★ by David Bowie
We lost quite a few great musicians in 2016. Prince. Leonard Cohen. Sharon Jones. Phife Dawg. And Bowie. David fucking Bowie. I can’t say his death was the hardest to take. They were all difficult. But it wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.
He presented himself to us as a pure entertainer, his life for the stage, and Bowie orchestrated his death in exactly that same way. He released ★ (aka Blackstar), his 25th album, on his 69th birthday, January 8, 2016. Two days later he died of complications from liver cancer, something he’d been secretly battling for a year and a half. From Tony Visconti, the coproducer of the album:
“He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life — a work of art. He made ★ for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
This is a sad, exhausting album. The sadness comes from the overt lyrics, which Bowie wrote about the experience of cancer treatment and impending death. The exhaustion comes from knowing what Bowie must have been feeling, himself, as he wrote it, which comes through in every slow tempo, every bass beat. It’s the perfect counter to the previous album on the countdown, Farewell, Starlite! Sure, there are many albums I’d reach for to memorialize Bowie by before reaching for this one, but ★ is still the perfect swan song, and I can’t recommend it enough.
21. Farewell, Starlite! by Francis and the Lights
22. This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
23. LNZNDRF by LNZNDRF
24. Puberty 2 by Mitski
25. Light Upon the Lake by Whitney
26. A Corpse Wired for Sound by Merchandise
27. Away by Okkervil River
28. case/lang/veirs by case/lang/veirs
29. Love Letter for Fire by Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop
30. Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future by Underworld
31. Preoccupations by Preoccupations