Note: This review was written by Hans for GoldMine Magazine, but he also graciously contributed a copy of it to Teenage Wildlife.
Crash Course for the Ravers
A Tribute to the Songs of David Bowie
Undercover Records (UNCV0002)
Despite the amount of David Bowie covers on bands' EPs, B-sides, and albums (back in 1992 one Bowie fanzine reported more than 100 legitimate releases that included Bowie songs), Bowie has never been blessed (or cursed) with a compilation of covers of his music. In 1993, however, it was reported Bowie himself was asking bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Blur, The London Suede, U2 and Aereosmith to contribute covers for a planned compilation, but that has yet to materialize.
It seems some small, independent label, based in Oregon, has filled the Bowie-tribute-album void with a compilation featuring lesser known, yet slightly reputable indie artists such as Mercury Rev, The Magnetic Fields, and Swell, among others, which is sort of a mixed blessing. Brandishing a title inspired by a lyric from an obscure 1973 Bowie single called Drive In Saturday, Crash Course for the Ravers mostly features songs from Bowie's two most prolific periods-- his early '70s glam era and his late '70s avant-garde phase. The mixture of songs from those two periods and their representative performances seem to illustrate why Bowie grew bored with the flashy theatrics of glam and disco and decided to delve into more experimental pop realms.
The performances of the late '70s Bowie songs offer much more inspired performances and interpretations that, no matter how divergent they may sound, stay true to the essence of the originals.
Quasi's version of Sound and Vision fades in eerily and sways along drunkenly, unlike Bowie's original, celebratory version, but its buzzing electronics and mechanical plodding preserves the substance of the original. King Black Acid's Always Crashing in the Same Car is also a bit of a departure from the original, having been extended an extra two and a half minutes with solos and added lyrics. Despite some grinding guitar work, the whistling keyboards and sizzling drums are almost identical to those on Bowie's original. On "Heroes" the morose voice of The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt accompanied by a wash of ethereal guitars and echoes, is buoyed by a perky, yet subtle, electronic beat, perfectly embodying the irony of the original.
In contrast, the selections by bands covering Bowie's glam era don't seem to be able to pull out anything new or interesting from their selections. The hyper-charged The Width of a Circle by Spurge sounds rushed, impatient, and uninspired; the Tree People inject Andy Warhol with anger for some misdirected reason; and Ventilator's flamboyant gloom is a bit over the top for After All. The one stand out glam-period Bowie cover may be Golden Delicious' high-speed, country trash version of Suffragette City, complete with fiddles and a wash bucket beat. Also of note is Mercury Rev's modern, psychedelic re-working of Memory of A Free Festival, featuring vibrant organs that make listening to the song a visual experience as well as an aural trip.
Though not all the performances on Crash Course pay respectful homage to David Bowie, it goes beyond most tribute album expectations, as most of the bands participating actually seem to care about the music they're performing, pulling out the subtle depth of the songs, while being able to make them sound fresh. (Undercover Records, P.O. Box 14561, Portland, OR 97293)