Sales soar for David Bowie's parting gift, his acclaimed new Blackstar album

Copies of Blackstar, the late David Bowie's latest album, are on sale in a branch of HMV in central London on Monday.
Copies of Blackstar, the late David Bowie's latest album, are on sale in a branch of HMV in central London on Monday.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS/AFP) - Sales of David Bowie's last album - released two days before his death of cancer - soared on Monday along with downloads of the greatest hits of his storied career.

In Britain, the Official Charts Company said Bowie's Blackstar album already was headed to the top spot on the charts with sales of 43,000 since its release on Friday.

Bowie's long-time producer, Tony Visconti, called the album the singer's "parting gift".

"I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it," Visconti wrote on his Facebook page.

Bowie, who framed hits such as Ziggy Stardust with daringly androgynous displays of sexuality and glittering costumes, died aged 69 on Sunday.

Blackstar was the top-selling album on Apple's iTunes US and UK platforms on Monday morning. The 2002 Best of Bowie compilation album was the second most popular on the US site, outpacing Adele's blockbuster album 25.

Bowie's 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was in fifth place on the US iTunes platform, according to the site. Apple does not generally release iTunes sales or download figures.

Overall album sales and streaming data in the United States will not be available until next week. Streaming service Spotify said it could not provide data on Bowie's music until Tuesday.

On Amazon's UK website, Blackstar was the "No. 1 bestseller", while it was the second most popular MP3 download behind 25 on Amazon.com in the United States.

Twitter exploded with some 4.3 million tweets about Bowie's death in the seven hours after his death was announced, Twitter said.

Blackstar has only seven songs, but critics praised it, with Britain's Guardian newspaper calling it "a spellbinding break with (Bowie's) past".

The album is part jazz but full of what NME described as"warped showtunes, skronking industrial rock, soulful balladeering, airy folk-pop, even hip-hop".

AFP's Shaun Tandon noted that the lyricism on Blackstar "grows wistful as Bowie - long fascinated by space and his separation from his body - reflects on his dwindling time on earth".

After he died Sunday at age 69 from a secret battle with cancer, his longtime producer Tony Visconti revealed that Bowie knew Blackstar would be his last work.

"His death was no different from his life - a work of art," Visconti wrote on Facebook.

"He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn't, however, prepared for it," he wrote.

Summing up Bowie's artistic sense, Visconti wrote: "He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way."

Bowie last week released a video for a second track on the album, Lazarus, which was written for a current theatre production in New York - a new take on The Man Who Fell to Earth, the novel of an alien exploring the planet's delights whose 1976 film version starred Bowie.

Yet the video takes on powerful new meaning in the light of Bowie's undisclosed illness. The singer sings from a hospital bed, blindfolded with buttons for his eyes.

"Look up here, I'm in heaven / I've got scars that can't be seen," Bowie, his voice bearing no sign of physical weakness, sings to a dark bass line.

Bowie's body levitates and his arms flail as the screen switches to the singer at his desk singing: "You know I'll be free / Just like that bluebird."

Blackstar was only Bowie's second recent album. In 2013, he suddenly returned with The Next Day after a decade-long absence that led many fans to presume he had retired.

Both albums - the first announced and the second released on his birthday, Jan 8 - won widespread critical acclaim. Yet while The Next Day marked a return to classic Bowie, with tight and driving rock tunes, Blackstar showed an artist eager to break traditional song structure and confound expectations.

The album opens with a title track that runs nearly 10 minutes long. With a macabre backdrop, the song shifts musically several times with Bowie's voice - in a gentle wail - holding it together.

Accompanied by a nightmarish video in which Bowie again puts on the blindfold, the song dwells on death and religion with the line, "On the day of execution / Only women kneel and smile."

 

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin was quoted as saying Bowie wrote the song about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, although others around the singer said they were not sure.

Bowie has long experimented with form, most famously in the Berlin Trilogy that started with his somber 1977 album Low, in which he took inspiration from the burgeoning electronic scene in his temporary home in Germany as he battled addiction.

For Blackstar, Bowie sought out McCaslin, a saxophonist who has tested the limits of modern jazz with funk and electronics.

Bowie lets McCaslin take the lead, with the saxophone charging throughout the album in a fashion similar to a rock guitar.

His voice duelling maze-like with the saxophone, Bowie returns to his fascination with the avant-garde of previous eras.

'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore reflects on the horror of World War I, with Bowie describing the song as a taste of how the Vorticists - a modernist artistic movement of the era - would have crafted a rock song.

Bowie, whose sexuality was never simple, sings in Polari, the slang of the gay underground in late Victorian England, in Girl Loves Me.

Bowie, who rarely appeared in public and last performed in 2006, turns increasingly introspective as the album draws to a close.

 

A longtime resident of New York, the British artist sings over haunting minor piano on Dollar Days: "If I'll never see the English evergreens I'm running to / It's nothing to me."

Yet Blackstar ends not with a ballad but an anthem, I Can't Give Everything Away, with a hint of New Wave dance layered with bold, poised blasts of saxophone, electric guitar and Bowie's voice.

Bowie closes with a hint of mystery, singing, "This is all I ever meant. That's the message that I sent. I can't give everything away."