Thursday, 21 January 2016
Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2016 Hot List. We hope you enjoyed our first entry in this year's Hot List covering the essential new films in 2016. This week we will be turning our attention to the year's line-up of television shows, in particular the brand new series starting in the next 12 months.
2015 has served as another reminder that television is increasingly becoming the medium of choice for complex storytelling. The year gone by has seen some of the best visual drama in years with the continuation of House of Cards and Fargo and the addition of the phenomenally successful Mr. Robot. In 2016 we can look forward to yet more of the Hollywood A-list getting in on the act, including one of the industry's most celebrated directors.
In the meantime, Amazon has had it's first bona fide hit in Man in the High Castle, staking a claim for the first time as a true competitor to Netflix. With Hulu also set to move deeper into original programming, the online streaming landscape is starting to take on the multi-faceted appearance of early television. It remains to be seen just what the final form of all this will be.
In spite of this progress, we're starting to see some of the ongoing threats that the medium will face in the years ahead. From antagonistic ISPs to onerous copyright laws, the consumer interest continues to be held back by the archaic remnants of the industry old boys' club. History tells us that these elements will eventually lose out to the march of technology, but for now sadly it looks as though this game of political football will continue.
Nevertheless, we continue to be positive that there is much to be excited about in the current era of television; the quality of programming has progressed by leaps and bounds, while the technology is finally on the verge of bringing the medium into the 21st Century. The year ahead looks to be a continuation of this. So without further ado here are the top 10 essential television shows, both new and returning, that will hit the airwaves in 2016:
10. Archer - FX
Arguably the wittiest show on television right now, Archer is that rare TV show that's big on belly laughs and chock full of references and subtext for more sophisticated humour. Now entering its seventh season, the series shows no sign of slowing down.
Very little is yet known about the plot for the upcoming year, but showrunners have confirmed that the spy agency "ISIS" is being written out of the show for obvious reasons. With last season's plotline seeing the main cast cut ties with the CIA it will be interesting to see what new setting they come up with.
Regardless, the show's trademark wit and satirical humour remain. The new season starts in March.
Release Date: March 2016
9. Billions - Showtime (New TV Show)
The first of our new series to keep an eye on in the coming year. The timely Billions looks into the morally suspect world of hedge funds and financial crime.
The cast is excellent, featuring the well worn TV talents of Damian Lewis as our corrupt hedge fund manager, alongside the always excellent Paul Giamatti as the District Attorney investigating him.
Showtime and Lewis have excellent prior history with Homeland, and we're pretty excited to see that combination flourish again. Billions debuts in late January.
Release Date: January 2016
8. American Gods - Starz (New TV Show)
Now this one is promising. American Gods is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by the inimitable Neil Gaiman (author of, Stardust, Coraline, among others), and produced by Bryan Fuller, a man with an enviable track record of smart, wonderful television.
The plot is classic Gaiman weirdness: gods are real and live among humans, and a conflict is shaping up between the old gods of mythology and the new gods of money and technology. Otherwise precious little is known about the show, no news on cast, and it's only just been announced to being picked up by the Starz network. Still, with this production team and source material, we are very hopeful.
Fuller has gone on record as saying that he expects this show to debut late 2016. We aren't so certain but we'll go along with that. Don't be surprised if this shows up on the 2017 list though.
Release Date: Fall 2016
7. The X-Files - Fox
In one of the biggest surprise moves of recent TV history, The X-Files is making a comeback, albeit a short one in the form of a six episode miniseries.
The main duo of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return, along with the usual supporting cast. It will be interesting to see how the conspiracy-laden mythos of the series slots into the modern setting, after all a lot has changed since the show's heyday in the 90s. Indeed according to X-Files mythology the world was supposed to end in 2012. Presumably they've come up with a good explanation for why it has not!
Nevertheless, The X-Files was hugely influential on popular culture during its original run, so any return is a cause for excitement. The new miniseries starts at the end of January.
Release Date: January 2016
6. House of Cards - Netflix
It's still one of the best shows on TV (or Netflix anyway), and the best political TV show since the West Wing. Now House of Cards is back for a fourth season.
