By Michael Cerio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The first New Music Friday of 2016 belongs to Bowie.

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Not only is today The Thin White Duke’s sixty-ninth birthday, but it also sees the release of Bowie’s twenty-five studio album Blackstar.

“Who the ****’s gonna mess with me?” he sneers midway through Blackstar. It’s a fair question.

Always operating outside of the system, Bowie’s allergy to convention has only gotten stronger with age – so his legend and ability not to be messed with grows. On Blackstar he’s dark and grim, wailing from within a surrounding sea of chaotic jazz and trip hop. These are tales of death, ghosts, and murder tied together by the wobbly quiver of a legend.

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Bubbling beneath of surface of Blackstar though, is that pop sensibility of Bowie. Don’t misunderstand, these are not family barbeque jams, but in the cracks of the dark art on display is the melody and charisma of Bowie. Before his claims of “I’m not a pop star”, “I’m not a gangster”, “I’m not a film star” on the album’s stitched together title track – Bowie’s voice dances along beautifully with the plucking strings, only to be thrust back into the charging darkness. On “’Tis A Pity She Was A Whore”, he croons “man, she punched me like a dude” in classic fashion as the swell of menacing horns threaten to swallow him whole. He also soars on “Lazarus” as he sings from beyond the grave.

Bowie has said that he was inspired by Kendrick Lamar for this album, and you can hear it in the brass and sense of being alive that also fills Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. Oddly for an album so morose in subject, Bowie is full of life on Blackstar – manic and excited by the room of live music that centers on him. It’s an artistic excursion, but certainly another cool chapter in the legend of David Bowie.


Also out this week is the debut from Australian singer Conrad Sewell. All I Know shows off Sewell dressed in funk-pop with an amazing set of pipes. Plus there’s buzzed-about Madrid band Hinds and their debut Leave Me Alone.

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