Words by TJ Kliebhan
The ethos of David Bowie has always been tied to modernity. Bowie’s career as an icon has always been contextualized by what is cool and current. What separates him from so many of his contemporaries is a refusal to be complacent. In 1976 he famously said, “The minute you’re on safe ground, you’re dead.”
David Bowie has never lived in the past or tread safely, and most of his music throughout the decades reflects this. He refuses to let time pass him by, instead opting to prove he can stay contemporary. “★” is not an album someone would create if they were looking to play it safe. On the 25th album of his career, we see a fiercely ambitious and experimental side of David Bowie reminiscent of an artist who feels they have something to prove. “★” is undoubtedly one of Bowie’s most experimental records, but many should count it among one of his best as well.
The album opens with the first track Bowie released back in 2015 to tease the album, the eponymous 10 minute single. The short opening seconds of the track before Bowie’s voice emerges work to create an eerie atmosphere that remains throughout the rest of the album. He sounds confident but at the same time unsettling. The subtle vocal effects Bowie employs on most of “★” cryptically contribute in similar ways to how Thom Yorke recorded his vocals on “Everything In It’s Right Place.” Even the length of the track is unnerving because of the lost feeling it exudes.
Every track on “★” has an ambient electronic foundation and spacey 70s jazz fusion elements that make surprising entrances and hushed exits. Another fantastic track is “Girl Loves Me”, which is driven by Bowie’s vocal swagger and a supporting orchestra. Bowie clamors, “Where the fuck did Monday go?” as pounding snare beats maintain the now established air of discomfort.
The album has a couple tracks such as “Sue” and “Dollar Days” that have the classic ballad feel to them, but are covered in a light coat of unease that distinguishes “★” in the Bowie cannon. While he employs some of his classic Bowie tropes such as a feeling of soaring drama on this new record, they’ve been packaged in such a starkly different way than before. The new presentation acts as more proof that David Bowie will never fear reinventing himself.
“★” will be remembered as one of the best records in Bowie’s later catalog because it is bravely modern, yet still different because it is so uniquely David Bowie. By embracing a setting of alienation and pairing it with beautiful piano and string instrumentation, Bowie has created something gorgeously accessible and strangely unknown at the same time.
Some things have not changed in Bowie after all these years. He still relentlessly pursues the strange, wholeheartedly embraces and assimilates himself into that peculiarity, and manages to make it chic and sophisticated.
© January 8th, 2016
TheWaster.com | ★