David Bowie remains an enigma and Blackstar includes moments where he appears to poke fun at his ‘pop star’ image. Jimmy King
David Bowie remains an enigma and Blackstar includes moments where he appears to poke fun at his ‘pop star’ image. Jimmy King

Album review: David Bowie’s Blackstar – a remarkable return to form



Blackstar

David Bowie

RCA Records

Dh56

David Bowie has always been something of an enigma, but only comparatively recently has he become a full-blown man of mystery. Like 2013's The Next Day, his 25th studio album Blackstar has arrived unexpectedly; another musical meteorite from the Man Who Fell to Earth. Out on January 8, the singer's 69th birthday, it was finished three months before anybody beyond Bowie's inner-circle knew it existed.

As with The Next Day, it seems the singer won't be doing any interviews or live dates to promote his new album. The "talking-up" of Blackstar, as if it were needed, has thus fallen to Bowie's long-term producer Tony Visconti, and to the musicians other than Bowie who played on it.

Foremost among the latter is Donny McCaslin, a brilliant saxophonist who also plays various woodwind instruments on Bowie's latest. When Rolling Stone spoke with McCaslin last month, he sounded as thrilled as perhaps only a man plucked from relative obscurity can be. "I thought, 'This is David Bowie, and he chose me, and he's sending me an email?'" he gushed, recalling the singer's bolt from the blue invite to Magic Shop, the New York City recording studio where much of Blackstar was secretly laid down.

For Bowie's fans, the plot really thickened when he debuted the album's 10-minute title track on Sky Atlantic back in November. Foreboding-sounding and truly audacious, Blackstar – also the new theme tune for the said TV channel's crime drama The Last Panthers – blends free-form jazz, skittering drum 'n' bass beats, electronica, pop-soul tropes and more into at least four distinct sections.

It was the song's outlandish accompanying video, though, that really set tongues wagging. What were we to make of its lasciviously-writhing scarecrows; of the jittery zombie choreography and cult-like symbolism? What were we to make of the woman with the mouse's tail who appears to discover the jewel-encrusted skull of Bowie's Space Oddity and Ashes to Ashes alter ego, Major Tom?

Soon, the breadth of the general public's confusion about the Blackstar promo became clear. For some it wasn't so far removed from Labyrinth, the 1986 musical/fantasy film starring Bowie and directed by The Muppets creator Jim Henson. Others thought it made coded references to ISIL, or the writings of English writer Aleister Crowley.

Amid all the sometimes scary, sometimes plain-daft imagery, one thing was clear: Bowie looked as suave and as self-possessed as ever. There's a point in the promo where he cheekily thumbs his nose at the camera and sings, "I'm not a pop star… I'm a blackstar." Whatever Blackstar was about, it was clear he was having fun.

Like all UK-based reviewers, your scribe heard the rest of Bowie’s new album at the offices of the singer’s London-based PR. Discovering what the great man has been up to via headphones and an iPad seems unfitting somehow, but sitting down and pressing “play”, the sense of occasion is still palpable.

Blackstar is full of melody, runs to a fairly concise 42 minutes, and is comprised of just seven songs – a different version of the jazz-infused Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) first appeared as a bonus track on Bowie's 2014 best-of Nothing Has Changed.

The new album isn't "difficult" or inaccessible by any means. Still, the slightly sinister-sounding curio Girl Loves Me, with its brooding strings, odd little vocal inflections, and warped nursery-rhyme feel, suggests that commercial appeal wasn't at the forefront of Bowie's mind.

'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, which take its title from a work by 17th-century playwright John Ford, is similarly exotic. Bass and drums drive its avant-garde jazz arrangement while McCaslin's sax punctuates Bowie's bizarre, almost incidental lyric: "When she punched me like a dude / 'Hold your man-hands!', I cried."

