Released: 8 January 2016
David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Donny McCaslin: saxophone, flute, woodwind
Jason Lindner: piano, Wurlitzer organ, keyboards
Ben Monder: guitar
Tim Lefebvre: bass guitar
Mark Guiliana: drums, percussion
James Murphy: percussion
Erin Tonkon: backing vocals
- ‘★’ (‘Blackstar’)
- ‘’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’
- ‘Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)’
- ‘Girl Loves Me’
- ‘Dollar Days’
- ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’
Blackstar, or ★, was David Bowie’s final album and masterpiece. It was released on the singer’s 69th birthday, 8 January 2016, two days before he died.
He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.
The lyrics of Blackstar are among Bowie’s darkest, and include references to death, illness, failure, violence, execution, murder, theft, war, rebirth and resurrection. Yet Bowie was hiding his cancer in plain sight, and few realised upon the album’s release that it might be his farewell to the world.
The critics’ failure to join the dots may have been a delayed reaction to ‘Where Are We Now?’, whose lyrics, funereal pace and nostalgic video were widely perceived to be a commentary on his ailing health. Those incorrect interpretations from 2013 meant that few reviewers – if they had spotted Bowie’s clues – were willing to show their hand a second time.
When I read the lyrics to ‘Lazarus’ and a few other songs, I knew what he was doing. I think it was clear in his mind that this could be his last album. He was putting all those messages in there. Like that first verse of ‘Lazarus’ – “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. I heard that and I smiled. “I know what you’re saying David,” and he laughed.
Knowing what we knew, we all felt so responsible for making ★ the best album possible. We left no stone unturned. We made it as perfect as we could. David was growing weak as the year went on, but when he was present he was ebullient, couldn’t stop smiling, couldn’t be happier.
Mojo, March 2016
In a 1977 interview, Bowie had meditated on fame and old age, saying that he did not fear dying.
I think having a son made an enormous difference to me. At first it frightened me, and I tried not to consider the implications. Now it is his future that concerns me. My own future slips by. I’m prepared for it, and I am prepared for the end.
There are still people on an immortality kick, and it amuses me now. We’ll do anything in our power to stay alive. There’s a feeling that the average lifespan should be longer than it is. I disagree. I mean, we’ve never lived so long… Not in any century that man’s been on this planet.
Not so very long ago no one lived past the age of 40. And we’re still not happy with 70. What are we after exactly? There’s just too much ego involved. And who wants to drag their old decaying frame around until they are 90, just to assert their ego? I don’t, certainly.
Melody Maker, 29 October 1977
Although Blackstar became Bowie’s final message to the world, producer Tony Visconti said he was writing songs up until his last days, and had hoped to record new music.
Last time I spoke to him was about nine days ago. FaceTime on his Mac. He doesn’t like phone calls. He likes to turn the camera on and look you in the eye. Quite disarming – you open your iPad and there’s David Bowie staring at you. He was still upbeat. He said he was very weak but he was going for new therapy and he was writing new songs and was actually speaking about recording the next album. I think he thought – we all did – that he had more time.
Mojo, March 2016