How bad can a year be that opens with a new Bowie album?
Probably still pretty bad. He has released a lot of albums. Nevertheless, today is both his birthday and album release day. Here’s the latest single, Lazarus.
Inevitably, it’s a good album. As Alexis says in his review, it’s four stars. But like, four Bowie (black)stars. Not quite up to the previous album but, as Chris points out, that one’s excellent. (It’s still high rotation driving music for me.)
It’s interesting to look at the continuity of words/motifs across the album. Obviously ‘stars’ being the main one, and also the double-meaning behind ‘high’. Watch Lazarus and you’ll know what I mean. In the Grauniad article linked above, Bowie had to deny that the name of the album was inspired by ISIS. I would say that was done not because it was wrong, but because it was insufficient. The titular track suggests inner ‘explanations’ should be sought.
Blackstar the single has a marvellous American gothic motif that puts one in mind of the first season of True Detective (and, I would argue, out to the stars that way.) Somebody with this much experience, to say nothing of talent, in messing about with esoteric symbolism and creative output needs to be credited with nuance. Vulture agrees. Blackstar is a sonic companion to Station to Station:
The longest song that David Bowie has ever recorded is, still, “Station to Station,” the ten-minute, 14-second opening salvo from his erratic and wonderful 1976 hit record of the same name. (The album and its creator both have birthdays this month, turning 40 and 69, respectively.) An epic, freewheeling homage to Kraftwerk, kabbalah, Crowley, and Christ (its title, Bowie’s said, was inspired not by train travel so much as the Stations of the Cross), “Station to Station” remains one of the most formally adventurous things Bowie’s ever done: an assertively funky groove speckled with proto-industrial noise that — midway through, at the drop of a drum fill — suddenly explodes into a galloping glam-rock number. It’s all dizzyingly intoxicating, and somehow lovely.[..]
“Blackstar,” the ominous, nine-minute, 57-second opening track on Bowie’s new album of the same name, feels immediately like a spiritual cousin of “Station to Station.” Or maybe it feels like its sober-but-still-eccentric uncle: wiser, more patient, but somehow more genuinely strange, because that strangeness can no longer be blamed on truckloads of drugs. “On the day of execution,” Bowie sings in a droning, haunted, multi-tracked croon, “Only women kneel and smile.” Like “Station to Station,” “Blackstar” has the feel of two songs stitched together, but the two halves interweave more seamlessly here: The second part is an ascension (“Something happened on the day he died …”), an angelic and almost cartoonishly pretty reverie. The beauty is soon interrupted, though, when that droning refrain comes back in, and the track climaxes with these two pieces braided together quite eerily, like a round song sung by angels and devils.
Then there is the black star itself, a fairly obvious allusion to (among other, more militaristic things) Zener cards, which I would stay is underlined by his twice-now use of the creepy blindfold in both music videos: use your inner sight.
Here’s the album graphic.
Note the ‘star pieces’… pieces of a broken star (who fell to earth?) looking very Zener sequence.
You can argue amongst yourselves how much of this is deliberate. Bowie is certainly not above using these motifs for drama or attention -he’s a performer, after all. But this kind of thing is far from new to him:
Bowie probably knows more about Gnosticism and aliens and the rest of it than all of us. In the 70s he was literally superhuman, sustaining himself on cocaine, milk and the occasional raw egg while blasting out one classic LP after another, bedding thousands of groupies and touring the world tirelessly with his enormous occult library in tow and spending his spare time scanning the skies for UFOs.
And that’s really my point. He’s 69 today. How many decades does one have to have one’s head in all this before we start putting speech marks about who is doing the creating? This came up in my recent conversation with Chris that is about six times longer than this Bowie album. If you’re not iterating off ‘syncs’ into building your own language, they you’re really just playing a game of tawdry whack-a-mole. Crowley said as much to his wife after he summoned the sylphs for her in Egypt. “Yeah, but what’s the fucking point?” (I may be paraphrasing.)
One of the appealing things about animism as an operative model is that it allows us to push an ecosystemic metaphor into the spirit world. Whatever Bowie’s ‘spiritual local biosphere’ looks like, it would be hard to say it’s not vibrant and healthy… a give and take of movement, inspiration and creation across dimensions. This, I would argue, is the Deep Structure behind practical hermetica, lectio divina, operative Kabbalah and so on: An accumulation of signs that are responded to and responded back to… that is how we got Enochian in the first place.
This makes Blackstar less of a ‘sync’ and more of a portent. It’s not a ‘bingo’! but it probably says something currently indescribable that it dropped at the beginning of this of all years.
Now, if only someone had a book out in a matter of weeks that goes intro tremendous detail regarding how the stars and spirits are and have always been interrelated. What a tremendous help that would be. Oh… right.