The Guardian's Best Albums of 2016

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Wednesday December 14, 2016

From The Guardian

Best albums of 2016: No 3 Blackstar by David Bowie
By: Dorian Lynskey

To say that David Bowie’s final album was coloured by his death two days after its release, and the revelation that he recorded it beneath the terminal shadow of cancer, would be an understatement. It was flooded by it. Few albums have ever been subjected to so much exegesis so quickly. Was the central image, coming from the author of Starman and multiple ruminations on stardom, an act of self-erasure? Were the lyrics of Lazarus (‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’) not just a reference to the lead character in Bowie’s confounding stage musical, an alien trapped in a Manhattan purgatory between life and death, but a loaded farewell? And what about those allusions to Elvis, Aleister Crowley, cosmology and the villa of Ormen? What did it all mean? One thing is certain. Regardless of the circumstances or the rune-reading, Blackstar ranks among Bowie’s very best albums.

Blackstar is a self-contained world. Despite drawing inspiration from recent albums by D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar, and featuring percussion from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, it never strains to be of-the-moment like his 90s albums Outside and Earthling. Nor does it reference Bowie’s past as blatantly as his 2013 comeback The Next Day. Instead, he struck out for the fringes, the dark corners, the shadowlands, looking for one last new way to be David Bowie ‘” one final incandescent flare of creativity.

Bowie was always a consummate collaborator who sought out great players to facilitate each transition. Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s forward-thinking jazz band, especially the extraordinary drummer Mark Guiliana, enabled him to go in several directions at once. The song Blackstar opens like a black mass, with an incense-whiff of dread, fades into the gloaming, re-emerges as a torch song, twists into a funk chant and loops back to the first section with twice the power. It’s as commandingly ambitious a composition as Station to Station, the title track of the album with which Blackstar shares the most DNA.

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