50 Best Albums of 2016

Beyoncé smashed the system, Chance the Rapper counted his blessings, David Bowie left a powerful goodbye and more

David Bowie, 'Blackstar'
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2. David Bowie, 'Blackstar'

There's never been a musical farewell anything like Blackstar: The Cracked Actor saved his bravest and boldest performance for the final curtain. David Bowie showed up on his 69th birthday to drop a surprise masterpiece, let an astonished world puzzle over the music for a couple of days, and then slipped off into the sky. Nearly a year later, Blackstar still gives up fresh mysteries with every listen. Right from the start, this came on as one of the Starman's most dizzyingly adventurous albums, stretching out in jazzy space ballads like "Lazarus" or the ten-minute title epic. (Producer Tony Visconti revealed Bowie was soaking up fresh inspiration from artists like Kendrick Lamar and D'Angelo.) But it took Bowie's death to reveal Blackstar as his rumination on mortality – anguished, bittersweet, mournful, refusing to give in to self-pity even as he sang his passionate final word, "I Can't Give Everything Away," a song every bit as moving as "Heroes." After a 50-year spree of rock & roll mind-bending, David Bowie still wasn't running out of ways to shock people. Damn. Blackstar remains an inspiration – and a challenge – to us all. R.S.

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