Thursday, 8 December 2016

My Top Ten Albums of 2016 - Number 9

9. David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie's final album came out on his 69th birthday. Two days later, he was dead. I wasn't one of those mega-fans who'd already bought the record by that point and judged it on its own merits. It was on my wants list, as Bowie albums usually are, but there was no big rush. Despite one of his best singles in 30 years (Where Are We Now?), I hadn't been as bowled over by his previous release (The Next Day) as everybody else. Yes, it was good to have him back, and there were more gems to be found on that album than just the surprise hit, but it hadn't stayed with me the way his earlier work had. Which might explain why I hadn't been in a rush to hear Blackstar, particularly with all the "Bowie-Goes-Jazz" reviews I'd read.

And then he was gone: as much a shock, an original, an enigma as he'd ever been. And the stars looked very different that day...

I knew, then, that it would be impossible to judge Blackstar on its own merits. Had it been just another Bowie album, I know I wouldn't have listened to it as much, or as deeply, as I did. Certainly the lyrics wouldn't have meant half as much... and Bowie's lyrics had often been an equal source of wonder and frustration to me. It was all very cool, that mad poet method of cutting out interesting words from newspapers and gluing them together to make a song... and many times, they did actually mean something to me... but I'm first and foremost a fan of songs that tell stories rather than hint at a million different interpretations... and it was a long time since Space Oddity.

His death gave the lyrics of Blackstar context though: sometimes too much context. Many critics poured over them for a final message about his own mortality. Even the artwork held hidden messages, they claimed. So I wasn't the only one unable to judge the record on its own merits. But I listened to it a lot, and it deserves a place in this Top Ten if only because of Bowie's stature and importance in the ongoing musical narrative that means so much to us aging pop kids.

It's been a year of seismic losses in that particular world, however, and Bowie was not the one that hit me hardest. I listened to Prince's back catalogue almost constantly throughout May, and although ironically I still haven't checked out his final record, his death shook me even more than Bowie's. And there's another final album yet to come in my year end countdown, one that I connected with much more than Blackstar.

But watching this video again now, I still can't believe he's gone. When the grim reapers came knocking, he was supposed to beat them... forever and ever... so we could all be heroes, just for one day.

Next, at Number #8... a "comedy" record to cheer us all up in these dark times. Although I suppose some of you might find it quite... humdrum.


  1. 'I Can't Give Everything Away' is still played frequently on the radio and destroys me every time. I've loved the man since buying 'Hunky Dory' in 1972, yet Bowie's death effected me on an even deeper level than I could have predicted.

    1. Sounds like you're a similar age to my sister, Swede. She grew up with him too and reacted much the same.

  2. I'm not a mega-fan either and haven't listened to everything he's released, but I thought Bowie's final album was consistently good from start to finish, and will also be in my top 10. 2016 feels like the end of an era with all these musicians and celebs dying.

  3. David Bowie's death was announced the day I had decided to start my blog so invariably it became about him. Was as massive news as when Elvis and John Lennon died. Didn't really try to understand the lyrics as a teenager just enjoyed his music, image and continual reinvention. The start of a massive mortality wake-up call this year as "my" generation of artists are now leaving us.

  4. Some deaths, well I suppose you see them coming, or at least aren't completely surprised, but others, well they just floor you. Bowie's was so unexpected and such a massive shock and loss; it felt like he'd just always "been there" in my life, from growing up and listening to my sister's copy of 'Aladdin Sane' when I was still at primary school, to buying his own back catalogue myself and then seeing his continuing musical output evolve, something which I had imagined, as you say, would somehow just go on forever. Sadly I lost two dear, close friends this year also and Alyson's mention of a massive mortality wake-up call could not ring more true. All things considered, what a year.
    This is lovely tribute, Rol (but I'm looking forward to the comedy No. 8 I must say!)

  5. Bowle's death, nearly a year later, still seems so raw, especially in our little corner. I feel the same as you. It's impossible to judge this album on its own. All I think about is everything that came after it. This will make my best list too, but finding the correct spot for the album, given the circumstances, is a challenge.


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