Throughout the record, a relaxed, free-flowing experimentalism prevails. Bowie invited McCaslin’s jazz musician pals Jason Lindner (keyboards), Ben Monder (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass) and Mark Guiliana (drums) to play too, and their dazzling, all-but-unrivalled musicality helps to facilitate yet another daisy-fresh chapter in Bowie’s long, storied-career.

"The goal, in many, many ways, was to avoid rock 'n' roll," Visconti has said, but at no point does Blackstar prompt the listener to call the jazz police.

Dollar Days begins with the sounds of sheets of paper rustling and Bowie breathing, and is probably the album's most beautiful moment; a song built on strummed acoustic guitar, a gorgeous, softly-chiming electric guitar motif, and piano.

McCaslin’s classy sax solo, with its unusual intervals, is a whole other currency, it’s true, but when Bowie sings: “If I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to / It’s nothing to me”, he doesn’t sound that far removed from his classic singer-songwriter self.

We don't know, of course, whether he is still using the lyrical cut-up technique he first learned from William Burroughs, but there are moments on Blackstar where Bowie reaches new levels of opacity. I Can't Give Everything Away, for example, seems like a tease from its zip-mouthed title down. A soaring, Heroes-like half-epic, it finds Bowie singing: "Seeing more and feeling less / Saying no but meaning yes / This is all I ever meant / That's the message that I sent."

It’s a deliberate muddying of the waters that you suspect was undertaken with a certain glee.

Our host's voice, meanwhile, sounds in ridiculously fine fettle from the boots of his baritone to the tips of his falsetto. Indeed, on Lazarus, a haunting down-tempo song with a fabulous bass guitar groove and a simple three-note sax hook, you're reminded how much elegance Bowie's voice has brought to pop music.

Typically inventive and typically cool, Blackstar is an excellent return that deploys a useful old trick: recruiting fresh blood to oxygenate that of the band leader. And that Bowie does lead here, as he always has, is never in doubt (prior to recording the album proper, he spent five months finessing his new material in the little home studio set-up he has in New York).

How great it would be, though, if the singer brought all that purpose and energy back on stage. Bowie hasn't sang a note in public since 2006, and Blackstar's best songs – its supernovas – deserve a live audience.

James McNair writes for Mojo magazine and The Independent.

How the bonus system works

The two riders are among several riders in the UAE to receive the top payment of £10,000 under the Thank You Fund of £16 million (Dh80m), which was announced in conjunction with Deliveroo's £8 billion (Dh40bn) stock market listing earlier this year.

The £10,000 (Dh50,000) payment is made to those riders who have completed the highest number of orders in each market.

There are also riders who will receive payments of £1,000 (Dh5,000) and £500 (Dh2,500).

All riders who have worked with Deliveroo for at least one year and completed 2,000 orders will receive £200 (Dh1,000), the company said when it announced the scheme.

'My Son'

Director: Christian Carion

Starring: James McAvoy, Claire Foy, Tom Cullen, Gary Lewis

Rating: 2/5

WORLD CUP FINAL

England v South Africa

Yokohama International Stadium, Tokyo

Saturday, kick-off 1pm (UAE)

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

Top 10 most competitive economies

1. Singapore
2. Switzerland
3. Denmark
4. Ireland
5. Hong Kong
6. Sweden
7. UAE
8. Taiwan
9. Netherlands
10. Norway

Company profile

Name: Elggo
Started: August 2022
Founders: Luma Makari and Mirna Mneimneh
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Education technology / health technology
Size: Four employees
Investment stage: Pre-seed

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

 

 

How will Gen Alpha invest?

Mark Chahwan, co-founder and chief executive of robo-advisory firm Sarwa, forecasts that Generation Alpha (born between 2010 and 2024) will start investing in their teenage years and therefore benefit from compound interest.

“Technology and education should be the main drivers to make this happen, whether it’s investing in a few clicks or their schools/parents stepping up their personal finance education skills,” he adds.