Kevin Spacey and the usual cast return. There had been much speculation as to whether this season would even happen, but House of Cards has become a flagship of sorts, not only for this new wave of high quality, A-list drama, but for television streaming as a whole. It speaks volumes that the talent on this project are so keen to keep working on the show, they realise that they're involved in something special.
Once again all thirteen episodes will be released simultaneously, in March.
Release Date: March 2016
5. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - Webseries
Speaking of iconic shows from the 1990s, and if The X-Files is no longer above this one in the list then let's pretend it is so that sentence makes sense, here's another making a comeback: Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
The award winning cult classic MST3K was one of those shows that you either never heard of, or you've heard of it and pity those who haven't. The premise is simple: they put on a really bad sci-fi or horror movie, and make fun of it the entire time. The result was something that was far funnier than it had any right to be, especially if you're the type who enjoys watching these cheesy movies and laughing at them.
So imagine the joy of fans everywhere this past November when series creator Joel Hodgson launched a Kickstarter to bring the show back as an online webseries. Initially asking for $2 million, they raised $5.8 million, becoming the most crowdfunded television series of all time. Now we wait. The new episodes are expected to start filming in January, with the first available for viewing in the summer.
Release Date: Summer 2016
4. Vinyl - HBO (New TV Show)
We're extremely excited about this one. The legendary Martin Scorsese directs/produces Vinyl, a new show about the seedier side of 1970s rock and roll. It's other producers include none other than Mick Jagger and Terrence Winter, who created the hit show Boardwalk Empire.
HBO have a pretty exceptional record for good TV drama, and with a cast starring the underrated Bobby Cannavale, and including the likes of Olivia Wilde, Ray Roman and Andrew Dice Clay, Vinyl looks to have the talent to add to the long track record of success.
Originally mooted for a 2015 release, Vinyl ultimately had a last minute rescheduling to February 2016. This could be one of the real highlights of this year's TV.
3. Fargo - FX
Far too often you get a hit new TV show with a great debut season, which then goes on to suffer from second-season syndrome and lose the magic. Fargo is not an example of this. Fargo's second season was every bit as much a triumph as the first.
Unsurprisingly, the televised adaptation of the classic Coen Brothers film has been confirmed for a third season. Few details have arisen as of yet, no cast has been announced. All we know is that it will return to the present day setting of the first season.
If the first two seasons are anything to go by, whatever they come up with will be brilliant. A start date has yet to be announced, but we look forward to it.
Release Date: TBA 2016
2. Westworld - HBO (New TV Show)
Westworld is a remake of the old 1973 sci-fi western film written and directed by legendary author Michael Crichton.
This new adaptation will be scripted by Jonathan Nolan, quite the hot property in Hollywood now after writing the scripts for most of his brother Chris' films, as well as his own hit TV show Person of Interest. It's being developed by HBO, a network renowned for its high quality, with another big name JJ Abrams attached as producer. Meanwhile the impressive cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and a number of other recognisable faces.
There's a lot of talent attached and a lot of buzz hyping this as one of the big television events of 2016.
Release Date: TBA 2016
1. Mr. Robot - USA
But the TV show we are most excited about seeing in 2016 is the winner of the coveted 2015 Debbie Award for best TV Show, Mr. Robot.
Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Mr Robot's first season was a critically acclaimed triumph, and won unanimous plaudits from fans and pundits alike.
Unsurprisingly, a second season is due to come out in 2016. It remains to be seen in what direction they intend to take the series, or who among the original cast may return, but showrunner Sam Esmail recently took to Twitter to promise "big twists" in the year ahead. If you haven't started watching this yet, you should be, and you have until season 2 starts to get caught up!
Release Date: TBA 2016
So there you have it folks: 2016 in television. Tune in next week for the essential new music of the year!
Friday, 15 January 2016
Happy New Year everyone and welcome back to The Ephemeric. This week's tragic passing of music legend David Bowie has delayed the roll-out of our 2016 Hot List, but now we are pleased to resume regular service. Over the next few weeks we will be rolling out The Hot List, the essential guide to your year ahead. This week we begin with a look at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2016 from February onwards, after the cutoff point for this year's Oscars.
2015 will go down as one of the more diverse years in cinema, with hugely successful releases ranging from small-scale intellectual sci-fi to historical dramas, journalism thrillers, frontier adventures in the wild, and biographical films. As a result we have a particularly open field as far as the various awards go. As it stands there really are a good dozen or so films up for the major prizes, and The Ephemeric is pleased to be able to say that a solid nine or ten picks from last year's Hot List have found themselves in the mix, and a further two which only missed out by being delayed into 2016.
Let's be honest, 2016 has been shit so far. David Bowie is dead, Alan Rickman is dead, both were killed by Aaron Ramsey, it's cold out, and I'm fairly confident the stock market is about to collapse. Nevertheless, let's do this. Looking ahead, 2016 cinema has much on the horizon about which to be excited, hot new directors, long anticipated sequels, several adaptations of excellent novels. We really feel that this year's list has a little something for everyone.
So behold, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:
15. Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk
Hollywood loves a good book adaptation, and Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk provides strong material. The real story though is that this is the latest film from Oscar winning director Ang Lee, whose last film The Life of Pi was a huge and award winning success.
Making this even more exciting is a script penned by the phenomenally talented Oscar winning Simon Beaufoy. With a release set for November of this year, Billy Lynn must surely have its sights set on Oscar gold right?
Two oddities give me pause. First there's the cast, a mixed bag which includes the unknown Jow Alwyn, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, and Vin Diesel. Second is the production by TriStar Pictures, a studio which hasn't really had a whole lot of critical success in recent years. In the 2010s only Looper stands out as a really good film from their back catalogue.
Still you never know, USA network didn't have any good TV shows until they came up with Mr. Robot, and certainly there have been plenty of films in recent years who managed to rehabilitate maligned actors, including Tucker himself in The Silver Linings Playbook. We'll keep an eye on this one, there's a lot of buzz.
Release Date: November 11, 2016
14. The Zookeeper's Wife
Another entry, another book adaptation. This one is a corker though. The Zookeeper's Wife is based on the award winning novel of the same name, based on the true story of Polish zookeeper Jan Zabinski, who during World War II saved the lives of 300 Jews from the Nazis.
The film version stars Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, and the underrated Daniel Bruhl. New Zealand director Niki Caro may not be a household name over here, but she has a fair few accolades to her name, including a couple of Oscar nominations.
No release date yet, but we would expect it sometime in the Fall based on the current gossip. Watch this one closely, especially if you are fans of the book, it is a great story after all and with able talent behind it.
Release Date: TBA 2016
13. Independence Day: Resurgence
Mixing things up a bit, here's the often rumoured, now actually happening sequel to the 1990s' mega blockbuster, Independence Day: Resurgence. Can it possibly not suck? Was it at all necessary? These are all valid questions, but either way it's done, let's all try and keep an open mind.
For what it's worth, the premise is interesting. Aliens return twenty years after the original invasion, during that time humanity has reverse engineered their technology, leading to a much more even fight than last time, with guaranteed laser and space battles. Fans of the X-COM videogame series will feel right at home with the concept.
Director Ronald Emmerich returns, as does previous film's stars Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. The big hold out? No Will Smith, money issues apparently. It's a shame they couldn't reunite the whole team, but Smith will be replaced by Liam Hemsworth, and Maika Monroe rounds out the cast.
ID5 launches in June this year. Could be fun. Might suck.
Release Date: June 24, 2016
12. Nocturnal Animals
People were skeptical when successful fashion designer Tom Ford decided to move into film production. Yet his debut, and so far only film, A Single Man, was a hit. Follow up film Nocturnal Animals will prove whether this was just a flash in the pan, or whether his writer/director talents are the real deal.
Based, like so many others on this list, on a successful novel, Nocturnal Animals stars the always underrated Jake Gyllenhaal, and Academy favourite Amy Adams. An extremely strong supporting cast includes Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kim Basinger, Isla Fisher and Armie Hammer.
Release date is currently unknown, but there's a lot of buzz about this one in 2016. Still, the latest news is that principal photography only started this past October, so there's every chance that this one will slip into 2017.
Release Date: TBA 2016
11. The Light Between Oceans
This one almost made our 2015 list before deciding it unlikely to see release last year. Turns out we were right, and now it is set for a late 2016 release, just in time for the awards season.
