On Blackstar's predecessor, 2013's The Next Day, David Bowie tapped directly into the sounds and images of his Berlin Trilogy, down to the Heroes-referencing album artwork. It may have sounded like late '70s Bowie, but Blackstar feels like it. That era was the last time he made an album that was simultaneously this non-commercial and genuinely enjoyable. He brought in jazz musicians for lengthy sonic explorations, he took influence from To Pimp A Butterfly, he sang "I'm not a pop star." When did Bowie do anything quite like this before? It's a truly special album, but it's also of course one that carries a lot of weight. Bowie would pass two days after its release, and longtime collaborator Tony Visconti would tell us Bowie knew this would be his goodbye. Fans went digging for hints about our hero's demise within the album, and the lyrics were certainly vague and surreal enough to read into them however you'd like (or not vague at all, like "Look up here, I'm in heaven"). There are cynics out there who will say this album is only getting extra attention because of Bowie's death, and to those people I would say don't think about it that way. Think about how a guy who released his first hit in the 1960s, who helped introduce the world to Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, who left an impact on virtually every style of mainstream and underground music, made the most adventurous rock record of 2016.

Review originally published in BrooklynVegan's Top Albums of 2016.