Artist of the week: David Bowie

Artist of the week on Musikki – David Bowie

David Robert Jones (1947), known by his artistic persona David Bowie, is an English musician, record producer, arranger and actor, whose major influence in the world of white popular music in the last five decades is only paired by the work of Bob Dylan.

The cliché of Bowie as a music chameleon is only partially accurate: though he undeniably mastered trends and fashions such as the hippie culture in the 60s, soul, funk and disco in the 70s, mainstream pop in the 80s and jungle in the 90s, the truth is that he was a groundbreaking precursor and innovator in genres such as proto Heavy Metal (The Man Who Sold The World), glam rock (the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane era), electronics and ambient music (the Berlin trilogy), stretching the boundaries of rock, influencing several generations of musicians and selling nearly 150 millions of records worldwide. He remains, to this day, the holder of one of the most singular and recognizable British accented voices to ever cruise popular music and was one of the first major artists to recognize and fully embrace the potential of the emerging digital media landscape.

His career seemed to have reach a definitive halt in 2004, when he suffered chest pain while performing at the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel, Germany. Originally thought to be a pinched nerve in his shoulder, the pain was later diagnosed as an acutely blocked coronary artery, requiring an emergency angioplasty in Hamburg. This near-death experience forced a long hiatus that many considered to be definitive until he released, ten years later and out of the blue, the critically acclaimed album The Next Day, which summoned several soundscapes from his five decade career in order to produced a tight collection of songs that suddenly thrilled his fans and gave a new generation the opportunity to enjoy brand new music from one of the absolute icons of popular culture of the last century.

Two years after, David Bowie is back with Blackstar (stylised as ★), a record that brings back the iconoclastic penchant that was the trademark of his work during the 70s. Fuelled by the amazing performance of a top-notch array of New York Jazz musicians (led by the celebrated saxophonist Donny McCaslin), Bowie delivers one of his most enigmatic and challenging LPs. Its exquisite blend of drama, alienation and enchantment immediately puts him in the very short list of the composers and performers that managed to produce late-career masterpieces. He may have been doing this for 49 years, but Blackstar shines with the raw energy of a debut shapped by the masterful hand of an extremely talented and savant craftsman.

João Pedro da Costa

João Pedro da Costa is a web studies scholar and a music fan.