The Light Between Oceans is a film that has had a lot of buzz about it for a few years now. Based on the book of the same name, Michael Fassbender and the so-hot-right-now Alicia Vikander star as a lighthouse keeper and his wife off the coast of Australia who find a baby washed up on their shore one day in a lifeboat. Rachel Weisz finishes up the main cast.
There's no doubt that this is a watershed film for writer/director Derek Cianfrance, who's received high critical praise in the past for Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, and yet has still flown mostly under the radar. This release is his big opportunity to move his career to the next level. We're very curious to see how it goes.
Release Date: Late 2016
Here's an interesting prospect, albeit one that we don't really know what to do with. Passengers is a romantic science fiction film about two stranded colonists. What makes this film stand out is the talent involved.
The insanely likable duo of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star, with Michael Sheen lending his voice talent. Elsewhere they've enlisted Rodrigo Pietro for cinematography, whose past credits include a long list of excellent movies from The Wolf of Wall Street, to Argo and Biutiful. Most exciting of all is the signing on of director Morten Tyldum, who directed The Imitation Game as his first major Hollywood film. We're very excited to see what he can do next.
Columbia Pictures are clearly quite confident about this one, they've booked in a release date just before Christmas in late December. Other than that though, not much is known at this stage. Slightly worrying is production company Village Roadshow Productions who have as many flops as successes in their CV, but still we await this one with interest.
Release Date: December 21, 2016
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Somewhere along the line it became very cool to hate on JJ Abrams' first original film project, Cloverfield, so much so that people have forgotten how initially strongly received it was by critics and fans alike. Cloverfield was something completely different, with a groundbreaking marketing campaign and the best yet use of the "found footage" trope.
So when JJ Abram's mysterious new project was revealed to be a sequel, titled 10 Cloverfield Lane, we were understandably excited. Even more so having seen the very intriguing looking trailer.
So what we know is that the film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Goodman, who appear to be the last survivors of some catastrophe that has taken place. And oddly enough this isn't actually being directed by JJ Abrams, merely produced. Dan Trachtenberg is taking on directorial duties. Other than that, it's a complete mystery, which is just the way we like our JJ Abrams movies.
Release Date: March 11, 2016
Next up with have something that could be a bit special. Lion is based on the book based on the true story of a young child separated from his mother in India, a good thousand miles away from home, and is later reunited fifteen years later.
It's good solid movie-fare, and it stars the competent trio of Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, and Dev Patel. Slightly more interestingly, Lion is scripted by Luke Davies, a man mostly known for his limited career in indie films, and directed by Garth Davis, who so far has a fairly highly acclaimed career in television, but nothin in feature films.
An interesting prospect then, and the Weinstein Company certainly seem to think so too, having purchased distribution rights and partnered with the producers of awards smash The King's Speech. Weinstein usually picks a winner, lets see if they'll do it again. No release date set as of yet, but Lion is widely expected to release late in 2016.
Release Date: TBA 2016
7. La La Land
Pop quiz: Your first major film as both writer and director has caught fire, nominated for five Oscars, winning three of them, and arguably the best film of its year. What do you do next?
For Damien Chazelle the choice, after the unexpected success of Whiplash, was to fulfill a lifelong ambition and produce a big, bombastic, classic Hollywood style musical. Welcome to La La Land.
La La Land stars Ryan Gosling and the up-and-coming talent of Emma Stone, with JK Simmons and John Legend in support. It's an old fashioned Hollywood fable of a jazz pianist falling in love with an ambitious young actress, and then shit happens which can only really be explained through the medium of song.
This one will hit the big screen in July. Should be a bit of good fun.
Release Date: July 15, 2016
Here's an interesting one for theatre fans. Genius is the debut film of Michael Grandage, former artistic director of London's iconic Donmar Warehouse theatre. Genius portrays the biographical history of a legendary early 20th Century literary editor, Max Perkins.
Grandage has certainly broken out the old rolodex from his time at the Donmar, as the cast of Genius includes the hugely impressive lineup of Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Dominic West, Laura Linney, and Guy Pearce.
A release date of summer 2016 is a slightly unusual one for a film like this, but as fans of Grandage's work we are pretty excited to see what he can do in this new medium, and particularly with such a talented array of actors. Definitely one to watch.
Release Date: July 29, 2016
5. Hail, Caesar!
The release of a new film by the Coen Brothers is always a cause for celebration. Over the years they have produced some of the finest cinema around. They Have fifteen Oscar nominations between them and four wins.
