1: David Bowie – Blackstar
Here, at long last, is my pick for the best album of 2016, weeks after that year sputtered ignominiously into oblivion and a full 11 days too late to honour the first anniversary of its maker’s passing. So much for my new year’s resolutions to be more efficient and punctual. Maybe I should start my best of 2017 list tomorrow.
But it’s fitting that my accolades for the brilliant “Blackstar” are behind schedule, seeing as how I put off listening to it for months following David Bowie’s death, a mere two days after the album’s release. Like many upon hearing the terrible news, I initially sought comfort in old favourite albums: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Station to Station,” “Low,” “Scary Monsters,” even “Let’s Dance.” (C’mon, I was grieving!) And if I’m being honest, I also worried that “Blackstar” might be a let-down. Bowie has—had—a better late-career track record than most of his contemporaries, but even 2013’s exhilarating return-to-form “The Next Day” was hit-and-miss. “Blackstar” would have to be almost perfect to live up to its swan-song status.
I needn’t have worried. It is as close to perfect as it gets. And of course, once I started listening to it, I couldn’t stop, despite the tears it elicits. The title track alone is a devastating elegy for the ages, a 10-minute epic that begins with the cryptic, ominous chant, “In the villa of Ormen/Stands a solitary candle/In the center of it all/Your eyes.” (Depending on whom you ask, this is an oblique reference to Norse mythology or the occult teachings of Aleister Crowley or both. Or something else entirely. Leave it to Bowie to make it difficult for us!) Midway through the song, the clouds part—literally in the accompanying, gorgeously surreal video clip– and, over an ethereal wash of strings and keyboards, Bowie sings “Something happened on the day he died/Spirit rose a meter then stepped aside.” Here the awful truth begins to sink in. No more living in denial, Bowie is not immortal and neither, dear listeners, are we. Death permeates the album, from the stark, Joy Division-like dirge “Lazarus” to the final track, the poignantly confessional “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Yet it’s not gloomy but candid and cathartic as it addresses the subject and its Kubler-Ross stages. The saddest moment on “Blackstar” by far is at the very end, as “I Can’t Give Everything Away” fades to a heartbreaking silence. That’s it, no more Bowie albums. He’s gone. Still, what a way to say goodbye. Rest in peace, David.
- 10: ABC – The Lexicon of Love II
- 9: M83 – Junk
- 8: Bon Iver – 22, A Million
- 7: Angel Olsen – My Woman
- 6: Andrew Bird – Are You Serious?
- 5: Underworld – Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future
- 4. The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It
- 3: Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs – case/lang/veirs
- 2: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate