It's been an awful start to the New Year with regard to influential musicians. The ending of last year was probably a horrible warning of things ahead, beginning with Scott Wieland, Natalie Cole, and Lemmy Kilmister. Every single one of those musicians left such a mark in music as a whole, it's hard to actually conceive music moving ahead without each of them. It's even more difficult to quantify what their best work was. Each of them left us with something new and unforgettable. Each of them defined their genre of music and kept evolving it. All of them will be remembered for being larger than the music they created.
That brings us to 2016. Believe it or not, the first album that I planned on buying and featuring here this year was David Bowie's 25th album, Blackstar. With the dearth of musicians announcing their releases this year I had to go on faith that David Bowie wouldn't disappoint and delay his release. After all, he hasn't released an album since 2013, and frankly I was shocked when I heard about this one over the summer. I decided immediately that would probably be one of the biggest and best albums I could own, at that point, it became a matter of when it would be released. Fast forward to Record Store Day light, (AKA Black Friday) when I found out the official release date would be David Bowie's Birthday, it was official. Blackstar became the first David Bowie album that I ever bought on release day. A distinction that I'm sure my parents couldn't even claim. A good bunch of the 24 other releases Bowie has had over the years has managed to elude me while crate digging. So to be able to get in on the ground floor of something I knew I literally waited my whole life for was so worth being one of the only people in the record store that morning buying that album. The question is, was I waiting for this experience because of the music, David's talent, a release of an icon or all of the above? The answer, at the time, was easy. New music from someone that I knew I needed to have. Now, a week later my reasoning has changed. I knew I needed to have Blackstar on its release day because I knew I needed to have Blackstar on its release day. That's all nothing more. Turns out, it's one of the best decisions that I've made all year.
Friday, November 17, 2015: The first single, the title track was released and I had heard it for the first time on Satellite radio. Blackstar, at first, wasn't immediately recognizable as something that David Bowie was even capable of. I thought that it was an intro for something. It was calm and haunting. Not in a way that any of his other music was. You see, David has had a way across 25 albums of evolving his sound so much that you would have a very difficult time placing what era a particular song of his was even released. About 5 minutes into the song, something really interesting happens. The entire song changes from haunting and ominous to something so fantastical, you would think that it came from the Labyrinth soundtrack. It became hopeful and poignant. Elements of jazz and funk invaded what was once something setting up to be a wall of sound in an experimental soundscape, to become a real complex hybrid of instruments and orchestrated brilliance. The remaining 4 minutes of the song became something special. It became something that an entire album could be carried with. This was a 9-minute teaser of what David could very well have been working on for the past 3 years.
Monday, December 14, 2015: I posted here what would be for the final time of 2015. I had made it up in my head to map out how I was going to begin the new year. I was going to open with a New Years day post and follow it up with a release day vinyl pick of Lazarus on Friday, January 8th, David Bowie's birthday. Somewhere in that post, I even remember suggesting that David's new album was one to be anticipated. Hopefully, I made that point as clear as vinyl.
Thursday, December 17, 2015: I had already made up my mind to buy this album after listening to the first single multiple times whenever it was on. The 9-minute song is something of music past that I have long missed, and having one that was so good be so current was so worth waiting in your car to finish listening to before you went off to do whatever you were doing. So on this day when his 2nd single was released, Lazarus, this was a complete surprise. This sounded like classic Bowie set to Jazz. The only visual I had in my mind was something akin to his 1999 album, Hours. It reminded me of "Something In The Air". It had the same pedigree, it began slow and solemn and over time built to something massive with so much emotion you actually felt better when it was over. It was like a hype song without the rapping. That was the vision of Lazarus with nothing more to go on than the radio. It's a week before Christmas, and release date for this album can't get here soon enough.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016: I elected to skip a New Years day post. It would have been little more than a pointless Happy New Year to everyone with little substance. Because of that, I was now investing all of my time pre-writing what was in my mind, the most anticipated record release in a long time. In 2 days I would finally own a release day copy of an album, which up to this point, is incredible. A lot of reviews had come in and this album sounded incredible. For the first time, David Bowie made an entire album with a 4 piece Jazz ensemble. There were rumors of influence from hip-hop artists such as Kendrick Lamar. This whole thing is building up to something real special. Later this day I saw the video for Lazarus. Suddenly the world changed. Did I really just feel uncomfortable seeing David act like this?
Friday, January 8, 2016: It's finally here. I called Newbury Comics and had them hold a copy of the album for me, which they amazingly obliged, I was finally going to own this album. The plan was to grab it, run home and finish the first post of 2016 with a bang. I had been listening to the album all day on Spotify at this point, like someone listening to an album on their way to a concert. I couldn't wait! Unfortunately, I ended up working later than I thought, I didn't make it to Newbury Comics till just before they closed and I was consumed that whole weekend. I was so frustrated with that, that I scrapped everything I had written up to then in advance of posting the album. I thought, I'll listen to the album all weekend and do a Vinyl Monday post instead. The more I listened to the album, the better it got. I also watched Lazarus once more, this time, it became even more unsettling.
Monday, January 11, 2016: I was awoken at about 2 am by a friend of mine who simply asked if I had heard the news. "What news?" I asked. David Bowie had passed away late Sunday night. Fast forward to 8 am, I couldn't believe it, still. Over the past few days as more details came out about what he had been suffering from the past 18 months, and really listening to the lyrics of all of the songs on this album, I finally understood that this was his last album.
It took a few days of listening to damn near all 25 albums and watching Labyrinth more times than I chose to admit to getting here. This isn't the post that I wanted to make. The original post was about how it took 24 albums for David Bowie to sound at peace with himself. It would have talked about how through 25 albums, this one, Blackstar, was the first one that ever reached #1. The post I wanted to write would have compared this album to Heathen, and Hours and contrasted with Earthling and Young Americans, (Frankly his best album). I would have gone on at length about how David Bowie, more than any other artist was capable of remaining relevant. His style, his music, his artistry, and everything else about him kept him in our minds. Whenever an artist as unique as Bowie releases anything, it's a big deal. That's what people look forward to, being first to see what comes next. That's why it struck me as really strange... Friday night January 8th when I picked up the album, I asked the clerk if they had sold out of the album. She said no, they had plenty left. I looked at her strangely, thanked her and went on about my night. Why was I the only person in the store buying that album?
So here we are, a week after the release of Blackstar. 5 days after the death of David Bowie. I can honestly say that owning what has become one of the single best records of my collection, has become one of the greatest albums in the history of music. This beautifully packaged and presented final swansong of David Bowie was purchased at Newbury Comics on Newbury Street in Boston. All 180gm of it and it came with a mp3 download code. Own this album any way you can, and never stop till you find the rest of the Bowie that you'll come to love if this is your indoctrination to the incredible talent that David Bowie is. With that, the video that defines his career. Happy New Year.
RIP David Bowie.
RIP David Bowie.