If the video for his new single is like Satan’s own John Lewis advert – the girl has grown up, grown a tail and goes to visit the man on the moon only to find he’s long dead, so she takes his skull back to Earth for some bizarre cult ceremony in worship of overpriced futons, or something – then it only reflects how David Bowie is upending Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be safe, radio-friendly, direct and familiar, yet here he is releasing a deeply unsettling 10-minute multi-part concept piece that uses religious and sci-fi imagery to make the festive season sound as parasitic, devious and morally corrupt as modern commercialism and SyCo demand.
“In the villa of Ormen stands a solitary candle”, Bowie quivers over Radiohead-like skitter-beats, muted rave squelches, sacrificial strings and jazz sax. It conjures a twisted quasi-religious tone akin to the Pope making his next album with Animal Collective. He appears to touch on the brutality and misogyny of religious fundamentalism too: “On the day of execution” he continues, “only women kneel and smile”.
Then, via some worshipful monk wails and backwards chanting, the track – which was written for the credits of new Sky Atlantic drama The Last Panthers – gives way to a serene synth ballad mid-section redolent of plush ‘60s soul. Over the top, Bowie sings of fallen angels and resurrected prophets, references Biblical passages – “I’m the great ‘I am’” is what God told Moses from the burning bush. “I’m not a gangster… I’m not a pop star… I’m not a porn star, I’m not a wandering star” he insists, “I’m a blackstar”, and as the song drifts back into its Arabic cult verse it’s clear that in the realms of enigmatic noir rock, Bowie still shines bright.
Whether a vision of Major Tom reincarnated as an occult deity, a statement on spirituality being twisted for dark human ends or just a screwdriver dropped into the works of the festive music machine, ‘Blackstar’ is a bold and gloriously out-of-step Grace Oddity, an anti-‘25’ just when we needed one. Have yourself an eerie little Christmas…