A wonderful debut posthumous release from the late icon and an excellent bonus to the Blackstar album.
This January has marked exactly one year since the passing of cultural icon David Bowie, with his sudden death coming two days after his 69th birthday and the unveiling of his final studio album, the remarkable Blackstar. Bowie’s final years after his re-emergence into the public spotlight and the music business in 2013 saw a creatively re-energised Bowie unleash a flurry of new, critically and commercially lauded projects: studio albums The Next Day and Blackstar, numerous individual songs and music videos, and the musical/stage play hybrid Lazarus, a quirky and visually stunning quasi-sequel to The Man Who Fell To Earth, the film adaptation of which Bowie himself starred in during the mid-1970s.
The No Plan EP, the first of potentially many posthumous releases, rounds up the four original tracks he penned for the musical to accompany re-orchestrated selections from his back catalogue and, while his own recordings of the songs from the Blackstar sessions with that album’s talented backing band have been released previously as bonus tracks on Lazarus‘ original cast recording album, this digital-only EP marks the first time these songs have been available separately and on streaming services, possibly for those squeamish about owning a musical theatre record.
Opener ‘Lazarus’ is possibly the most familiar track here, as it was also included on Blackstar and its now-iconic and haunting music video and lyrics (including the affecting “Look up here, I’m in heaven”) was included or referenced in countless articles since Bowie’s passing. Nevertheless, separated from its original context here, it’s nice to be reminded quite how good the song is from the minimalist opening of juddering guitars and drums that open up to the oddly inviting horn-drenched and hook-laden chorus to his cheeky sideswiping lyrics (“I was looking for your ass”). Unfortunately, the EP’s namesake song which follows is unfortunately the most comparatively disappointing – while he sings such lyrics as “nothing to regret” beautifully and the band swells to an elegant soundscape, the song remains oddly unmemorable. Indeed, it also remains the one song on the EP unable to transcend its musical theatre origins – the song feels stagey, although not in the way you might expect from Bowie, and a tad dull.
Things pick up a lot with ‘Killing A Little Time,’ underpinned as it is with several grimy distorted guitars that recall both underrated Bowie albums as 1995’s Outside and Blackstar’s own edgier and angrier moments. Bowie holds court amongst the powerful groove, lamenting poignantly that he is ‘fading’ and ‘choking’ as the song locks into a swirling snarl of bass and saxophones. To close, the wonderful ‘When I Met You’ is arguably the highlight. As slashing industrial rock breaks into his buoyantly catchy vocal melodies, the song soon descends into a gloriously frenzied chorus as Bowie duets with himself, switching from optimism (“You opened my heart”) to fevered pessimism (“She tore you down / I was kicked in the head”) before hurtling to an end as Bowie spits the title with venom, railing against being taken into the dying light.
As much as the songs are a product of Lazarus and are indeed reflections of the musical’s characters, it’s hard not to see No Plan as a glorious addendum to Blackstar, with its confessional yet abstract pronouncements on death and endings and its grinding jazz/rock/hip-hop accompaniments – not even mentioning the wonderful music video to ‘No Plan,’ a Lazarus-referencing piece on the media and Bowie himself that feels like a continuation of Blackstar’s visualisations. While it may be disappointing that the EP includes no previously unreleased or unheard music (such as additional unheard songs from the Blackstar sessions, like the almost mythical ‘Blaze’), the songs themselves are excellent listens regardless. In this way, No Plan is both a perfect addition to Bowie’s final era and wonderful first posthumous offering for fans of Bowie both new and old.
No Plan is out now via Columbia Records