Seeing as it is now over a week since its release, I don’t know how many people have reviewed the record before his passing, only two days after the record came out, versus how many got to it after. It’s interesting to think about the effect that something like that would have on the writing and criticism.
It is very haunting to read Pitchfork‘s review of the record, written a day before the record’s release, where Bowie is very much still alive and spoken about using the present tense: “David Bowie has died many deaths yet he is still with us,” it begins. I had not heard the record until after, and during my listen I continually thought: “are these the same thoughts about the record that I would be having had he not just passed away?” The reality was however, unbeknownst to us, that David Bowie had been fighting liver cancer for eighteen months, and though he planned on recording another album after ★, he knew his situation, and ★ clearly shows a man reckoning with that very fact.
Whether about ISIS, like Donny McCaslin, the saxophone player on ★, had said of the title track, or a commentary on his own mortality, it works hand and hand, as most David Bowie songs tend to do, drawing their meaning from many different avenues. To me, and it may be just because of the recent events of his passing, and knowing that ★ will be his final record, it leans very much towards the latter in resonating with me.
A “black star,” or “black dwarf” as it is also called, is when a star stops giving off energy, heat, or light, where it will cease to be visible by the human eye. Because the time required for a star to reach this state is calculated to be longer than the current age of the universe (13.8 billion years), no black dwarfs are expected to exist in the universe yet. Constantly obsessed with the idea of space and stars, now given a lighting bolt constellation in his honor, it is only fitting that ★, the fear of fading away, is what’s on his mind towards the end.
“This is all I ever meant/That’s the message that I sent,” he sings on the end of “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” an aptly named last track. ★ is definitely his most ambitious record, and the fact that it was inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly only adds to its amazing conception. The sound of the record is huge, like one actively writing their magnum opus, reflective, and fitting. Rest in peace David Bowie, you’ll never be that fading black star, your eclectic musical innovation and iconic stage persona will live on with us, brightly, forever.