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David Bowie

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As hyperbolic as it may sound, pop culture as we know it is unlikely to have another icon in our lifetime as broadly influential as David Bowie, a star who rose to fame at the beginning of an era of shifting moral, sexual, and societal views, who managed to embrace and, at times successfully amalgamate disparate styles into new wholes.

Regardless of one’s personal enjoyment of the man’s music, Bowie’s influence on gender fluidity, high fashion, youth culture, sexuality and even the beginnings of online internet commerce (his Bowienet website pioneered artist-fan interaction and subscription services years before such concepts were adopted by the music industry, though he’d later revert to the pop star recluse model and close that curtain for good). He was a master synthesist, a culture glutton who drew inspiration from his favorite aspects of global music, fashion, art and theatre, who continually searched for the new and the exciting, not only to fortify his image in the ever-fickle pop world but to keep himself entertained and engaged.

It’s easy to canonize or vilify Bowie as either a master innovator or bandwagon-jumping hack, and over the course of my own engagement with his career, there were times where I’d found myself wavering between those poles. In a 1980 interview promoting Scary Monsters, he spoke of his tendency for aesthetic inconstancy:

“[T]he Dadaists […] pronounced that art is dead […] Once you’ve said art is dead, it’s very hard to get more radical than that. Since 1924 art’s been dead, so what the hell can we do with it from there on? One tries to at least keep readdressing the thing.”

And so he did. But something happened around the dawn of the 1980s, a period that saw Bowie record and release his best-selling album (1983’s Let’s Dance) and experience diminishing creative returns through some of his most critically reviled albums. The 90s found Bowie with a newly ignited fire under his ass, mostly due to the Tin Machine project, a band which remains one of the artist’s most misunderstood and unfairly criticised journeys in identity, but more on that later. From here on out, Bowie suffered backhanded praise with each release, always regarded in terms like “his best since Scary Monsters,” which is both lazily ignorant and entirely spurious, as nearly every Bowie album across his discography comes with at least one or two disorienting clunkers attached.

Bowie’s strength was arguably as a singles artist – he was, after all, a pop star, no matter how often he wanted to seem otherwise. Seldom able to keep a firm grasp upon the grandiose concepts he shackled to his records, Bowie often let ambition get the better of him and threw more at the studio walls than was bound to stick. Nevertheless, there’s a treasure trove of deep cuts and rarities that often go unmentioned in favor of the barnstorming classics. This holds especially true in the second half of Bowie’s career, where the excesses of the CD era – whose 80-minute time ceiling led artists to fill the disc with as much music as they could – often buried some of his most stunning and powerful songs.

This guide is not meant to serve as essential, as each Bowie fan will have their preferred era or aspect of his work, but is more like a personal love letter to his most misunderstood music, and a roadmap to navigate the ever-changing terrains of those albums, beginning at the end of his canonized Berlin period and ending with his final living intermedia dispatch, which managed to unite fans (and even some detractors) under a blanket of black gauze.

I also put together a mix of my personal favorite Bowie tunes, which often explore his more anxious, shadowed, and experimental impulses, and provide an appropriate soundtrack to the guide.

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David Bowie
‘Some Are’
(From Low reissue, Rykodisc, 1991)

Recorded in 1976 during the sessions for the Low LP, but not released until Rykodisc’s 1991 CD reissue, ‘Some Are’ is one of a scant few songs from Bowie’s “Berlin era” to have emerged from the vaults since. Low producer (and frequent Bowie collaborator) Tony Visconti has claimed that there are “dozens of bittersweet songs” from these sessions that have never seen the light of day, though a handful of those crept out in revised or rerecorded forms.

While both Low and its follow-up Heroes are structured with Bowie’s cold-sweat/white-heat art rock vocals on the A-sides and clammy, wordless synth études on the flips, ‘Some Are’ powerfully merges these dichotomies into what is arguably the zenith alignment of the Bowie/Eno collaborative orbits. Eno lays down beds of softly buzzing synthesized wind currents while a mournful piano recites the melody. Bowie’s vocal echoes the melody via brief couplets of obtuse wordplay, reaching for Eastern profundity, but masking it in the headfog of a drug kick. It shares aesthetic similarities with Low’s own ‘Warszawa’, but is less willfully abstract, and as a result delivers a bit more emotional punch.

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David Bowie
‘Crystal Japan’
(RCA, 1980)

‘Crystal Japan’ was an instrumental piece originally recorded circa 1978/79, and used in a series of TV ads for Japanese sake company Crystal Jun Rock, which starred Bowie himself. A 7″ single was released exclusively in Japan as a promotional tie-in, though the song would later emerge in the west as the B-side to Scary Monsters single ‘Up The Hill Backwards’ in 1981. (It has long been rumored that ‘Crystal Japan’ was intended to be the closing number on the album, despite it not having been recorded during the album’s sessions.) The weightless, slow-motion ballad leans heavily on Eastern harmonic motifs similar to those in ‘Some Are’ and ‘Warszawa’, yet eschews the funereal qualities of those tracks for a more unsettling, fever dream atmosphere. The melody was later used to subtly stunning effect by Nine Inch Nails on The Downward Spiral’s ‘A Warm Place’ in 1994, and their connection later flourished into a joint tour and collaborative EP.

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David Bowie
‘Ricochet’
(From Let’s Dance, EMI, 1983)

1983 saw the release of Let’s Dance, Bowie’s first album for EMI, and by far his most swaggeringly overt “pop” statement. Bowie ditched Visconti to work with Nile Rodgers, eager to record songs with more commercial and radio viability. The album’s title track was a #1 smash, and seven of its eight songs were released on singles, either as A-sides or B-sides. The lone holdout is ‘Ricochet’, the dark horse of Let’s Dance, a song which tends to divide fans critically, as it sticks out like a screen-printed patch sewn onto a designer dress. Where the rest of the album moves in sleek, shimmering, new wave soul steps, ‘Ricochet’ attempts to apply a fresh paint job to the nervous art-rock gait of 1979’s underrated Lodger, but filtered through the metropolitan Afro-techno diasporas imagined by Talking Heads and King Crimson on their Remain In Light and Discipline albums. Where those groups weave dense thickets of rhythm into slinky-yet-agitated patchworks, Bowie’s tune moves in stiffer patterns.

His vocals, though, are another story; he seldom sounds more strident on Let’s Dance as he does here, and while his backing vocalists and even Rodgers himself seem unsure how to arrange the tune, its awkward, offbeat confidence somehow ends up working. While hoping for increased sales and acclaim with this new record deal, Bowie was perhaps unprepared for just how successful the album would become. The success of Let’s Dance would lead to two of his most confused and misguided albums, forgoing his pursuit of the new in exchange for chasing the dollars and the fans (whom he openly admitted later that he could no longer relate to), though his follies would end up leaving him in both commercial and critical decline for the rest of the decade.

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David Bowie
‘Loving The Alien’ (Extended Dub Mix)
(EMI, 1984)

Bowie’s 1984 LP Tonight was a hurried attempt to keep up the momentum of Let’s Dance, though it took more time to record, and the process was allegedly more stressful than the sessions for its predecessor. This time Bowie worked with Hugh Padgham, and the resulting album was boring and forgettable, on the whole. While some rank ‘Blue Jean’ as the album’s highlight, for me the standout is opener ‘Loving The Alien’, a seven-minute tour-de-force of soaring strings (arranged by famed pop producer Arif Mardin), New York minimalism influences (the recurring “ah-ah-ah” vocal pulses are straight out of Einstein On The Beach and ‘O Superman’), and a widescreen melancholy echoing the new wave stars of the era like Talk Talk, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Psychedelic Furs.

‘Loving The Alien’ shows more ambition than most of the rest of Tonight’s songs combined, and was one of only two Bowie penned for the album himself. It simultaneously embraces the pop spotlight while seeming to obscure it via grand conversations on religion and the Palestine conflict (although Bowie’s turn as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation Of Christ was still four years away). Not exactly the same sugar pill as “put on your red shoes and dance the blues!”

While the album and single mixes are lovely enough, it’s the single’s extended dub mix that really stands out; the verses are stripped of their drums, leaving just the vocal pulses, marimba, a heavily treated guitar, and Bowie’s echoing lead vocal to up the ante. The effect is gorgeous but unsettling; when the anthemic chorus reinstates the drums and the vocal choir, it becomes uplifting yet maudlin – it’s perhaps the one key reference to Showbiz Bowie that we get on the single. The drums drop back out for each successive verse, leading to a sound not far from what Mark Hollis would explore on Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock. Packaged with the rest of a bummer album like Tonight, ‘Loving The Alien’ gets lost, and while it’s still a confused epic standing on its own, the song today deserves a better rep.

