Albums of the year – January 2016
It was a gloomy start to the year. Just ten days in and music lost one of its iconic frontrunners. David Bowie not only pushed things forward in sound and vision, but the very idea of a conventional popstar. And despite being the face behind some of the most recognisable façades in music, he himself was an enigma who kept us guessing until the end.
Possibly not satisfied with an impressive back catalogue spanning five decades, Bowie decided to leave a little extra behind. Released on his 69th birthday, just two days before his departure, Blackstar was hailed as a return to form by critics who were unaware of his losing battle against cancer.
Some of the initial theories behind the music, such as ISIS being a source of inspiration, were quickly dismissed as the nation revisited Blackstar in search of a final farewell. But finding answers in a Bowie album was never going to be easy, particularly one that closed with an ambiguous I Can’t Give Everything Away.
There were, however, some clues. Dollar Days had him bleakly pondering: ‘If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it’s nothing to me.’ And although Lazarus was originally intended for the stage, it sounds every bit sung by a man staring death in the face.
Musically, Blackstar was coated in Jazz. It’s been said that Bowie nearly took this route at the beginning of his career, so it made sense that he fully explored it at its end. Whether creating a wondrous racket on Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, or a murky ambiance on the epic self-titled opening track, his experimentation was as bold as anything he’d done before.
Perhaps the biggest triumph with Blackstar is that it doesn’t really sound like any of his previous work. It will inevitably find itself at the top of most countdowns, encouraging a few protests that it’s nothing more than a swansong. That would be unfair. Almost a year after its release, Blackstar is still holding its own as being one of Bowie’s best.
Savages: Adore Life
Tindersticks: The Waiting Room