Our next Montauk Madness matchup pairs two legends, one who sadly (and triumphantly) passed away last year and another struggling to remain relevant after spending the better part of four decades as the world’s greatest rock band. David Bowie vs. U2.
Had I faced this decision before Bowie’s passing, I likely would have gone with U2. Apart from the hits, I knew Bowie’s work mostly by reputation. Of course, Bowie’s hits alone put him in contention, but I own almost all of U2’s albums and consider them at worst enjoyable and at best masterpieces (The Joshua Tree remains one of the seminal listening experiences in my life as a music fan).
David Bowie’s Blackstar topped the Village Voice 2016 Pazz & Jop album list, but he doesn’t show up until #8 on the singles list. To be fair, he shows up at #9 as well, with the album’s title track.
At #8 is ‘Lazarus,’ probably the best song on Blackstar, and given the added meaning it took on following Bowie’s death, probably worthy of a much higher spot on this list. Come on, Solange ain’t got nothing on Bowie.
2016 was the year we lost David Bowie, and so many other legendary entertainers.
But it was also the year I truly discovered Bowie. His death, just days after the release of his final album, Blackstar, prompted me to dive into his catalog and buy more than a dozen of his most-revered albums. I chronicled the process here on the blog.
My 4th favorite album of 1980 is one I didn’t hear until 36 years later — just a few months ago, in fact.
As I wrote in June while marching my way through half of Bowie’s catalog, Scary Monsters is widely considered the last great album he ever made. It capped off a remarkable run that spanned more than a dozen ground-breaking records in just over 10 years.
My exploration of David Bowie’s catalog comes to an end with a 33-year leap to his final album, Blackstar, released on his 69th birthday, just two days before he died.
It’s hard to view Blackstar without the lens of Bowie’s death, especially when it seems he was very much aware that this would be his final artistic statement. Lyrics such as “Something happened on the day he died,” “look up here, I’m in heaven” and “I’m trying to, I’m dying to” are powerful and bittersweet because he recorded and released them so close to his death.
The album that many Bowie fans pinpoint as David Bowie’s first big miss, a soulless exercise in commercialism, also happens to be the biggest success of his career.
1983’s Let’s Dance was indeed crafted with a broader audience in mind. Bowie described it as “a refocusing of Young Americans” and the singles do share the catchy exuberance of that album’s title track.
David Bowie entered the 80s with the release of Scary Monsters, an album that brought the experimental rock of his Berlin phase into more commercial territory. It’s a far more accessible album but still an adventurous one.
It’s also, according to popular consensus, the last great album Bowie ever recorded. Just about every one of his future releases was compared unfavorably to this one, or more charitably called his best work since Scary Monsters.