Mr Chahwan says younger generations have a higher capacity to take on risk, but for some their appetite can be more cautious because they are investing for the first time. “Schools still do not teach personal finance and stock market investing, so a lot of the learning journey can feel daunting and intimidating,” he says.

He advises millennials to not always start with an aggressive portfolio even if they can afford to take risks. “We always advise to work your way up to your risk capacity, that way you experience volatility and get used to it. Given the higher risk capacity for the younger generations, stocks are a favourite,” says Mr Chahwan.

Highlighting the role technology has played in encouraging millennials and Gen Z to invest, he says: “They were often excluded, but with lower account minimums ... a customer with $1,000 [Dh3,672] in their account has their money working for them just as hard as the portfolio of a high get-worth individual.”

In numbers: China in Dubai

The number of Chinese people living in Dubai: An estimated 200,000

Number of Chinese people in International City: Almost 50,000

Daily visitors to Dragon Mart in 2018/19: 120,000

Daily visitors to Dragon Mart in 2010: 20,000

Percentage increase in visitors in eight years: 500 per cent

If you go

The flights
There are various ways of getting to the southern Serengeti in Tanzania from the UAE. The exact route and airstrip depends on your overall trip itinerary and which camp you’re staying at. 
Flydubai flies direct from Dubai to Kilimanjaro International Airport from Dh1,350 return, including taxes; this can be followed by a short flight from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti with Coastal Aviation from about US$700 (Dh2,500) return, including taxes. Kenya Airways, Emirates and Etihad offer flights via Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.   

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Director: Peyton Reed

Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors

Rating: 2/5

Forced Deportations

While the Lebanese government has deported a number of refugees back to Syria since 2011, the latest round is the first en-mass campaign of its kind, say the Access Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization which monitors the conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“In the past, the Lebanese General Security was responsible for the forced deportation operations of refugees, after forcing them to sign papers stating that they wished to return to Syria of their own free will. Now, the Lebanese army, specifically military intelligence, is responsible for the security operation,” said Mohammad Hasan, head of ACHR.
In just the first four months of 2023 the number of forced deportations is nearly double that of the entirety of 2022.

Since the beginning of 2023, ACHR has reported 407 forced deportations – 200 of which occurred in April alone.

In comparison, just 154 people were forcfully deported in 2022.

Violence

Instances of violence against Syrian refugees are not uncommon.

Just last month, security camera footage of men violently attacking and stabbing an employee at a mini-market went viral. The store’s employees had engaged in a verbal altercation with the men who had come to enforce an order to shutter shops, following the announcement of a municipal curfew for Syrian refugees.
“They thought they were Syrian,” said the mayor of the Nahr el Bared municipality, Charbel Bou Raad, of the attackers.
It later emerged the beaten employees were Lebanese. But the video was an exemplary instance of violence at a time when anti-Syrian rhetoric is particularly heated as Lebanese politicians call for the return of Syrian refugees to Syria.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Floward
Based: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Founders: Abdulaziz Al Loughani and Mohamed Al Arifi
Sector: E-commerce
Total funding: About $200 million
Investors: Aljazira Capital, Rainwater Partners, STV and Impact46
Number of employees: 1,200

If you go

The flights
Emirates and Etihad fly direct to Nairobi, with fares starting from Dh1,695. The resort can be reached from Nairobi via a 35-minute flight from Wilson Airport or Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, or by road, which takes at least three hours.

The rooms
Rooms at Fairmont Mount Kenya range from Dh1,870 per night for a deluxe room to Dh11,000 per night for the William Holden Cottage.

MATCH INFO

Quarter-finals

Saturday (all times UAE)

England v Australia, 11.15am 
New Zealand v Ireland, 2.15pm

Sunday

Wales v France, 11.15am
Japan v South Africa, 2.15pm

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

The specs

Engine: 2.3-litre, turbo four-cylinder

Transmission: 10-speed auto

Power: 300hp

Torque: 420Nm

Price: Dh189,900

On sale: now

The essentials

What: Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

When: Friday until March 9

Where: All main sessions are held in the InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Price: Sessions range from free entry to Dh125 tickets, with the exception of special events.

