"David Robert Jones (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), known professionally as David Bowie, was an English singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, arranger, painter and actor. He was a figure in popular music for over four decades, and was considered by critics and other musicians as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. His androgynous appearance was an iconic element of his image, principally in the 1970s and 1980s.Rolling Stone:
Born and raised in Brixton, south London, Bowie developed an early interest in music although his attempts to succeed as a pop star during much of the 1960s were frustrated. "Space Oddity" became his first top five entry on the UK Singles Chart after its release in July 1969. After a three-year period of experimentation, he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era with his flamboyant and androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The character was spearheaded by his single "Starman" and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie's impact at that time, as described by biographer David Buckley, "challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day" and "created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture". The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona proved to be one facet of a career marked by reinvention, musical innovation and visual presentation."
The seeds of ★ date to mid-2014, when Bowie met with longtime producer Tony Visconti and drummer Zack Alford to cut some demos at Magic Shop. Then Bowie disappeared for five months to work on the new material at his house. "He's got a little setup there," says Visconti. "And there was no clear communication from him until December. That's when he told me he was ready to make the album."
Two years ago, Bowie released his first album in nearly decade, the relatively traditional (by Bowie standards) rock album The Next Day, which he cut with Visconti and members of his old touring band. For ★, he was determined to do something very different. "We were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar," says Visconti. "We wound up with nothing like that, but we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn't do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that's exactly what we wanted to do. The goal, in many, many ways, was to avoid rock & roll."
McCaslin and his bandmates were able to handle whatever Bowie threw at them, from Krautrock to hip-hop to pop to jazz, creating an incredible fusion sound that can't be pinned to any one genre. "They can play something at the drop of a dime," says Visconti. "[Keyboardist] Jason [Lindner] was a godsend. We gave him some pretty far-out chords, but he brought a jazz sensibility to re-voice them." They cut the album on ProTools, though much of the gear was vintage. "Jason's synthesizer didn't have a computer with souped-up programs like Omnisphere on it," Visconti says. "He would just do it with guitar pedals, making all the sounds unique. We're like old school like that. Also, [bassist] Tim Lefebvre was just phenomenal to work with. He pretty much nailed every take right on the spot."
The album begins with the 10-minute title track, a surreal, haunting song that began as two completely separate tunes before Bowie and Visconti sewed them together. The original version was actually more than 11 minutes long, but they cut it to 9:57 after learning iTunes won't post songs for individual sale that cross the 10-minute mark. "It's total bullshit," says Visconti with a laugh. "But David was adamant it be the single, and he didn't want both an album version and a single version, since that gets confusing."
Bowie hasn't sung a note publicly since performing "Changes" with Alicia Keys at a New York charity event in 2006, and he hasn't given an interview in more than a decade. That has led to rumors that Bowie, who underwent emergency heart surgery for a blocked artery after a show in Germany, is in failing health, but everyone involved with ★ insists that's not the case. "He's in fine health," says Visconti. "He's just made a very rigorous album."
Sessions for ★ often lasted seven hours, and Bowie sang at full force throughout the entire day. "He'd just go from zero to 60 once we walked out of the control room and into the studio," says Guiliana. "And his vocal performances were always just stunning, amazing." In his downtime, Bowie was working on the Off-Broadway musical Lazarus, in which he was intimately involved in every aspect of production, down to casting.
The album's sense of adventure extends to the lyrics. "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore," which is powered by a hip-hop beat and free-form sax, gets its title from a 17th-century play written by English playwright John Ford, and the lyrics to "Girl Loves Me" come from Polari, a form of British slang used by gay men in mid-20th-century London. "He also took some words from A Clockwork Orange," says Visconti. "The lyrics are wacky, but a lot of British people, especially Londoners, will get every word." The title track repeatedly refers to a "solitary candle." "He told me it was about ISIS," says McCaslin. "It's just an unbelievable tune." (McCaslin's ISIS assertion is news to Guiliana and Visconti, who say they have no idea what the song is about.)
Bowie is clearly determined to let the album speak for him. "When he put out albums like Heroes and Low, no one was doing anything like that," says Visconti. "And then he gave birth to the New Romantic scene. He's a genre-breaker, and I can't wait for the ★ imitation albums to start coming out."
» Pitchfork: "Bowie is not simply the prettiest star—he’s a constellation"
» The Onion: "NASA Launches David Bowie Concept Mission"
Dancing out in space. An asteroid named for David Bowie orbits between Mars and Jupiter: https://t.co/xxVINJzbz2 pic.twitter.com/HYrmGm7cwg— NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) January 11, 2016