DAVID BOWIE – Blackstar (Columbia): Just to be mean, the first note I wrote myself upon listening to Blackstar well after Bowie’s death was a question for all the critics and publications who’ve found it in themselves to give it their #1 slot in their best-ofs: do they really think that, in the year of Lemonade, Blackstar is the best of 2016? Or is it one of those predictable signs of reverence, like what we (or you, because I ain’t watchin’) are likely to witness at the Grammys? (Prediction: Beyoncé wins Best Album, Bowie fans say she’s an inferior talent, which is a premature call; Bowie wins Best Album, Beyoncé fans say he got it cuz he’s dead, which is probably true.)
So to settle a bet I made with myself, I did a magnificently unscientific test and compared the reception and year-end placement of Blackstar to Bowie’s previous studio album, 2013’s The Next Day, to see just how much critics really liked it. Blackstar currently holds an 87/100 on Metacritic, culled from forty-three reviews. The Next Day has an 81/100 based of forty-four reviews. So Blackstar was a bit more well received, though both hold the superficial above-80 designation of “Universal Acclaim.” And what about them top-ten lists? For 2016, Metacritic has compiled 184 top-ten lists so far, and Blackstar has been named #1 thirty times, with twenty-two #2s, and fifty-seven other top-ten mentions. Conversely, The Next Day got two #2 placements and eighteen other top-ten mentions. Not one of the 146 lists collected for 2013 put it at the top.
Look: I too am bummed Bowie bit it, and I think Blackstar is a good album. I like it a little more each time I hear it, and I admit I hear it more often than I did The Next Day precisely because he died. Hell, maybe one day I’ll pony up and purchase a physical copy. And although the paragraphs above might come off as chastisement of what is easily perceivable as half-phony praise ginned up to pay respect to an art-rock icon, I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to rank their year-end favorites. I am, however, in the non-paying business of giving my shitty opinion. And my shitty opinion is that this is just fine. A fine sendoff to cap a great career. But it won’t be the album you remember him by. B PLUS (***)