Monday, August 19, 2019

Everyone Says Hi To Mr. Bowie

There are some songwriters everyone seems to want to cover. David Bowie's one. It's strange when you think about it. So much of his appeal relies on, well, being him. You're on a hiding to nothing taking on Bowie, or so you'd think.

YouTube must have hundreds, maybe thousands of version of the Bowie Back Catalog. Most of them are probably best left unheard but I do have a handful of favorites I'd like to share.

That was Aurora. She's a Norwegian singer-songwriter, apparently best known in the UK for the 2015 John Lewis Christmas Advert (It's a thing. If you don't know about it, be grateful.) for which she covered Oasis' "Half The World Away".  Can't say I'm sorry I missed that cultural milestone.

Her take on "Life on Mars", a strange, dislocated song at the best of times, borders on the surreal as she dismembers the melody and emphasizes the most unexpected syllables. If she knows what the lyrics are about she's keeping it to herself. Then again, does anyone know what Life on Mars is about?

What is there to say about Puddles Pity Party? A six-and-a-half foot tall clown with a quasi-operatic voice who belts out covers with a mystifying intensity. An acquired taste, perhaps. His use of props in the video is inspired. Anyone care to explain the three coffee mugs?

Momus has made a career out of covering Bowie, even though he's a gifted songwriter and performer in his own right. I think this is probably the only time he actually impersonated the Master. Supposedly Momus released this arcane overwrite of Blackstar on the day of the official release, before anyone knew Bowie was dying. I imagine Bowie would have loved it.

Brett Smiley was supposed to be a big star in exactly the Ziggy Stardust mode. Along with Jobriath he had management who wanted him to ride Bowie's coat-tails to the top. Never happened for either of them but unlike Jobriath, Brett carried on making great music in a classic New York style until his untimely death in 2016. His louche, slurred version of "Kooks", one of Bowie's most straightforward songs, positively glows with affection.

So much for covers. David Bowie, along with Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and a few more of the arthouse crew sometimes turn up as subjects in other peoples' songs. In "Louise (My Girl Looks Like David Bowie") Papooz cram in several lyrical nods to the Thin White Duke, perhaps most appositely "Not sure if it's a boy or a girl".

Papooz are quite disturbing in a shudderingly ordinary way. I first came across them doing their signature hit "Anne Wants To Dance", the video for which is so ironic it probably ought to be played backwards. I wouldn't trust either of them as far as I could push them off their loungers.

I have absolutely no idea who Cranky are - or more probably were. Ok, I do, a bit, because I know how to research. They seem to have been a duo, one of whom goes by the unconvincing name of Parthenon Huxley, the other by the more feasible Rick Pierone. Huxley has a website and he released an album under the name P. Hux in 2018 for which Pierone played piano on a single track. I suspect that's more than we will ever need to know about either of them, except perhaps that Huxley was also in ELO Pt II.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Lilly Hiatt really only uses Bowie's death as a signifier for a bad decision and a state of mind as she looks back at a rough patch in her life but she wears the Aladdin Sane lightning flash with elan throughout the moving and memorable video. I'm not a big country or country rock fan but when it's done right it hits harder than just about anything.

Tori Amos is the undisputed queen of reinterpretation. She does a superb version of Bowie's "After All" but it's her hard-rocking, glam original "Not David Bowie" that I want to single out here. It seems to be a revenge song, or a vindication. The chorus protests "Take me back to the fact that you still blame me/But I am not the reason you are Not David Bowie" even as Tori resignedly allows that "It is what it is". I'll just stand over here.

And finally the man himself. Bowie liked to cover other people's stuff but it wasn't really his strong suit. This cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's controversial classic Love Missile F1-11 was the B-side of a 2003 single and that was probably as much as it deserved. I do like the way it morphs into a Bo Diddley chugger towards the end, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide