Music

David Bowie - "Blackstar" (Singles Going Steady)

David Bowie offers up his iconic self in equal measure to both worshippers and detractors on "Blackstar".

Ed Whitelock: Bowie offers up his iconic self in equal measure to both worshippers and detractors. Fans will find this song and video so full of loaded, classic references -- spacemen, body spasms, human sacrifice, heroes and villains -- as to be struck dumb in search of interpretation, while longtime critics will see a familiar collection of empty signifiers, alll flash without substance. Both sides will argue incessantly, but only one side can win, and that side's name is David Bowie. [10/10]

Steve Leftridge: Bowie may not go out on tour behind the new Blackstar album, but the video gives us a good look at him this year anyway. And he’s in fine form, revealing his latest character incarnation, the Thin Gray Riddler, a leering, bandage-masked post-apocalyptic prophet in a tattered Waiting for Godot suit. The video is a nightmare -- druggy shamen, crucified zombies, mystic skulls, wasted braindead circles. Not to mention the latest dance craze: The Epileptic Ferret. At the center of it all is Bowie, the solitary candle. And for all his attempts at abject weirdness here, his sense of melody (that gorgeous middle section), his intact rich vibrato, and his signature moves (the run-in-place, the wagging finger, the sideways glance) reveal a familiar and, at 68, still singularly captivating performer, even if he prefers a horror-movie barn to a stage these days. [9/10]

John Garratt: If adding a saxophone to your song is considered "innovative", then the Eagles must have been an absolute gaggle of renaissance men! As for the rest of the mix, this sounds like a neutered albeit pleasant version of the stuff Bowie was doing 20 years ago. True, new ground can't be broken every time. But it couldn't hurt to refrain from constantly telling people that they need to be excited about Blackstar. [5/10]

Jordan Blum: As one of the most influential, chameleonic, and legendary musical artists of the last 50 years, David Bowie could’ve retired years ago without losing a shred of relevancy or reverence. But that’s simply not in his genes, and this track proves that he’s still capable of intrigue and reinvention. Its multipart structure evokes some prior compositions, and its blend of jazz, industrial, electronica, and synth pop makes the entire journey unpredictable, eerie, and fascinating, like an improved version of David Lynch’s musical endeavors. Although it’s a bit tedious and monotonous in spots, the sheer diversity and ambition shown here demonstrates why there has never been, and never will be, an artist like David Bowie. [8/10]

Richard Folland: Bowie has such a staggering back catalogue that there is a natural tendency to provide a frame of reference. A number of writers have already sought to compare "Blackstar" to the similar-length title track off his 1976 album Station to Station. But the revelation about "Blackstar" is that there is no frame of reference -- its meandering, jazzy, ethereal 10-minute journey is like nothing Bowie has recorded before. This says everything about Bowie at the age of 68, still exploring, still challenging himself. Two more things that strike you. Maybe the Bowie rock voice of Jean Genie and Queen Bitch has gone forever. The vocals on "Blackstar" sound like the slightly frail and delicate figure who returned to our headphones in 2013 with "Where Are We Now?" But even if the stentorian tones have departed, this is a man who can still inject streams of emotion and feeling. The other point is that Bowie’s greatest asset -- his sense of mystery -- remains fully intact. "Blackstar" teases and tempts. But above all it makes you ask the questions and want to hear more. A triumph, then. [9/10]

Kevin Korber: Bowie has returned to space after the relatively grounded affairs of The Next Day. The eerie, ominous world of the beyond in “Blackstar” is the furthest Bowie has travelled from our realm, further away than the Orwellian nightmare of Diamond Dogs or the coke-fueled psychodrama of Station to Station. It’s new-ish territory for him, even if “Blackstar” consists of fairly well-worn avant-garde ideas. As ever, though, Bowie can make any ideas his own. [7/10]

Timothy Gabriele: The cover of Bowie’s unexpected previous album, The Next Day, commented on the man’s legacy and how he was now condemned to live through its lens. “Blackstar” finally begins having fun with this notion, producing a massive suite that you can hear the experimentalism of the Berlin Trilogy in, the Scott Walker aspiration of 1.Outside in, the bold yet uncertain futurism of Station to Station in, and the wide-eyed bombastic enthusiasm of Hunky Dory filtered through the wear-and-tear of 50 years of influencing the musical imaginary. The video is even better, with Bowie simultaneously a blind ascetic and an ostentatious evangelical preacher wielding a bible of the self (after proclaiming ad nauseum “I’m a Blackstar”, he thrusts out a holy book with said symbol centered on its cover). Bowie has been both the monk and the sermonizer, the hermit and the superstar, along with plenty in between. You can’t filter through these personalities to find a real Bowie since he’s all of them and a hundred unseen ones as well. Rather than shift to a modern interpretation of this rock chameleon paradigm in an era long after rock’s death has been loudly declared, Bowie chooses to remake himself in the image of the Bowies of times past. The reason the man has had such a reach in music is not because he instructed kids that they could be anything, but rather because he told them that they could be everything. In rejection of the popular notion that a pop star’s career ebbs and flows, Bowie’s weaves and curves, hitting unexpected highs and lows on the way. “Blackstar” is a welcome and weird peak on that journey we just a few short years ago thought was over. [9/10]

SCORE: 8.14

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