Their newest, Hail, Caesar! is a classic farce set against golden age Hollywood in the 1950s. The cast includes a lineup of Coen Brothers favourites and newcomers alike, including George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Channing Tatum. It's a formidable cast of talent, and the addition of legendary cinematographer and longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins only sweetens the deal.
It's a film that has absolutely everything right on paper, so why isn't it higher up the list? Scoff if you will, but the early February release date seems a bit of a red flag. The Coen Brothers haven't released a film so early in the year for decades, one has to ask why they've been given such a bad release date this year... perhaps the studio isn't happy with the product? We shall see; worst case scenario this film will be on a par with Burn After Reading, best case we'll have another classic on the level of Fargo. Either way it'll be worth seeing, we're excited for this one.
Release Date: February 5, 2016
4. Star Trek Beyond
And now for something completely different. To call Star Trek Beyond's placement on this list a guilty pleasure might be a bit harsh, after all the last two films in the series Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness were critically acclaimed, and in the case of the former really quite excellent (not to mention Oscar winning). But the truth is we have some trepidation about this latest one.
The good news is that the main cast, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana return, and they have brought with them the excellent Idris Elba. The bad news is... well just about everything else.
Director of the past two films, JJ Abrams, is out due to commitments with a different film you may have heard of which also begins with "Star", he stays on as producer. Originally screenwriter Roberto Orci was set to replace him, which was mildly controversial seeing as he has never directed anything before, and the fact that his scripts were probably the weakest point of the past two films, Into Darkness especially. So Orci promptly got the boot, which left us with barely a year until release and not even a script let alone a film. Cue Simon Pegg to come along and throw together a script at the last minute, and incoming director Justin Lin of, err... Fast and Furious fame.
So to recap: the entire movie was rushed together in a year, and we have the director of the Fast and Furious series. This film is going to be terrible probably. But if Pegg somehow manages to pull this off, he will no doubt be hailed as a hero to Trekkies everywhere.
Release Date: July 22, 2016
Now we're getting to some of the heavyweights. Sully is the inevitable film portrayal of hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger who famously crash-landed an airplane into the Hudson river and got everyone out alive.
Clint Eastwood directs, Tom Hanks stars as Sully. Do we really need to say more? You'll be hearing about this one a lot come the next awards season. But since you insist, the supporting cast includes Aaron Eckhart, Entourage's Jerry Ferrara, and Laura Linney. Long time Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern is on board for cinematography.
I suppose the question is how do they make a movie out of this, when the event itself was probably not all that interesting in real time, and probably shorter than the running time of a film? Well it's based off his autobiography, so presumably looks a great deal at the life that made him the man he was leading up to that day.
Sully releases this September.
Release Date: September 9, 2016
2. The Founder
This is a rather tasty prospect, and one of the more nailed on awards contenders for next year. The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc and his acquisition of McDonalds.
An old fashioned business drama, with Michael Keaton as Kroc, and a supporting cast which includes Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, and Patrick Wilson. The director, John Lee Hancock previously did Saving Mr. Banks and The Blind Side, so he has previous in the biographical genre, and a track record of producing very good films. Script by Robert D. Siegel, who wrote The Wrestler and The Onion Movie. Cinematography by the Oscar nominated John Schwartzman who worked on Saving Mr. Banks and Seabiscuit.
A lot of talent invovled then, and produced by the Weinstein Company, who as we already may have mentioned, usually have pretty serious clout when it comes to awards season. The Founder releases in November.
Release Date: November 25, 2016
And finally, Silence. Eagle-eyed readers may recognise this one from last year's Hot List. Ultimately it ended up slipping to 2016, and winding up back here for another year.
There is not one detail about Silence which doesn't suggest that it's going to be a very big deal. An adaptation of the acclaimed 1966 Japanese novel of the same name, a historical drama dealing with religious persecution in 17th Century Japan, screenplay by two time Academy Award nominee Jay Cocks, and directed by one of the greatest of all time, Martin Scorsese.
Originally the film had been mooted for one Daniel Day Lewis and Benicio del Toro when it first surfaced in 2009, but following a recent script rewrite the cast now includes two highly regarded young up and comers in Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, as well as veteran Liam Neeson.
