It’s 2016, I’m listening to 52 albums in 52 weeks. For more info on what this is about, read this.
Have you ever found yourself completely at odds with the rest of society that you question your own sanity? You find yourself opposed to an opinion so overwhelming you wonder if you’re truly suffering from an incurable madness. That’s generally how I feel whenever I listen to most music before 1980. Some would call the 1960s-1970s the golden era of music, and if you skim any “best of all-time” list, you’ll usually find a majority of the top spots taken by albums released in that time period. I’ve always found this strange because I think all these albums sounds exactly the same.
Sure, if you put on a Rolling Stones song, then play a Beatles song I can tell you differences, and that’s true with everything I’ve heard this past week with David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but on their own they don’t inspire much beyond indifference. It’s music that someone else plays and I tune out and think about my own life. Which is fine. But I’m always a little startled when someone my age says these albums are the greatest of all time or changed their life significantly. If you’re going to make a claim like that, please explain to me how that is the case.
For bands like The Beatles or The Beach Boys, at the very least they get the argument of “they did it first.” It can be argued that the sound they achieved is so revolutionary and should be appreciated because no one had done it before, and I can certainly buy that argument. From a historical point of view I can understand why I should understand the merit of something like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. These have important places in the halls of music history, but everything else along the way that brought us to today that didn’t necessarily do anything on their own? I say “meh.”
Which is exactly how I feel about Ziggy Stardust. The music is pleasing, but nothing stands out. I might prefer some tracks over others, but not enough to seek them out on their own. I also don’t find anything about the story of the album to be worth returning to. A bisexual alien spreads news of the impending apocalypse with songs on his guitar? He’s also a conceited alien so his bandmates (spiders from mars) threaten to smash his fingers at one point. Whoopee? Compared to the deeply personal confessions found in last week’s album, this leaves a lot to be desired.
I think it’s obvious that music is a lot more diverse today than it’s ever been, and it’s probably moronic to criticize the past for not being as modern as the present, but it’s just as moronic to award the past today by the past’s standards. There’s no point in paying tribute, we’ve done that for decades now. If we can’t get over that, then there’s no point in making a “best of all-time” list, because we can’t get past our favoritism for our elders, and it shafts the artists who are making worthwhile creations today.
Really there’s no one who understood keeping up with the times better than David Bowie. A man who reinvented his life more times than most people have regular lives. As FiveThirtyEight pointed out, pop culture looked like David Bowie. Even Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, was inspired by the work of Kendrick Lamar, who Bowie considered so influential to the sphere of music that he felt the need to get in on the action. I feel it’s perfectly fitting to make the point that we should adapt to the times and focus on the future on the week that was meant to reflect on David Bowie’s most well-known work.
With that in mind, next week I’ll be listening to Black Star. Wait what, the David Bowie album? No. Oddly enough Bowie named his album after another album he really loved called… well, Black Star. Actually its full title is Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. Bowie even did an interview with Mos Def in Complex magazine talking about how much he loved a particular song off this album. You can check it out on Spotify or listen to it on YouTube. For those of you who don’t know, Mos Def just retired from music and film this past week.