David Bowie, ★ (Blackstar)

What album would you write knowing it would be your last? That, posthumously, you could rest in the grave, the recording done, your sensibilities preserved and your artistic vision unfettered? Every musician should hope God grants them a last word on their own terms, and David Bowie got one: no compromises, no concessions to the pop charts, an eccentric, eclectic self-elegy shipped under the noses of a public unaware he was even ill. And, two days after its release, we have this album yet we have not him. Eternity suffuses the unfiltered emotions in the lyrics, from a man saved from his own execution by another ("★") to Lazarus in heaven against us collective Divëses below ("Lazarus"), even as he reassures Sue — or maybe us — that the clinic called and the X-ray's fine ("Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)"). Was he telling us all along he was "dying to[o]" ("Dollar Days")? Was he trying to? Every style he wanted he played: there's Nadsat and Polari ("Girl Loves Me"), earthy baroque ("'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore") and symphonic pop along with classic Bowie at the end with "Dollar Days" and the album's heartfelt closer "I Can't Give Everything Away" — a presumably deliberate irony as he gave us this very treasure to remember him by, its brilliance and unyielding intransigence even extending to the unreadable black on black of the liner notes. Everything about this masterpiece is sumptuous and unsullied, daring you to take him as he was and rewarding you with its sophistication when you do. Even a jerk music critic like me can't pierce the grave with my sharp wit nor effusive praise, but for an album as incredible as this one, let this summary be my attempt to try. (Content: sexual themes in "'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore," F-bombs in "Girl Loves Me," mild language in "Lazarus" and "Dollar Days.")