"The mystique that once surrounded him will never be reclaimed, but that doesn't mean he's lost his mojo."
Having completely withdrawn from touring, the eternally bizarre David Bowie has spent a fair bit of time in the studio.
The most recent result is ★ (pronounced Blackstar): a dark, torturous romp across seven jazzy and avant-garde tracks. Collaborating with a host of musicians, including multi-instrumentalist Donny McCaslin, Bowie succeeds at going completely off the wall while still retaining the essence of his signature sound.
Each track on the album features its own oddities and absurdities, but three elements remain present throughout: dissonant, proggy saxophone flourishes; looping drum tracks (that have worn thin by the album's close); and Bowie's sublime, weathered voice. In fact, the vocals become so integrated into the DNA of the tracks they seem to be treated like just another instrument: calling and responding to the guitars, bass and keyboards that surround them.
Peppered between the album's subversive tracks — such as opener ★'s strings and the insidious bop of murder-ballad Girl Loves Me — are more subdued moments. Lazarus offers a reprieve from the previous tracks' swirling assaults, while Sue (Or In A Season of Crime) wears its Nine Inch Nails influence on its sleeve. Bowie even returns to his glam-rock ways with bright, glittery guitar solos seeping their way in as the album approaches its end.
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Bowie might not be the interplanetary, rock'n'roll immortal he once was. The mystique that once surrounded him will never be reclaimed, but that doesn't mean he's lost his mojo. ★ is a fierce, enchanting and honest release.