David Bowie’s latest album, ★, was released on his birthday, January 8, just two days before the rock icon’s death.
Bowie’s last piece of art sounds and feels like a slow ascent to the heavens. It is an end-of-the-night sort of sound. The poignant guitar and saxophone weave together as Bowie tells the world what he must, or at least some of what he must, before he leaves it. The album pulls from various iconic styles Bowie utilized over the last few decades– styles that, unfortunately, now must come to an end, but will never disappear.
Bowie’s familiar voice — sometimes shaky, transformed and aged — is the voice of a life well-lived.
Lazarus, like the resurrected biblical figure, is perhaps a reference to Bowie’s many loved personas– Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, just to name a few – whom he created, performed, and then laid to rest. The ballad encompasses the knowledge of his impending death – the excitement and sorrow of transcending, looking back on a constantly evolving, phoenix-like life. One that, to many fans, seemed like it would never end, only become a new version of itself time after time.
The album flows well, alternating with space-like, almost vein-pulsing ballads like “Blackstar,” “Lazarus” and “Girl Loves Me,” and crooning, guitar-heavy yet dark songs such as “’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” and “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).”
“Girl Loves Me,” which emulates a space-age death march, begs the rhetorical and pleading question, “Where the f*ck did Monday go?” His lyrics are littered with the Russian-influenced slang used in the novel and film “A Clockwork Orange.”
The well-loved sounds of an 80s/90s Bowie underscore the album. It seems like a slow send-off, like a sunset going down beneath a view of a perfect earth— perhaps a painted, western canyon, or the green countrysides in Bowie’s home country of England.
“I Can’t Give Everything Away” is almost a playful nod to the fact that ★ has hidden meaning only Bowie himself knew. Theatrical, much like his own career, this is one piece that might be sung by a once prodigal, lost and found, but always respected stage artist and performer.
Of course, Bowie wouldn’t leave this world without a few plans up his sleeve. According to a report from Newsweek, there are several anthologies, and possibly unheard music, Bowie planned to be released posthumously.
The album name and design itself is a direct reference to Bowie’s recognition of his last days, according to Jonathan Barnbrook, who designed the album and has worked with Bowie throughout most of his late career. Of the many theories surrounding the album’s meaning, Barnbrook gives the public a taste in an interview for “Dezeen” magazine: “So the idea of mortality is in there, and of course the idea of a black hole sucking in everything, the Big Bang, the start of the universe, if there is an end of the universe. These are things that relate to mortality.”
The album permeates with the urgency of an artist who must bid the world farewell and revisit his extraordinary ability to create one last time. ★ punctuates Bowie’s indelible mark on the world while also indicating that there was so much more left.