David Bowie’s final album on Sunday hit number one in the United States, his adopted home, with the British music legend posthumously achieving a feat he never managed in life.
Blackstar, which was released two days before Bowie’s Jan 10 death from a secret battle with cancer, debuted at number one on the Billboard album chart for the week through Thursday.
Amid the outpouring of grief, Bowie not only scored his first US number one album but became among the rare artists to have two in the top five, with his greatest hits collection Best of Bowie, released in 2002, hitting number four.
Blackstar wrested number one from Adele’s blockbuster 25, which had topped the chart for seven weeks.
Blackstar — which came out on Bowie’s 69th birthday — had immediately won critical acclaim for its experimentalism as the long-reinventing artist developed a dark, hard jazz sound.
His death threw a whole new light on Blackstar as it emerged that he intended the album as a final statement, full of meditation on a half-century on the cutting edge of music.
Especially poignant was the video for Lazarus as Bowie levitates from a hospital bed and returns into a dark closet.
Bigger in Britain
Bowie spent the final two decades of his life living in New York and had said that his first love was African-American music, especially funk and soul.
Yet while Bowie cast a huge influence over US pop culture, he was generally considered an avant-garde artiste and did not win the same mainstream success as in Britain and a number of other European countries.
Blackstar also opened at number one in Britain, where it was Bowie’s 10th chart-topping album.
In the United States, Bowie had gone to number two with his previous album, The Next Day, in 2013 and reached number four with his pop-driven Let’s Dance in 1983.
The United States always had a major pull over Bowie’s music. On his 1975 album Young Americans, Bowie explored soul music by recording in Philadelphia’s celebrated Sigma Sound Studios.
The title song was an almost stream-of-consciousness account of impressions of the United States including the line, “Do you remember your President Nixon?” who had resigned over the Watergate scandal days before Bowie entered the studio.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, mourning the rocker-resident as “a big presence in a lot of our lives,” told reporters that Young Americans was his favourite Bowie song and said the Nixon line “rang through my ears for many, many years.”
‘Golden Years’ in New York
Bowie first lived in New York in the early 1970s before spending 10 months in Los Angeles where he famously said that he survived on a diet of red peppers, milk and cocaine.
Seeking a respite from drugs, Bowie returned to Europe and experienced some of his most creative years in West Berlin.
But the United States remained a frequent theme in Bowie’s lyricism with songs ranging from New York’s in Love toI’m Afraid of Americans — a critique of the globalization of US consumer culture — to his 2002 album Heathen that reflected on the Sept 11 attacks.
Bowie had won wide praise for opening a New York benefit concert following Sept 11, performing his anthem Heroes as well as Simon and Garfunkel’s America.
The rocker, who had returned from Europe to play The Elephant Man on Broadway in 1980, settled permanently in the city after marrying Somali-born supermodel Iman in 1992.
Bowie was rarely seen around New York — an anonymity that he long cited as a reason for his love of the city as the glam rocker once famous for his raucous lifestyle and extraterrestrial alter ego adapted to life as a family man.
Since his death, the sidewalk outside his Soho penthouse has turned into a shrine of flowers and glitter.
Yet Bowie in a 2002 interview with Entertainment Weekly said he was unsure of his legacy in his adopted country.
“I’m very aware of the impact I’ve had in Europe,” he said.
“But my impression of the reception I’d had in America was ‘Oh, here comes this eccentric limey again.’ I never felt that I’d contributed much to the fabric of American rock.”