New Reels: ‘Blackstar’ by David Bowie

The elder statesman of art-rock returns with a surreal and slightly bewildering 10 minute long video.

There’s been quite a buzz building around this new video from David Bowie since it was released last week, coming as it did with almost no pre-publicity save rumours that he was definitely working on something. Since his near total withdrawal from public life some years ago he’s managed to regain much of the enigma that made him such a fascinating artist in his 70’s heyday. The air of mystery so crucial to his persona was lost to a certain extent when he went all media and chatshow friendly in the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s as if at some point he remembered he was an artist, not a celebrity, and that his legend was sufficiently established so as not to need anymore comfy sofa chats with Jonathan Ross et al.

Indeed, up until the release of 2013’s album The Next Day many had assumed he was retired. With the release of this new single and an album scheduled for January 2016  it seems we are instead getting some kind of late-period flush from rock music’s most singular artist.

Except of course, Bowie moved way beyond simple rock music many years ago, and attempts to categorise ‘Blackstar’ are doomed to failure. It’s a song in two parts, the urgent, skittering beats and jazzy saxophone of the first half giving way to something which echoes parts of Lodger and other elements of his late 70’s period that, whether he likes it or not, has informed a great chunk of what he has done since. As for the video, it begins with a dead spaceman (another appearance from Major Tom?) and ends with some kind of pagan ritual, whilst inbetween we are bombarded with imagery that, in true surrealist fashion, defies any kind of obvious meaning whilst obliquely suggesting plenty. Insomuch as outer space has been a long-running theme in Bowie’s work this is a return to familiar territory, but only tangentially.

Bowie has often been labeled the supreme stylist, something which implicitly suggests that for all the clever artsiness of his work it maybe lacks the emotional depth of, say, a Bob Dylan or Neil Young, and to a certain extent that’s true. What can’t be denied though is that he has always stayed true to his muse, and that he isn’t out there like the Stones or McCartney doing endless rounds of greatest hits tours or playing the Ziggy Stardust album in it’s entirety (a vogue for ‘classic’ artists that’s surely getting a little tired now), and instead is giving us work that asks as many questions as it answers is much to his credit. ‘Blackstar’ is Bowie doing what Bowie does best; it’s mysterious, imaginative, and just a little bit nuts. And we love it.

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