David Bowie – Blackstar

Only ten days of the new year have passed and already 2016 has shocked the music world. As I, and many others, had predicted Guns N’ Roses have announced a reunion that so far comprises of two festival dates, but will most likely extend into at least a US tour. Secondly, and very sadly, the rock icon David Bowie has passed away only two days after his twenty-fifth studio album, Blackstar, was released on his sixty-ninth birthday. It is therefore only fitting to give a brief review of Bowie’s final studio album in today’s RockAtlantic blog.

Blackstar sees Bowie returning to what he was best known for; experimentation. The title track is a long wandering piece that drifts between vibrato vocals set to a spacey backdrop, jazz fusion and electronically-processed sections. It is hugely alienating to anyone wanting something along the lines of Bowie’s more digestible music, but that is what makes the song, and indeed this album, work; it is Bowie with no restraints, guiding his own artistic path.

The album continues in this vein. ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore immediately reveals a stumbling dance between saxophone and piano; the former of which is really allowed free rein over this five minute grooving rock number. Bowie continues with and elevates the groove for Sue (Or In A Season of Crime), which is centred entirely around a bouncing guitar and drum pulse, embellished with odd keyboards, swelling atmospherics and saxophone splutters.

Bowie’s vocals are not always the strongest across the album, but it doesn’t detract from the excellent music and creativity on show. Girl Loves Me opens with a bizarre vocal performance, but in the context of this dreamy march it somehow works. However the following track, Dollar Days, allows Bowie’s vocals to take centre stage. The gentle guitar strum and piano tingle provide the closest thing to a commercial effort on the album – if indeed a sax solo and a myriad of Bowie extroversions can fit into such a bracket.

I Can’t Give Anything Away is also an easier listening experience that allows Bowie to give a softer, more reflective vocal contribution on top of synth textures and a driving rhythm section. Like every other song on Blackstar, Donny McCaslin’s saxophone makes a welcomed appearance, but arguably its most enjoyable appearance is within the loose structure of the slowly building Lazarus. The opening guitar and bass plod is eventually joined by various instrumentation and if the unannounced distorted guitar chords aren’t haunting enough, then Bowie’s first lyric, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”, will certainly send an eerie chill down your spine.

It’s hard not to blur and confuse the line between post-death adoration and the sound of a genuinely great album, but even before Bowie’s untimely death, Blackstar had all the ingredients of a superbly creative and genius album. I honestly believe this is a quality piece of music that provides the perfect eulogy for a man who has constantly challenged and changed the face of both mainstream and left-field music.

R.I.P David Bowie.

Overall: 8/10

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The Albums of 2016

With the turn of the year, it is customary to think about what records will be released over the next twelve months, beginning with the known in January to the crystal ball predictions of December.

January is set to be a very exciting month. It begins with the release of David Bowie’s twenty-fifth record, Blackstar, which from the initial previews sounds like an experimental, art rock record, which already seems to be a far more ambitious effort than 2013’s middling comeback record, The Next Day.

The month continues to offer progressive gems, with a surprise EP release from Steven Wilson, simply titled 4 1/2, in reference to its place in Wilson’s superb solo discography. It is then followed by a monolithic effort from Dream Theater entitled The Astonishing, which is a double concept album, with a 34 song track-listing and an accompanying indulgent website. Everything points to this being Dream Theater’s most ambitious record since Scenes From A Memory and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.

January is completed with another dystopian-themed record in Megadeth’s Dystopia, in addition to a solo album from ex-Flyleaf singer Lacey Sturm and progressive efforts from both Ulver and Avantasia.

The highlights of February seem to be the fourth record from Andrew Stockdale’s Wolfmother entitled Victorious and a record from another of the thrash Big Four: Anthrax’s For All Kings, which sees the debut of new lead guitarist Jon Donais.

After February the year’s release timetable becomes more hazy, although it seems like 2016 promises to be a good year for metal.

After two spectacular releases in 2010 and 2012 that reignited their career, Deftones are set to release Koi No Yokan‘s follow-up in early 2016. After being pushed back several times, their eighth studio album is reported to push into further musical territories and see the band head in a heavier direction.

In addition to Deftones, the two European heavy-weights of djent, Gojira and Meshuggah, are rumoured to be releasing their sixth and eighth studio albums respectively in the coming year. They are joined by the likes of Testament, Mastodon and a seventh album for Avenged Sevenfold, which will reveal if this next-generation headliner has what it takes to produce a truly great metal record, after their Metallica-inspired sixth album split opinion like the proverbial Marmite.

Mark Tremonti will have a busy 2016, with Dust, the partner to last year’s Tremonti album, Cauterize, to be released and then toured in the time between him finishing the recording and then releasing a new Alter Bridge album.

Both Nikki Sixx and Trent Reznor are also set for a busy 2016, as the former has announced that two Sixx:AM records will be released this year, whilst the latter has stated that “Nine Inch Nails will return in 2016”, hopefully bringing Hesitation Marks‘ follow-up, in addition to his usual packed schedule of projects.

On the lighter end of the rock spectrum, 2016 could see Red Hot Chili Peppers release their first record since I’m With You in 2011, after the band reported they have finished recording the music and are just waiting for Anthony Kiedis to track vocals. A 2016 release therefore seems likely, but yet again, this is the same situation that Tool have been in for some while…

And on the subject of unlikely releases, will this be the year that Metallica finally complete their tenth studio release? Or maybe it will be the year of the much-rumoured Guns N’ Roses reunion? Only time will tell, but it looks like 2016 is going to be another fantastic year for guitar music and RockAtlantic will be here to document it all.

Have a happy new year and thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog please favourite, comment, share and subscribe.