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David Bowie + Pat Metheny Group
‘This Is Not America’
(EMI America, 1985)

Of all of the songs on the list, this is arguably the one most deserving of “lost classic” status, a mournful Balearic bomb that should’ve been granted a second act. ‘This Is Not America’ was a one-off collaboration with the Pat Metheny Group, recorded as part of Metheny’s score for The Falcon And The Snowman, a 1985 spy film starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. While Bowie contributes only lyrics and vocals, with Metheny’s band responsible for the music and arrangement, it’s an unexpectedly knockout pairing – Bowie delivers one of the most nuanced and moving performances of his 80s period, multitracking himself into yearning harmonies and a sweeping, masterful control of his range, as Metheny’s band locks into a deep machine groove that’s a far cry from the virtuosic complexity of the “fusion” sound Metheny sought to shake.

‘This Is Not America’ was a minor European hit but went otherwise unnoticed, and the film it soundtracked was also not a great success. Oddly enough, the song got a bizarre resurrection when P Diddy interpolated it as ‘American Dream’ for another film, 2001’s far more successful Training Day. Bowie provided some new vocals for his hook, but aside from that, there’s little resemblance to the stunning original.

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Tin Machine
‘Tin Machine’
(From Tin Machine, EMI, 1989)

Oh, Tin Machine. How fans love to slag you. How the haters love to burn you at the stake and piss on your ashes. So misunderstood, so unappreciated. Fuck that. Both of the band’s albums are lopsided, overlong exercises in palate cleansing, serving to light a new fire under the ass of a Bowie who’d grown tired and disillusioned by the end of the 1980s. Tin Machine’s songs – co-written in equal collaboration with brothers Hunt and Tony Sales and newly discovered guitarist Reeves Gabrels – served as a “back-to-basics” rejection of the overproduced, soft-boiled radio pop of the decade, tapping into the sounds of burgeoning college rock and indie scenes gaining traction in the music press.

The first album is essentially Bowie attempting to shed the idea of “David Bowie,” eschewing theatrics and characters for no-bullshit deliveries and no-frills swagger. What’s most bizarre about the album is that in doing so, he (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) ends up mirroring another character then bursting into that same college rock scene: the Pixies’ Black Francis. Tin Machine is essentially Bowie’s tribute to Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, all empty-room clatter, metallic surf licks doused in vinegar and battery acid, and a jittery, constipated delivery that doesn’t quite manage the frantic mania of Francis, but sounds instead like his weirdo uncle who shows up in a hotboxed van during the holidays to give him punk tapes. You could probably make one great album out of the two shaky ones that the band released, but next time you’re on a heavy Pixies kick and burn yourself out on Surfer Rosa and Trompe Le Monde, give these a spin.

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David Bowie
‘Jump They Say’
(From Black Tie White Noise, Savage/Arista, 1993)

By 1992, the stripped-down rock of Tin Machine’s debut had become commonplace thanks to Nirvana and Pearl Jam hitting grunge-pop paydirt (while the Pixies sadly remained marginal cult figures). By this point, Bowie was back in character as his jet-setting, periphery-dwelling self, embarking on a world tour entitled Sound + Vision meant to promote his back catalogue’s first major worldwide re-release on CD, and to allegedly put those old songs to bed for good. Of course, that didn’t really happen, but for a time Bowie was serious about it. He’d reconnected with Nile Rodgers for an album inspired by his recent marriage (to supermodel Iman Abdulmajid), the Rodney King beatings and subsequent Los Angeles riots, and the rising hip-hop and house scenes.

The resultant album, Black Tie White Noise, is a messy (we’re talking peak CD-era excess) but bumping collection of intriguing misfires and a handful of absolute bangers, which may sound dated to modern ears but are infused with an energy inspired by New Jack Swing and acid jazz. The album even features fiery performances by Art Ensemble Of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie (no relation) as well as lots of saxophone work by Bowie himself (he once referred to Black Tie White Noise as “my sax album”). It was also Bowie’s most overt shout to African-American music since Young Americans back in 1975.