It all sounds great so far, so it's just as well that the film is lined up for a late 2016 release, right around when the awards season really gets going. Put this one on your list, it's going to be big.
Release Date: Late 2016
So there you have it folks: 2016 in movies. Tune in next week for the essential new television shows on the air in 2016!
Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Welcome to 2016. The Ephemeric is sorry to be starting this new year not with the traditional Hot List, but with the very sad news that has just broken this morning.
On the 10th of January, 2016, just two days after he turned 69 and released what will ultimately be his final album, Blackstar, David Bowie has passed away as a result of cancer. The world is in shock, particularly as his illness had not previously been disclosed to anyone outside of immediate family, but as details come in it is becoming clear that Bowie was diagnosed some 18 months ago, and that it was clear for some time that he would not be able to delay the inevitable for much longer.
Bowie will be remembered as one of history's greatest artists, not just for his music, which has spanned 6 decades, but for his accomplished career as an actor, writer, producer, and his unique influence on pop-culture all over the world. Bowie has released 27 albums, 9 of which have reached number 1 on the charts, soon to be 10 going by early sales reports of Blackstar. Hit single Let's Dance is one of the greatest selling songs of all time. Bowie has written chart topping hits for a host prominent artists including Arcade Fire, The Arctic Monkeys, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Mott the Hoople, and Queen, and collaborated with the likes of John Lennon, Brian Eno, Mick Jagger, and Tina Turner. He has been covered by the likes of Nirvana and Dario G, and been remixed by countless others.
He is a household name all over the world, from Europe to USA, to Japan, and even reaching into outer space. Following his death, shrines have appeared as far apart as hometown Brixton, Berlin where he famously recorded his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno, and Russia where he was one of the top selling western artists during the Cold War era. It is no overstatement to say that he has influenced just about every contemporary musician in some way, but more than that today's outpouring of love from politicians, business leaders, scientists and artists illustrates the inspiration he has given us all over the decades.
And yet these facts only scratch the surface of the true extent of his legacy in pop culture history. No doubt there will be more coherent and comprehensive tributes written than anything I could hope to deliver in this heat of the moment stream of consciousness, but earlier today no less transformative a figure than Madonna described David Bowie in one word: "gamechanger".
Arriving at a time when popular music was much more about conformity, identifying with peers, and belonging, Bowie gave people something they had never seen before. He brought trail-blazing spectacle at a time when other pop bands all had short haircuts and tidy matching suits, adopting a series of outlandish personae and wildly varying musical styles, from the glam alien rock star Ziggy Stardust, to the Weimar-era lounge-crooning of Aryan aristocrat The Thin White Duke, or the sinister Pierrot of Bowie's 1980s new romance phase.
No one had ever seen such theatricality from a musician, a thematic combination of music and narrative to create conceptual albums that were almost a new genre to themselves. Bowie's ability to continually reinvent his image and experiment in all genres of music displays an artistic depth that few have ever matched, and earned him the nickname of the "rock and roll chameleon".
But though the style changed, the message did not. For Bowie it wasn't just the the high quality of the music, so much as the formidably intellectual thoughts they contained. Dense and complex lyrics with allusions to politics, philosophy and society. Through his bizarre alien appearance, his androgyny and ambiguous sexuality, his flamboyance, and distinct sense of "otherness", Bowie appealed to the pariahs and the misfits of society. Bowie's famously homoerotic top of the pops appearance may seem like nothing today, but it shocked audiences at the time.
Rather than harness the contemporary ideal of "cool", these were songs which embraced being different, which told young people all over the world that it was ok to be gay, ethnically diverse, or otherwise unaccepted in society. Bowie became an idol to anyone who has ever felt alone or disaffected from the world.
This lies at the core of his enduring mystique, which by the end of his life had reached near mythical status. So it is fitting, for an artist every aspect of whose life appeared to consist some form of artistic expression, that his illness permitted him the foresight to even write his own curtain call. Indeed his final album Blackstar can now only be interpreted as a farewell to the world, a message intended to be heard posthumously with its thematic focus on death, time, and legacy. Millions of fans all over the world will be looking back at new single Lazarus, released in recent weeks, which would appear to take on a whole new meaning in this additional bit of context.
