Before B.G.M. starts our end of the year “Best Of Lists / Chaos” one thing needs to be made perfectly clear. David Bowie’s Blackstar is the No.1 Album of 2016.
We don’t feel like there is any other choice to be made here.
Around the beginning of November I started thinking about the all music I had consumed this year, and how I was going to list it as far as what I liked best. Choosing my #1 album of the year is always this kind of statement that I make (whether or not anyone cares). I’m sure the other B.G.M. writers feel the same way. Like this was my favorite album of “blank year” or whatever. It’s a timestamp or time capsule of what you were into during a certain year. However, this year is different. David Bowie’s passing and his final album Blackstar changed this process and ranking. To be honest, I almost forgot Blackstar came out this year since it dropped at the beginning of January and since 2016 has been such a long and brutal year.
Before I really sat down and thought about it, I was wondering where I would place Blackstar on my personal best of list. Is it top 10, is it top 5. Then it hit me. Bowie was literally dying while making this record. He knew it even if no one else did. That whole concept is crazy. How many records do you know of where the artist or band member knew that this was going to be their last recorded material / artistic statement. That reasoning alone should make Blackstar #1 on everyone’s list. Here’s the thing though, Blackstar is actually amazing musically, lyrically, and conceptually from start to finish. It’s like this dark, modern, trip-hop, progressive jazz, pop, concept album.
We’ve lost a ton of great musicians and artists this year; Prince, Phife Dawg, and Bowie being at the top of my list. I’m not sure if Phife knew he was on the way out when he did his verses for A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album or not and I’m not sure if the world could have handled a Prince swan song album, it might have opened up the fourth dimension or something. But of all the people to pull off an exit like this, Bowie seems the most fitting. I’m still convinced the dude was an alien.
Although we covered David Bowie and Blackstar extensively this year. It seems fitting to give the number one album of 2016 another send off and it needed something more than just occupying #1 spot on a year end list. So a few of the staff members at B.G.M. got together to share some final thoughts on Blackstar as an album, thoughts on particular songs off the album, and thoughts on David Bowie in general. R.I.P. – Jon
Comments on Songs:
“Blackstar” – Of all the characters David Bowie has portrayed throughout his career, he was still merely a human being. No matter how important, loved or hated you are while you’re alive, you still have to experience death. Through that perspective, “Blackstar” becomes a passion play of sorts. The first half is almost a chant, representing the cold, empty traditions we have like when we’re in the last stages of our lives. Middle ways through, a certain swagger kicks in as if the protagonist is being schooled on what life and death are really about. Later he sings a chorus with soul and conviction, signifying that in spite of death, he’s very much alive in spirit. Bowie’s signature brilliance makes this mysterious song (and album) a metaphysical journey of self-discovery and making peace with one’s final destination. At first it seemed like a strange decision to open the record with such a complex song, but after his passing, it all makes perfect sense. – Aaron Cooper
“Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)” – I’d hearken the most manic portions of this track to the frantic breakdown in “Joga” off of Bjork’s Homogenic record. The beauty of the vocals amidst chaos of noodling piano and glitchy drums meld one of Blackstar’s greatest individual highlights, though each song certainly could stand as their own personal entity. Funny comparing the musicianship between tracks, where sophistication in complex arrangements of horns and drums is rebutted with a transcendent beauty of harsher tonality going from track to track. All of these factors are just further evidence to support claims of not only David Bowie’s influence on culture and music, but also music’s influence on his 21st century endeavors. – Daniel Carlson
Have you ever been doing something completely mundane, minding your own business, and you somehow manage to wonder what would happen if you were to die tomorrow? Your own mortality flashes before your eyes, and you can’t help but feel a little nauseated. Your stomach hits the floor, and you realize that in the end nothing matters. We’ve all experienced something similar. In complete honesty, it took me a bit of time to really be able to listen to Blackstar with some sort of ease. Every time I listened, I would get that same feeling. That’s not to say that I didn’t admire it’s beauty. It is truly one of the most gorgeous albums not only of 2016, but of the last number of years. But it is also a heavy record, concept wise. I still get goosebumps listening. – Isaac
Blackstar is an amazing record from start to finish.
It is such a uniquely blended album that contains hints of all Bowie’s past personifications and sounds. However, a few just hinted at. Yet the soundscapes built here have been built on the macabre look inward at his own mortality. Dark, eerie, occult, and even a little glam on top of trip-hoppy drum, bass, and synth tracks. There are some brilliant string and horn, and guitar arrangements and solos. But what really sticks out to me is his voice. David Bowie, was never in the realm of what would be traditionally considered a flawless singing voice. His unique croon was often on the verge of being out of tune and he used it to bend to each song in a different way. There is frailty to his voice in Blackstar. He had aged and he was sick and he put that into the record. He let the sound of his voice to tell the story the lyrics lay out. – Isaac
What I respect most about Bowie was how he managed to embrace what society deemed weird and brought it out into the light. His persona may have been larger than life, but it spoke to every single kid out there who felt alienated for being true to themselves. It was like the spectacle wasn’t just a show, it actually meant something of importance. Things most of us have felt on some level whether we admit it or not. This aspect of Bowie doesn’t make him out to be some sort of all-knowing God, but a person seeing life for what it really is and offering us insight with a fresh set of eyes. His artistry encouraging us to defy the standard conventions and not be afraid of who we really are. – Aaron Cooper
I still remember learning about David Bowie’s death.
It was about 2 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep for some reason, so I sat up and pulled up the New York Times on my phone. Needless to say, I didn’t get any more sleep that night. I sat there speechless for a good ten minutes and decided right then and there that I’d be taking the next day off from work to listen to Bowie and sob. That’s how much David Bowie’s music changed my life. “Space Oddity” was the first song I ever learned on the guitar and it taught me pretty much every single chord I needed to know. That’s the kind of artist he was. He could teach you a lot about the world in a single song.
I had no idea Bowie was about to die when he released Blackstar. To be honest, I didn’t even listen to it until after he died. But it is a spectacular album–believe it or not, it’s one of his best, and that’s saying something. If only we could all be this good staring down our own mortality. Bowie is showing us something important here about grace under the threat of annihilation. Let’s see it for the extraordinary gift it is. – Dan Vesper
I’m with Jon, there’s really no question as to what the album of 2016 was – it was Blackstar. The loss of David Bowie was tragic, but not in the sense of we lost one of the innovators who shaped how the game is played now. We did and he did, but that wasn’t it. We lost a luminary that we started to take for granted.
Bowie’s last two records, Blackstar and The Next Day, were masterworks that proudly stand in Bowie’s catalog. Innovative, while still staying grounded to who David Bowie was, he continued to make classic and memorable albums until the day he died. We took this work for granted because we would judge against his 70s and early-80s output. If you look at these two records in the time they were released, they were easily destroying the modern competition.
Mark my words – Blackstar will be the only record we remember from 2016 in 10 years.
And that’s not just because David Bowie died. Bowie mastered the craft. He had it. The ability to make art that was beautiful and timeless. Somehow, Bowie even died theatrically. He left us suddenly with amazing art, born out of his desperation to create one last work for us. – Mike Scherf
It does seem to be a metaphor for the type of year 2016 has been, as well as indeed Bowie himself that he bowed out so early, in a way escaping the chaos, darkness, and horrifying events that were to come. The legacy he leaves behind is unparalleled and should rightfully be held dear for as long as we all live.
For all of his characters and facades it’s easy to forget that David Bowie was just a human being.
He very much portrayed himself this way too and this is why so many of us looked up to him so much, because despite his fame he connected with us on a human level. Bowie became frighteningly honest musically towards the end of his career and Blackstar serves as a final farewell, an open letter to the people that held him so dear. His way of baring every last ounce of emotion he had until his soul was free before he could ascend to the stars where he belongs. The life of Bowie will always be looked back on fondly because the man gave us so much, but more importantly it should be given the respect it fully deserves. Whether he’s Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, or simply David Bowie himself, there will never be another like him. – David Dring
In Tune and On Time