‘Jump They Say’ was the album’s lead single and the intro to Bowie’s new sound. Anchored by polyrhythmic drum loops, skittering tambourines, and a bass groove that performs a vertical bob and weave, it’s really a showcase for the vocals: Bowie’s at his most cool and his most frenzied at various points throughout, but it’s the gospel choir backing him who really bring the heat. They wind their way through layers of synth squiggle and a sparring match between the horns: Lester’s trumpet is all splash and splatter, while David goes for a multi-tracked full-gut wail underneath the dense arrangement. Elsewhere on the album, Bowie evokes the synthetic paranoia of the Walker Brothers’ lost classic Nite Flights on ‘You’ve Been Around’, then delivers a narcotic rendition of the 1978 album’s title track. (He even managed to sing his version of the then-late-period Scott Walker tune on the Arsenio Hall show when Hall was at his peak, so respect to Bowie for that!)

It’s a weird album, much more bizarre than it’s ever given credit for, playing like a warped time capsule of early-90s music culture once you took guitar bands out of the equation. If there’s one record in Bowie’s discography most deserving of the “guilty pleasure” tag, this is it.

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David Bowie
‘Sex And The Church’
(From The Buddha Of Suburbia, Arista, 1993)

Bowie quickly followed up Black Tie White Noise with The Buddha Of Suburbia, an album recorded as the soundtrack to a BBC TV adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s book. Over the years it’s become known as a lost classic, often named by Bowie as his personal favorite of his own albums. It’s easy to understand why: he plays nearly everything himself on the record, with help from just a few other players, and the songs veer between assorted landscapes of ambient music, from post-Eno textural studies and ambient house-styled pieces that recall the likes of The Orb or Coldcut, to a handful of more straightforward and beautiful pop songs, like the title track and the stately, soaring original version of ‘Strangers When We Meet’.

It’s the beguiling and eccentric ‘Sex And The Church’ that stands out most. Built on a vocoder-fed spoken recitation, layers of stoned Goa trance beats and “tribal” hand percussion loops, as well as a bit of organ and some Fourth World trumpet, the elements come together like an imaginary collaboration between Laurie Anderson, Jon Hassell, and Dr Alex Paterson – all quiet throb and arty pretension. It’s not a particularly innovative or life-changing song, but it’s completely unlike anything else Bowie’s ever recorded, and for its oddity, it comes together nicely.

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David Bowie
‘Hallo Spaceboy’
(From 1.Outside, Arista, 1995)

In 1995, Bowie reunited with Eno to work on an ambitious project that would become the 1.Outside (or Outside) album. A concept record dealing with Y2K paranoia, dystopian police states enforcing “art crimes” (something for which Bowie likely would’ve faced prosecution countless times!), and a murder mystery to boot, the album is just too damn long – Bowie’s greatest offender on the bloated-CD rap sheet. (Art crime!)

Regardless of its length, the album was successful in making Bowie relevant to young rock fans for the first time since the 70s, thanks to enthusiastic endorsements and recognition from relative newbies like Trent Reznor, whose Downward Spiral album included a number of direct homages (or pilfers) from Bowie’s back catalogue. Bowie and Eno seemed to reciprocate with 1.Outside, which taps into the industrial-pop of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry circa Psalm 69, but more prominently references groups like Swans and The Young Gods, whom Bowie cited as big inspirations on the record’s sound.

‘Hallo Spaceboy’ was the album’s breakout single, but interestingly enough it hit the charts via a remix by the Pet Shop Boys, who polished the tune into something glittery and bright, adding a new verse and reconnecting Bowie with his Major Tom past. It’s the original album version’s rusty, serrated claustrophobia that really hits hard, though, its pummeling rhythms tapping into some Einstürzende Neubauten sonic collapse, while Bowie’s voice attempts to rise above the wreckage toward stars that it tragically cannot quite reach. While the Pet Shop Boys version is a stunning slice of pop camp that indeed stands tall, the grubby album version is its imploding inverse, like an automobile being crushed into a jagged cube of scrap metal. If Tin Machine was back-to-basics rock, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ was an Iron Giant.

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David Bowie, Trent Reznor & Ice Cube
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans V3’ (1997)
(From I’m Afraid Of Americans EP, Virgin, 1997)

This one gets included purely for its headscratching triumvirate. Bowie had always been open to letting folks remix his songs – often unnecessarily – but after embarking on a world tour with Trent Reznor, it made sense that Reznor got to play around with some Bowie recordings. He ended up tweaking ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, a track from 1997’s Earthling album, itself an experiment with jungle and hardcore sounds. ‘…Americans’ was a different beast, though, originally recorded during the 1.Outside sessions and sounding like he’d been listening to Tricky’s ‘Christiansands’ on repeat for a year.

