NPR logo

Music Review: 'Blackstar,' David Bowie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/462412624/462412625" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Music Review: 'Blackstar,' David Bowie

Music Reviews

Music Review: 'Blackstar,' David Bowie

Music Review: 'Blackstar,' David Bowie

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/462412624/462412625" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The new album of British singer David Bowie, entitled Blackstar (stylised as *), is displayed during the exhibition "David Bowie is", at the museum shop of the Groninger Museum in The Netherlands. Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images

The new album of British singer David Bowie, entitled Blackstar (stylised as *), is displayed during the exhibition "David Bowie is", at the museum shop of the Groninger Museum in The Netherlands.

Vincent Jannink/AFP/Getty Images

Music critic Will Hermes reviews the new album from David Bowie which is being called Blackstar.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Happy birthday to David Bowie. He turned 69 today. The pop icon hasn't performed in public for nearly a decade, but he's in the midst of a creative rebirth. His off-Broadway musical, "Lazarus," opened last month in New York City. And he released a new album today - "Blackstar," recorded with some of the sharpest young players in jazz. Our critic, Will Hermes, has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACKSTAR")

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen stands a solitary candle. In the center of it all, in the center of it all.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: David Bowie likes to work between the familiar and the strange, which is one reason he makes such a compelling space alien. That's the territory of his new musical, a sequel to his 1976 film "The Man Who Fell To Earth." And it extends to his new album, which features the play's signature song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LAZARUS")

BOWIE: (Singing) Look up here, man. I'm in danger. I've got nothing left to lose. I am so high it makes my brain whirl. Dropped my cell phone down below.

HERMES: Bowie helped pioneer the use of electronics in rock 'n roll, and he uses them extensively here. But what makes "Blackstar" radical is how human it sounds. The dazzling quartet of saxophonist Donny McCaslin defines this album. They sound like hyper-evolved cyborgs.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BOWIE SONG)

HERMES: It's this mix of familiar and strange that makes "Blackstar" so rewarding. Bowie's an old guy who's digested a lot of music, and he somehow manages to transform old school R&B, modern Jazz and weird progressive rock into a single language here, one that's as visceral as it is cerebral.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BOWIE SONG)

HERMES: Bowie reportedly listened a lot to Kendrick Lamar's jazz-rap fusion while making this record, and that makes sense. Like Lamar, he's upping the ante on what constitutes pop music, giving his audience some credit. It's what David Bowie has always done. And unlike the work of most of his contemporaries, it's why his work still matters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY")

BOWIE: (Singing) I can't give everything away.

CORNISH: David Bowie's album "Blackstar" came out today. Our critic, Will Hermes, is author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY")

BOWIE: (Singing) ....Away.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.