Originally written for Aural Grove
David Bowie knew he was going to die. Though he did suffer from liver cancer throughout the last 18 months of his life on our planet, the aura and mysticism he possessed was beautifully translated on his 25th and final studio album: Blackstar. It was an album that looked into the future, beyond life itself. Bowie’s fearlessness on this album was truly liberating, as he experimented with darker electronic melodies and heavy jazz music that took inspiration from contemporary icons in Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips and Boards of Canada. Bowie’s ability to channel his suffering and perception of death so effortlessly on Blackstar makes it Bowie’s most honest and liberating album in his iconic discography.
The 10 minute self-titled opener to the album is saturated in imagery and metaphors, both in its lyrics and the video itself.
“In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen
Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah
In the centre of it all, in the centre of it all
This is how the album opens up. The “solitary candle” could refer to the last bastion of hope or faith in a sad, tragic locale: the “villa of Ormen,” or “the house/town of the serpent.” Candles are usually used to remember those who recently passed, and the fact that he uses that image as It is such a poetic and perfect opening to the album, which is opened by eerie synth chords and strings that bring a darkness and uncertainty to the track. The chords progressions and the use of strings on this album give it an orchestral feel to the record, and this is most poignant on the third track of the album “Lazarus.” The build up to this track build up dramatically to one of the most haunting and chilling lyrics on the whole album.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen
Everybody knows me now…”
The raw energy of these lyrics could be felt through the pain of his voice. In the video, he is seen laying in all white garments in what can be perceived as his death bed. With his eyes covered and singing lyrics that foreshadow his death is both eerie and profoundly moving. This was a man who was full of life and experimented with art and fashion like no other artist of his time, now limited by a disease that made him sick and weak. Sonically, the album concludes with a gorgeous composition that has subtle electronic beats that are accompanied by gorgeous string sections and Saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose jazz quartet helped record the entire album, to end the album on a euphoric high, sharing some final thoughts on what was possibly his swan song.
“Seeing more and feeling less
Saying no but meaning yes
This is all I ever meant
That’s the message that I sent…”
The first line may be a direct reference to his battle with cancer, as the fight has made him wiser as he thinks more of the things in life, yet his body is deteriorating, making him “feel less.” The next line might be a reference to the difference in characters he performed as throughout his life not being a true reflection of who he is as an individual as he tried to find solace and inner peace whilst he contemplated about life on his death bed. The repetition of the phrase
“I can’t give everything
I can’t give everything
leaves us to think more about his art and how we value and interpret it. As his music throughout the years has been profound with themes of identity. The fact that he “can’t give everything away” gives his music a mystical ending as he leaves us to interpret his art which ever way we feel. This is the beauty of this record. While its full of themes about death, it’s the way we interpret them that give it such power and weight. This is why Blackstar is his most thematically complete record to date.
Listen to David Bowie’s 25th and final studio album Blackstar below via Spotify.