As an artist, Bowie never stopped innovating, never stopped experimenting, even after decades in music. For every new trend in music, Bowie was always at the forefront even in his final days. That one of the biggest stars music has ever known was able to maintain his ability to surprise for so many years is truly remarkable. But through all the myth and spectacle, we're reminded that Bowie was still just a human being, and one who will be sorely missed by a lot of people.
So first and foremost, thank you Major Tom for your contribution to the universe. For the rest of us, here are The Ephemeric's top 5 David Bowie albums, to help you get through this:
5. Aladdin Sane
A spiritual successor to Bowie's defining album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, conceptualised as "Ziggy goes to America", but the result more than stands up on its own.
First there is the iconic cover art, that Bowie lightning bolt that has become such a ubiquitous symbol of rock and roll and pop culture in general. In all honesty, more people recognise the lightning bolt than know from where it comes. Teenagers all over the world wear it on t-shirts to this day, unaware what it really means as a symbol of teenage drama and glamour.
The music is most notable for it's avant-garde jazz influences, dominated by the astonishing piano work of Mike Garson, much of which was ad-libbed in the studio. Ultimately Aladdin Sane serves as a great summary of the disparate stylings of Bowie, from Brechtian odyssey Time to rock and roll classic The Jean Genie, and jazz piano masterpiece Aladdin Sane.
4. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
For some, the epitome of Bowie at his strangest, most extravagant self. Scary Monsters formed part of Bowie's transition from 1970s glam rock provocateur to 1980s worldwide superstar.
Here Bowie embraced, and indeed became the face of a whole new musical movement in the new romantic period of the 1980s, contrasting strongly with his rock and roll roots, and utterly confounding all those who had followed his career so far. This radical reinvention would become a characteristic feature of Bowie's evolution through the years.
Scary Monsters would see the debut of Bowie's creepy Pierrot character, his first since 1976's Thin White Duke, and with it an equally creepy lead single, Ashes to Ashes, most well known for its utterly groundbreaking music video, which still stands as one of the all time greatest. Follow up single Fashion would go on to become one of Bowie's most definitive tracks.
Under appreciated and perhaps not as well known as some of Bowie's other work; Low was the first album of the so-called "Berlin Trilogy", marking a turning point in Bowie's life which saw him relocate to Germany in the hopes of cleaning up his various addictions and reinvent himself from a creative perspective. Low also marks his first collaboration with Brian Eno.
Aficionados will tell you that Low remains one of Bowie's most influential works, the one of the first of his albums to truly break away from the Ziggy/Aladdin Sane rock and roll mould that made him a star.
Characterised by instrumental and heavily synthesised tracks, most notably Sound and Vision, the album stands as one of Bowie's most adventurous, and truly wouldn't sound at all out of place were it released today. Bowie was decades ahead of his time here, and the shift in critical opinion between 1976 and today serves as a great case study.
2. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Very difficult to choose between the top 2. Most people would describe Ziggy Stardust as not only the pivotal David Bowie album, but also one of the most influential concept albums of all time.
Ziggy is the embodiment of the David Bowie story; an otherworldly rockstar as described in the song Ziggy Stardust, whose sheer celebrity and charisma forms a powerful following, and whose life ultimately derails into self-indulgence, egotism, and self-destruction, a Rock and Roll Suicide. Ziggy is the best cautionary tale ever written on the cult of celebrity, and thankfully one which Bowie himself heeded in time.
An album of such high concept had never been attempted before, and rarely accomplished so successfully even in the years hence. Ziggy also offers a very fine collection of individual songs, from Starman to Suffragette City.
1. Hunky Dory
Hunky Dory may not have the heavyweight concept of Ziggy Stardust, but it is without a doubt, one of the finest collections of songs ever written.
Releasing before Ziggy, it was this album that first brought Bowie to prominence, the album that made him an up and coming star and a household name.
The track list is just one classic after another. Changes, Oh! You Pretty Things, Life on Mars, and Queen Bitch. These all rank among the finest pop songs ever written, and even in these early days it's the sophistication in the writing that shines through the sublime melodies. Hunky Dory is the pivotal David Bowie album, shaping what was to come, first hinting at his potential as a formidable wordsmith as well as a musical shapeshifter.