In Review

David Bowie's Blackstar: jazz, revenge and… Islamic State?

Bowie fans should expect the unexpected, as critics praise new album as 'extraordinary'

David Bowie

David Bowie's latest album, Blackstar, due out on his 69th birthday on 8 January, has already got reviewers talking – they say it's extraordinary.

Bowie's 25th album, was recorded at the Magic Shop studio in New York with local jazz musicians, led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The album features seven songs and is said to draw upon influences as diverse as hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar, A Clockwork Orange, revenge tragedy and perhaps even the rise of Islamic State, says Rolling Stone.

The title track was released as a single in late November and was used as the theme tune for Sky Atlantic's heist series The Last Panthers. It is ten minutes long and features Gregorian chants, soul, electronica and Bowie's eerie vocals throughout.

Band leader Donny McCaslin claimed the song was inspired by the rise of IS, but this was later denied by a spokesperson for Bowie.

Daniel Kreps in Rolling Stone wrote: "The music is reminiscent of the bleak, haunting instrumentals on the back half of Bowie's 1977 album Heroes before a sinister beat kicks in for the dying seconds of The Last Panthers theme."

A second single, Lazarus, just released, also features in Bowie's New York musical of the same name, which is said to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

A number of critics have listened to the album ahead of its official release and say fans should expect the unexpected.

Alexis Petridis in The Guardian, calls the album "an unexpected left turn". He describes the album's tracks alternately as "hugely impressive", "challenging" and "limpidly beautiful".

The title track, whether or not inspired by IS, evokes an "intermittent sense of dread" and is by turns "gorgeous, disturbing and utterly confounding", says Petridis. He adds that the album shows just how unknowable an artist Bowie is, and it's all executed with "enviable aplomb that only deepens the mystery further".

Neil McCormick, in the Daily Telegraph, says Blackstar is "extraordinary". On first hearing the album, it sounds like rock's oldest futurist has dusted down his saxophone and "gone jazz", says McCormick.

But what Bowie has created is not something any jazz fan would recognise "and is all the better for it", adds McCormick, who says Bowie's "intriguing experiment" takes the wild, abstract form of free jazz and tries to turn it into songs.

McCormick sums up by calling Blackstar a "rich and strange" album that "refuses to yield in a few listens". It suggests, he says, that like a modern day Lazarus of pop, "Bowie is well and truly back from beyond".

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