More than enough ink has been spilled on David Bowie‘s lengthy career as a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, actor and painter, so delving into any significant backstory will be largely unnecessary for the scope of this post; however, what I will say is that Bowie’s career has been marked by continual reinvention — and as a result, he may arguably be one of the most inventive and influential artists of the past 50 years.
Bowie’s 25th full-length album Backstar is slated for a January 9, 2016 release, which coincidentally is Bowie’s 69th birthday. The album’s first single, album title track “Backstar” may arguably be one of the strangest and yet most visceral songs the influential British artist has ever released. Clocking in at 10 minutes, the slow burning and moodily cinematic track begins with a lengthy and ambient introduction punctuated with electronic bloops and bleeps, a soaring string arrangement and a mournful horn solo. A brief jazz fusion section eventually segues into a tense section punctuated with ominously buzzing synths and angular stabs of guitar, accordion and other instrumentation along with layers upon layers of vocals fed into distraction and other effects. Sonically, the song sounds as though it effortlessly meshes several different Bowie periods into one effortlessly cohesive song — in particular, the song reportedly is something of a return to Bowie’s krautrock-influenced days while nodding to his experiments with electronics. Or as I told a journalism student, who briefly interviewed me after the video premiere at the Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg, “it’s kind of like Bowie’s version of OK Computer and Amnesiac-era Radiohead while being distinctly Bowie.” But as I was listening to this song again, I’m also reminded of influential German art rock band CAN, as well as early Kraftwerk — or shall I say, pre synthesizer Kraftwerk? (Speaking of the song’s cinematic nature, “Backstar” unsurprisingly is the theme song to a six part miniseries The Last Panthers, which premiered in France, the UK, Ireland, Italy, German and Austria earlier this week and will be broadcast in the US in January.)
The official video, which was official released today is probably one of the creepiest, most surreal and yet most gorgeously shot videos I’ve seen in quite some time. Visually, the video is set in a post apocalyptic, somewhat medieval world rooted around indecipherable religious ceremonies and rituals — while hinting at Bowie’s legendary past work. The dead astronaut at the beginning seems to reference “Space Oddity“‘s Major Tom, the dancing and the tight closeup sequence in the attic reminds me of the video for “Dancing in the Street” among others.