23. Heathen (2002)
Style: Art Pop
Shapes up to be stronger than Hours, but still lackluster compared to Earthling. Toward the 3/4 mark, it seems evident that we are missing the utter ferocious joy of the early 70s, and they won't ever return. But this makes for a nice background music, but not something that invites deep exploration.
Best Cuts: Took a Trip on a Gemini Spacecraft, A Better Future, Wood Jackson, Baby Loves that Way
And again... the bonus tracks are the best cuts from the album. I mean, seriously! This makes what? four albums now? or five? What was Bowie doing in the post 70s albums? It's like he was suddenly afraid to take any real risks (except for perhaps 1. Outside)
Boggles the Mind
24. Reality (2003)
Style: Art Pop
Seems more upbeat and tight than Heathen, but a little uneven.
Best Cuts: Pablo Picasso, The Loneliest Guy, She'll Drive the Big Car, Waterloo Sunset, Love Missile F1-11
See the pattern here? (best songs are the bonus tracks on subsequent re-releases)
25. The Next Day (2013)
Style: Art Rock
Starts off with a blistering title track, the other tracks seem to show a more easy, relaxed feel, as though he is finally making music that he just wanted to kick back and make. Even the discordant "Valentine's Day" seems like he's saying, "Here, I can make a song like straight off of Ziggy, just cuz I want to, here ya go!"
Seems like he's cycling through all his experimental phases and distilling them into solid songs. Even though they may not flow through to each other, this album seems like a sort of internal review of his lifetime body of work.
Knowing that by this time, Bowie was in his 60s, I just get the vision of him wandering around his studio home in New York, the mix of this album playing throughout every room, he and Iman just sipping wine and him comfortably knowing that all his early struggles were over and behind him - the constant touring, the fighting with bands, the fighting with music industry who wanted "the next Bowie hit," his own addictions, and just being satisfied knowing that he has survived all that, and life ... is fucking good. [This paragraph I wrote while listening to "Boss of Me"]
Best Cuts: Love is Lost, I'd Rather Be High, Boss of Me, Dancing Out in Space, Atomica, Plan, Like a Rocket Man
As with so many others, the outtakes are still the best: for example, "Like a Rocket Man," which would have fit perfectly all the way back on his 1967 eponymous album. That causes me to revisit my dream that his first album should have been completely re-recorded with the tech of the later decades (like the 90s).
26. Blackstar (2016)
Hard to critique an icon's swan song. I mean, this is the last full album released by one of the world's most famous and beloved musicians and then the man dies two days later. So, at least for this fan, objectivity is out the window.
That said, this experimental little beauty rings like a soul singing from inside The Machine. In other words, it sounds like the blend of man and machine. When I think of Bowie's penchant to create personas/characters for his performances, I like to think that Blackstar is Bowie's way of going into one more character, that of a man who has wholly merged with music - not just with the sound of the music, but also with all the electronics and instrumentation that comprises music. As though, he has become Music itself.
... and, in this way, he has conquered Death. Knowing that he was going to die while shooting the videos for these songs, it was as though, by becoming Music, he could achieve immortality.
And that's why I can't give an honest critique of Blackstar. Maybe I will be able to when I get closer to 70. We'll see then.
Best Cuts: Blackstar, Dollar Days