Published Dec 01, 2016
2. David Bowie
When The Next Day was released in 2014, David Bowie's first album of new material in a decade was a welcome return for the singer: the songs were solid, the voice strong and the production tasteful. Still, it was a bit disappointing to hear a restlessly creative artist seem to settle for a comfortable "classic Bowie" sound.
Never one to stay in one place for very long, Bowie confounded expectations once more on his 69th birthday by unveiling Blackstar, his most experimental and challenging LP in decades. A relatively concise 40-minute, seven-song cycle, Blackstar unflinchingly addressed the singer's mortality over tense, textured backdrops that mixed industrial guitars and synths, jazzy horns and flurries of skittering, urgent beats. Heady and heavy themes were apparent throughout Blackstar, most prominently on the sprawling title track, "Lazarus" or the wistful "Dollar Days."
Of course, Bowie's unexpected death from liver cancer — an illness he'd been quietly battling during the recording of Blackstar — just two days after the album's release added meaning to the already weighty lyrics, turning the elegant, elegiac closer "I Can't Give Everything Away" into a poignant swansong. In a year marked by the passing of towering figures in popular music, Bowie's flair for dramatic gestures and impeccable timing were unmistakable, even if for just one last time.