts such as a talented artist with a great piece of music. The second being how much perspective on a piece of art can change. The thing is, as a music fan and critic, I never would have imagined this perspective to change so rapidly, and it makes me somewhat ill given the circumstances. Two days ago Blackstar spoke to me as an artist getting a second wind, being revitalized, ready to bring on a new and intriguing era to a career that already had a wealth of history to it. The album was exciting and wonderful. Now two days later, I realize it’s an elegy written by an artist anticipating his own death. It’s haunting, depressing, and moving; I cannot emphasize the word moving enough.

In that final sentence of the first part of this review I say that Blackstar has a sound that is urgent, a statement which now feels trite. Blackstar is the sound of life and death, a matter far more than “urgent”. Throughout the seven tracks presented here you get meticulous and perfect instrumentation from saxophone player Donnie Mccaslin and his jazz band The Donnie Mccaslin group. They create a sound that not only recalls Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and albums like Station To Station and Young Americans, but creates a sonic pallet that is all together fresh and evocative of the past at the same time. From the somber trudge of “Lazarus” to the space pop atmosphere of “Dollar Days” there many captivating performances on this record that a lot in part have to do with Donnie Mccaslin and his band. In a recent intrview with Uncut magazine Mccaslin said that David recorded demos for all of these songs, most notably previous singles “Sue (Or In a Season Of Crime)” and “Tis a Pity She’s a Whore”, but wanted Mccaslin and his group to have total freedom and “Let the songs fly” into the direction they saw fit.The songs presented here on Blackstar proves that this was a perfect decision.

The quality that stands out the most on Blackstar comes in the form of the albums lyrics; which contains some of David Bowie’s most engaging lyrical content possibly ever. “She punched me like a dude” in Tis a Pity… never ceases to put a smile on my face, while still trafficking in the frustration, regret and acceptance with life that is demonstrated on this record is always compelling. This is really the most human the Starman has ever been lyrically. The entirety of what is said on closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away” a song that was already heartbreaking before Bowie’s death, is absolutely gut wrenching in light of his passing, revealing what the song actually means.

David Bowie always did things on his terms. Sadly, added to that list is now his own death and this record is proof of that. If we as the public at large were to know that “Everything” Is him acknowledging his liver cancer, and the accompanying uncertainty of how long he had left on this Earth, it would throw Blackstar under a certain umbrella. Even though this is the man’s last album, if we as an audience would have known that this would be his last work and listened to it in that frame of mind, it would be a flat out slap in the face to an artist who deserves way more dignity and respect than that. Upon first listen I loved Blackstar, now that I get all of what this record means due to current events, I think it’s essential. I don’t love Blackstar even more now because I feel a need to give respect to someone who has passed that I deeply admired. I love Blackstar because it is a great album made under the highest stakes humanly possible, which no matter how hard I try I can’t put into words how much I respect.

 

Rating: 10/10

david bowie

One of the last photos of David Bowie, taken earlier this week.

Photo by Jimmy King.

Source: Consequence of Sound

 

Daniel R. Fiorio

Writer, blogger, record collector/music fanatic, comic book junkie, jerkstore/all around nice dude from the south suburbs of Chicago

2 Responses to Basement Dwelling// David Bowie: Blackstar
  1. Shawn C Baker

    Shawn C Baker Reply

    Loved this. Brought more tears to my eyes.

  2. Tommy Reply

    Great article. Everything i’ve been trying to write the last two days has felt eulogistic, and i can’t stop listening to Blackstar, and just feeling completely and utterly floored every single time. Like Tony Visconti wrote yesterday, even his death was a work of art. I imagine we’ll all be examining Bowie’s swan song for a long, long time.

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