Hot Tip: If waiting for your book to be signed looks like it will be timeconsuming, ask the festival’s bookstore if they have pre-signed copies of the book you’re looking for. They should have a bunch from some of the festival’s biggest guest authors.

Information: www.emirateslitfest.com
 

Important questions to consider

1. Where on the plane does my pet travel?

There are different types of travel available for pets:

  • Manifest cargo
  • Excess luggage in the hold
  • Excess luggage in the cabin

Each option is safe. The feasibility of each option is based on the size and breed of your pet, the airline they are traveling on and country they are travelling to.

 

2. What is the difference between my pet traveling as manifest cargo or as excess luggage?

If traveling as manifest cargo, your pet is traveling in the front hold of the plane and can travel with or without you being on the same plane. The cost of your pets travel is based on volumetric weight, in other words, the size of their travel crate.

If traveling as excess luggage, your pet will be in the rear hold of the plane and must be traveling under the ticket of a human passenger. The cost of your pets travel is based on the actual (combined) weight of your pet in their crate.

 

3. What happens when my pet arrives in the country they are traveling to?

As soon as the flight arrives, your pet will be taken from the plane straight to the airport terminal.

If your pet is traveling as excess luggage, they will taken to the oversized luggage area in the arrival hall. Once you clear passport control, you will be able to collect them at the same time as your normal luggage. As you exit the airport via the ‘something to declare’ customs channel you will be asked to present your pets travel paperwork to the customs official and / or the vet on duty. 

If your pet is traveling as manifest cargo, they will be taken to the Animal Reception Centre. There, their documentation will be reviewed by the staff of the ARC to ensure all is in order. At the same time, relevant customs formalities will be completed by staff based at the arriving airport. 

 

4. How long does the travel paperwork and other travel preparations take?

This depends entirely on the location that your pet is traveling to. Your pet relocation compnay will provide you with an accurate timeline of how long the relevant preparations will take and at what point in the process the various steps must be taken.

In some cases they can get your pet ‘travel ready’ in a few days. In others it can be up to six months or more.

 

5. What vaccinations does my pet need to travel?

Regardless of where your pet is traveling, they will need certain vaccinations. The exact vaccinations they need are entirely dependent on the location they are traveling to. The one vaccination that is mandatory for every country your pet may travel to is a rabies vaccination.

Other vaccinations may also be necessary. These will be advised to you as relevant. In every situation, it is essential to keep your vaccinations current and to not miss a due date, even by one day. To do so could severely hinder your pets travel plans.

Source: Pawsome Pets UAE

Meg 2: The Trench

Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Jason Statham, Jing Wu, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Cliff Curtis, Melissanthi Mahut and Shuya Sophia Cai
Rating: 2/5

THE SCORES

Ireland 125 all out

(20 overs; Stirling 72, Mustafa 4-18)

UAE 125 for 5

(17 overs, Mustafa 39, D’Silva 29, Usman 29)

UAE won by five wickets

Second ODI

England 322-7 (50 ovs)
India 236 (50 ovs)

England win by 86 runs

Next match: Tuesday, July 17, Headingley 

The specs

Engine: three three 212.7kWh motors
Power: 1,000bhp
Torque: 15,600Nm
Range: 530km
Price: Dh500,000+ est
On sale: early 2023

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Tina Fey

Directed by: Pete Doctor

Rating: 4 stars

Boulder shooting victims

• Denny Strong, 20
• Neven Stanisic, 23
• Rikki Olds, 25
• Tralona Bartkowiak, 49
• Suzanne Fountain, 59
• Teri Leiker, 51
• Eric Talley, 51
• Kevin Mahoney, 61
• Lynn Murray, 62
• Jody Waters, 65