Reznor took the song and stripped it down to a skittering beat, some buzzsaw synths, and a gnarly fuzz guitar pummeled within an inch of its life. The resulting EP included Reznor’s new version along with a handful of additional Rezvisions, the most bizarre of which was ‘Version 3’, a disjointed rap mix that featured chopped-up Ice Cube verses and synths that sounded like they were pissing on one another. It was weird in 1997, but now it shares aesthetic similarities with aggro-rap abstractions by the likes of the Def Jux crew and Death Grips (Kevin Martin was doing somewhat similar things as Techno Animal around this time as well, it should be noted). Never did anyone dream of a day when we would hear Bowie sing about his fear of conservative patriotism while Cube spits about the Super Bowl and TV rotting your brain, but here we are. Thank you, Trent!

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Goldie & David Bowie
‘Truth’
(From Saturnz Return, FFRR, 1998)

While the Reznor/Bowie/Cube supergrouping was unexpected, the next year saw Bowie teaming up with jungle innovator Goldie for ‘Truth’ on the latter’s maligned sophomore album Saturnz Return, infamous for its 61-minute orchestral breakbeat tone poem ‘Mother’. Few were able to sit through that track in one sitting, let alone go back, which is a shame: buried at the end of the album’s first CD is the Bowie collaboration, on which he croons over nothing but shifting gaseous synthesizer pads for five minutes.

Curiously, it’s perhaps the closest Bowie’s ever come to reaching the otherworldly lamentations of his beloved Scott Walker, though he reaches it in the most unlikely context. ‘Truth’ also points toward sadly unexplored avenues that may have provided a more fulfilling aesthetic on Earthling, or at least some welcome moments of respite and variety. This is Bowie the Starman simultaneously at his most earthbound and most intergalactic, and a beautiful deep cut that’s never received the attention it so deserves.

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David Bowie
‘Sunday’
(From Heathen, ISO/Columbia, 2002)

2002’s Heathen saw the return of Tony Visconti as collaborator and producer, and with him came a return to the intergalactic art-rock and cosmic soul of their halcyon days together. The album proved to be his comeback critically, and by working in more rock-oriented contexts again (he pays tribute to The Legendary Stardust Cowboy and finally gets to do the Black Francis/Pixies homage we’d all wanted from Tin Machines via a beefy, ragged cover of Surfer Rosa’s ‘Cactus’), he regained many older fans who’d perhaps long written him off.

The album is solid – not the best of his final act, but a strong runner-up nevertheless, and more subtle than anything he’d released in decades. The record’s upbeat swagger, thought, was a bit misleading and even disappointing coming after the monumental slow-burn of its powerful opener, ‘Sunday’. It stands as one of Bowie’s strongest opening tracks, and arguably one of his finest songs from any era; it’s one of the few instances where his concept, execution, and delivery all meet at eye-level to strengthen what is already a powerful song. While he’s again indulging his Scott Walker fetish here, it’s not a direct pastiche, and instead offers Bowie’s own interpretation of the bleak, barren synthesis on Walker’s Climate Of Hunter.

Bowie’s voice is robust and in complete control of the tension that builds until the drums erupt at the song’s climax. The one thing that the song has going against it is that it ends too soon – it could easily carry on for another two or three minutes with the band in full swing, leading into whole new territory that the initial movements don’t allow. There’d be one more album before Bowie would take an extended sabbatical from recording, but when he did return in 2013, he helped usher in a new era of surprise releases and PR-free art-drops.

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David Bowie
‘Where Are We Now?’
(From The Next Day, ISO/Columbia, 2013)

‘Where Are We Now?’ was Bowie’s first new song in 10 years, surprise-released on his 66th birthday along with the announcement of a new album, The Next Day. While much of The Next Day proved to be a brash, rawkus album of artful guitar rock, ‘Where Are We Now?’ was something else entirely: a retrospective lament for his past life in Berlin, while the wall still stood. Its piano and synth-led arrangement nods to Angelo Badalamenti, with whom Bowie had collaborated in the 90s on a Gershwin cover, and its frail, pained vocal was sung in a voice Bowie seldom utilizes. Is this Bowie no longer playing “Bowie,” or simply continuing the narrative begun on Heathen and Reality? Hard to say, really. All the same, the song provides a beautiful moment of respite among the eager pummel of the rest of the album. It also sows the seeds for what would prove to be Bowie’s farewell opus.

