A decade of dormancy for David Bowie was ended with 2013’s The Next Day, a critically acclaimed album that dealt with mortality. The theme of mortality continues with 2016’s Blackstar, released a mere two days before the singer succumb to cancer at the age of 69.
The dealings with death begin immediately with the album’s titular song. The jaunt refrain finds Bowie singing “Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside/Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried/I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar,” a play on the savior archetype but also a play on Bowie himself–the icon had created Ziggy Stardust then just as quickly replaced him with Thin White Duke.
The same idea of death and rising is explored in “Lazerus.” Beginning with the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” the dark track is set over Interpol-esque guitar and features emotive saxophone. It seems almost ironic when the song concludes with Bowie singing “I’ll be free just like that bluebird/I’ll be free/Ain’t that just like me?”
Make no mistake about it, Blackstar is the work of a free man. At every turn Bowie challenges the listener. From the popcorn drums and free jazz saxophone of “‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore” to the “I’m Afraid of Americans”-esque “Girl Loves Me,” the album might be Bowie’s most experimental work. For a man who pushed the boundaries of art and music for the better part of five decades, it is only fitting that his final manifesto seems to follow no rules, no conventions. Bowie goes out on his own terms–his own glorious terms.