Various Artists – Life Beyond Mars: A Tribute To David Bowie
Wed 3rd Sep, 2008 Music Reviewsin
In 1973 Bowie released his Pinups record, a stop gap collection of covers including interpretations of The Who, The Easybeats and The Kinks. Now Rapster Records has stepped up to offer Bowie his own tribute record. The label has previously offered tributes to Radiohead and Prince, with Matthew Herbert, Sa-Ra and Mark Ronson honouring Radiohead, and D’Angelo and Soulwax stepping up to cover Prince.
Third time out the guest list lacks the punch of the earlier tributes, though there are still eye-catching names on the bill with Carl Craig, Matthew Dear and Au Revoir Simone making appearances. Perhaps oddly (or due to record company wrangling) none of his recent collaborators – the obvious choices to cover his work – are included. So that means no TV On The Radio, no Arcade Fire and no Scarlett Johansson.
Tribute albums are a dangerous proposition; staying close to the original is too safe, but to try something daring is often considered close to sacrilege. Though there’s nothing especially blasphemous here and though there are several decent interpretations of Bowie’s work, there’s certainly nothing particularly vital on offer.
Indie faves Au Revoir Simone provide one of the highpoints by opening the collection with a gorgeous lullaby version of Oh! You Pretty Things. It’s also the least electronic offering on the compilation, which quickly moves in to a more Martian flavour with Heartbreak’s Loving The Alien. Leaping from its bizarre opening – a dinner date conversation about the Shroud of Turin – Kelley Polar offers a suitably hysterical electro-glam take on Dance Magic, from the Labyrinth soundtrack, complete with verses in gibberish Italian. It’s absurdly hammy, but also great fun – much like Bowie’s performance in the film. Leo Minor thankfully races through his torturous Ashes to Ashes; a lame offering which seems to have been rushed off simply to meet the compilation’s deadline.
The awkwardly named Carl Craig Presents Zoos of Berlin find gold with their LCD Soundsystem-esque Looking For Water, while Susumu Yokota’s Golden Years and Matthew Dear’s grand Sound and Vision also rise to the challenge. Richard Walters and Faultline team up to offer a cover of Be My Wife that’s simply too polite to make an impact. Though the weakest, most irritating, track is buried at the close of the record with The Thing purportedly covering Life On Mars, with a mess of broken noises that sounds more like the crash-landing of a failed NASA effort than anything you’d actually want to listen to.
Bowie refused to allow his tunes to be included in Todd Haynes’ kaleidoscopic glam-rock extravaganza Velvet Goldmine, and given the chance he’d surely treat this collection with a similar dismissal. While Bowie’s alien talent is undebatable, unfortunately most of this collection is firmly earth-bound.