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David Bowie & The Maria Schneider Orchestra
‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’
(ISO/Parlophone, 2014)

The folks who run Record Store Day love David Bowie. There seems to be a fucking Bowie release with each and every RSD-related retail holiday, and while many of those are unnecessary reissues of singles in picture disc format or dubious colored vinyl pressings of releases easily available in used bins for a fraction of the price, 2014’s Black Friday offered up something legitimate: a 10″ single, designed to look like an old Parlophone 78rpm disc, featuring two brand new Bowie tunes.

One was a splendidly brittle, hard-boiled piece of blown-speaker noise-jazz entitled ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’, which sounded like the literal definition of Black Tie White Noise. The A-side was a seven-and-a-half minute noirish heist caper entitled ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’, recorded with New York’s Maria Schneider Orchestra and featuring Bowie offering up a new spin on his beloved Scott Walker – this time smoothing out the big band baritone luau of Walker’s ‘Epizootics!’, but with a more linear structure referencing British jazz luminaries like Ronnie Scott, John Surman, and Mike Westbrook.

Bowie delivers his modern retelling of the 17th century John Ford play (which shares its title with this single’s B-side) in a deceptively timid, quavering bellow that would be revised (along with ‘Tis A Pity…’) in startlingly aggressive form on Bowie’s last album, itself a journey further down the rabbit hole explored on this 10″.

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David Bowie
‘Lazarus’
(From ★ [Blackstar], ISO/Columbia, 2016)

Plenty has been said about Bowie’s Blackstar album already, but amid the tragic story of Bowie’s physical departure from this Earth for orbits elsewhere, few have spoken of the importance of his collaborators on the album. Bowie is backed on Blackstar by the stellar Donny McCaslin Quartet (members of which were part of Maria Schneider’s band on the 2014 single), and further augmented by jazz guitarist Ben Monder, and it is their talent that helps breathe both life and fire into Bowie’s last seven dispatches. If one needs direct A/B comparisons, listen to the versions of ‘Sue’ and ‘Tis A Pity’ from the 2014 single and then place them next to their Blackstar counterparts – while both versions of each are dark, bruised and strident, there’s a more determined vigor in the Blackstar versions, which with hindsight now read as the necessary dispatches of a man who has seen his eleventh hour pass.

That same confident hunger plays out on every one of the album’s songs, making Blackstar one of Bowie’s most consistent albums. Only hindsight and the passage of further time can really tell the story of Blackstar’s impact and longevity in his discography, but once the shock has worn away, it’s safe to say that the album’s balance of celestial opacity and telluric violence will remain impactful in ways that few of Bowie’s other albums have ever managed. To hear him cursing, spitting, even exclaiming a hearty yet winded “whooo!” as McCaslin busts into a saxophone solo is a delight that tempers the bleak mortality that now surrounds the album.

It’s to the band’s credit that they each provide essential and invigorating shocks of electricity into these songs, their subtle nuances buffered by a muscular power that flexes without pose or pretense. For perhaps the first time in Bowie’s career, he’s lifted the curtain completely to show more of himself than ever before, even when draped in the robes and bandages of his songs’ characters. The McCaslin Quintet ably bolsters Bowie’s tendencies in the best possible ways – seldom does Bowie come across as indulgent here. Visconti is also to be commended for his stellar production; listening to the album on headphones is an immersive experience that reveals intricate layers of vocal overdubs and rich harmonies; rhythms interlock and dance around one another, while each instrument’s voice is heard without obstruction or distraction.

No wheel is being reinvented here; rather, it’s steering a full ascent into the darkest abyss of the same galactic space Bowie had so fearfully sung about back in 1969. The album is a textural study in noir, painted in the blackest ever black. It is his Tilt, his The Glass Bead Game. When considering the follies and foibles of Bowie’s recording career next to his triumphs, it’s important to remember that they all collectively led him to this final place, where a document of a life lived and loved, no matter how coded, can still prove to be a powerful and moving statement regardless of one’s own taste.

“Once you’ve said that art is dead, it’s very hard to get more radical than that.” Since 2016, David Bowie has been dead, so what the hell can we do from there on? We try to at least keep readdressing the thing.

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