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Top 20 Albums of 2016

These are the 20 best albums of the year.

1. David Bowie
Blackstar
[Columbia/RCA/ISO]

We could not have known that Blackstar would be the final work of music legend David Bowie, though the man himself clearly did have some idea. Death and dying? They’re there in these words and grooves. Recorded in secret, like its predecessor, 2013’s The Next Day, this record saw Bowie surrounded by a crack team of players including saxophonist Donny McCaslin, the man who’d give soaring, life-altering performances on much of the album, including on two previously-issued but newly-recorded numbers, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” and “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore.”

The record is lengthy: the titular number alone clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, though nothing here feels excessive. Bowie and producer Tony Visconti carefully thread the needle and emerge with just enough to prove that the master remained in control of his art. “Lazarus,” a piece that took on new meaning shortly after the album came onto the market, is six-and-a-half minutes of studied, steady perfection across a newly definitive statement from the artist who never stood still. The same may also be said for “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” a tune that has a fitting title: Not only was it appropriate given that Bowie knew he would soon leave this world behind, but it was the statement of an artist who never gave too much away and yet managed to provide just enough to keep his many fans satisfied.

That he worked with Visconti many times across the decades is old news. Their track record across recordings such as Low, Lodger, Heathen and more speaks for itself. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a moment to admire his contributions to a record that surely presented its challenges. More than anything, though, Visconti made Bowie sound like an artist who was writing and recording for the first time, a man discovering himself and finding that what he possessed was something for the ages. Blackstar reveals many things of course, but the reach and power of their friendship is easily one of the most significant.

There will be further Bowie releases as the archives are raided and “lost” recordings resurface, but none of them will ever take the place of Blackstar, a record that its creator had clearly been working toward his whole life. – Jedd Beaudoin

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