It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the final album from rock legend David Bowie, along with recent releases from the hard rocking Baroness, metal journeymen Megadeth and recently reunited Brit rockers The Libertines.
Final Album from a Music Legend
David Bowie — Blackstar
The first time I listened to this album, David Bowie was still alive. Less than 24 hours later, it was announced that the Thin White Duke had lost his battle with cancer, and had died at age 69. The worldwide press has exploded with tributes and recaps of his life, so I’m going to leave that to others and focus on the music.
Blackstar is Bowie’s 25th studio album, written with the full realisation that he was dying. As a result, the songs on the album have an unavoidable melancholic vibe, filled with enigmatic lyrics that flirt with grand themes of life and death, sin and redemption. Similar in many ways to Queen’s final album Made in Heaven, Blackstar is a love letter from Bowie to all of his fans, a fond farewell at the end of a lifetime of invention.
Despite being 50+ years into his career, Bowie was unafraid to experiment with new genres, touching on electronica and dubstep along with jazz, blues, gospel and soul. There are elements of Blackstar that would feel pretentious if delivered by any other artist (the grandiose opening to the title track, for instance) but it works because he is David Bowie, who could pull off almost anything with style.
By the time you reach the final track, which commences with the ominous words ‘I know something is very wrong’ it is hard not to be moved by the loss of such a colossal talent, a man who changed the musical landscape as often as he changed identities.
David Bowie, rest in peace.
Best tracks: Lazarus, I Can’t Give Everything Away, Girl Loves Me
Sample lyric: ‘Man, she punched me like a dude.’ (‘Tis a Pity She was a Whore)
Verdict: 8/10 — well worth a listen for anyone who has enjoyed the many faces of David Bowie
New Album from an Old Artist
Baroness — Purple
Formed in Savannah, Georgia in 2003, Baroness rose from the ashes of a band called Johnny Welfare and the Paychecks, which is a pretty cool name in my humble opinion. After releasing a trio of EPs called First, Second and Third (aka A Grey Sigh in a Flower Husk), Baroness released their first full length album Red Album in 2007. Winning album of the year from metal bible Revolver, the album marked Baroness as a band to watch.
Two years later in 2009, the band released sophomore album Blue Record, which led to an extended tour including support slots for Mastodon and Metallica and a series of Australian shows. With their virtuosos musicianship and unwillingness to conform to metal clichés, Baroness made a lot of fans on that tour. They followed up in 2011 with the critically acclaimed album Yellow & Green, and everything looked bright for the future.
Unfortunately, a bus crash in 2012 shook the band up, leaving singer John Baizley with a broken arm and leg. Shortly after the accident, drummer and Allen Bickle and bassist Matt Maggioni (both of whom had suffered fractured vertebrae) quit the group, replaced by Sebastian Thompson and Nick Jost. After going to ground for a few months, Baroness emerged with the new single Chlorine & Wine from new album Purple.
Combining a mix of classic metal riffing with modern production techniques and the judicious use of silence (which can be an unexpected thing in a metal song) Purple is probably the best Baroness album to date, showing growth in both technical skill and songwriting ability.
Best tracks: Shock Me, Chlorine & Wine
Sample lyric: ‘My doctor’s unable to cut through the cable that leads to my mind.’ (Chlorine & Wine)
Verdict: 7/10 – if you’re a fan of slightly left-of-centre metal, I recommend giving Baroness a listen
Album I Expect to Suck
Megadeth — Dystopia
It’s not that I don’t like Megadeth. Honestly, I feel a little sorry for Dave Mustaine, but only because he can’t get over the fact that he was once part of the biggest metal band in the world but got kicked out for being a drunken clown. If he could just focus on being a kick-ass guitarist, he’d probably be a lot happier.
Dystopia is the 15th studio album from Megadeth, following 2013’s not-too-bad Super Collider. Somewhat notable for the absence of drummer Shawn Drover and guitarist Chris Broderick, who quit to form Act of Defiancce, Dystopia covers familiar ground, including the military-industrial complex, world history and wacky conspiracy theories.
The album opens with the blistering track ‘The Threat is Real’, then barely slows down for the next 40 or so minutes. There is not an enormous amount of variety on this album, with the possible exception of instrumental track ‘Conquer or Die!’ which feels like three minutes of intro waiting for the lyrics to kick in.
To be honest, you probably know already if you’re going to buy this album, and nothing I can say will change your mind. This probably isn’t a bad thing, as people who aren’t fans of Megadeth certainly aren’t going to be converted by Dystopia, and people who are already fans are used to the band putting out essentially the same album every three years.
Best tracks: The Threat is Real, Post American World
Sample lyric: ‘Why cower to all those who oppose the American world.‘ (Post American World)
Verdict: 3/10 – for fans only
Ch-check It Out…
The Libertines — Anthems for Doomed Youth
In their first incarnation, The Libertines were a Brit-pop/garage rock band formed in London in 1997. Led by singer/guitarist Carl Barat and singer/guitarist Pete Doherty, the band quickly attracted attention from the British music press, particularly the NME, who christened them as the saviours of British Rock ‘n Roll.
2002 debut album Up The Bracket (slang for shooting up heroin) sold well and attracted more critical acclaim, but Doherty’s substance abuse problems began to take a toll on the band, particularly when he was sentenced to six months in gaol (reduced to two months on appeal). After a recording process that could generously be described as ‘strained’, the band released their second, self-titled album in 2004, produced by Mick Jones from The Clash. Many of the songs on this album detailed the breakdown of the band as it was happening, notably the caustic single ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and their final sad lament ‘What Became of the Likely Lads?’
The Libertines officially broke up in December 2004, after Doherty broke into Barat’s flat and stole his guitars to sell for drug money. While both Doherty and Barat started new bands (Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things respectively) they failed to capture the shambolic magic of the Libertines, and fans rejoiced when they announced they were playing at the Reading and Leeds festival in 2010. This first step at reconciliation eventually led to the recording of a new album, Anthems for Doomed Youth.
This is an album that improves with repeat listens. On my first pass, I was disappointed, on the second mildly interested, and by the third I was picking favourite songs. The Libertines have always been a resolutely English band, and the songs that shine the brightest on Anthems are those that celebrate that fact, like the beautiful You’re My Waterloo, the title track and the haunting Iceman, a tragic tale of love and addiction.
Best tracks: Iceman, You’re My Waterloo, Dead for Love
Sample lyric: “Was it Cromwell or Orwell who first led you to the stairwell,’ (Anthem for Doomed Youth)
Verdict: 8/10 — a great album for aficionados of British rock ‘n roll
Did you enjoy what you just read? Well, John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller, Damnation’s Flame; action/romance, Reaper; black comedy, City Boy; and travel guidebook, Bar Trek: Europe. Check 'em out!
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