So this is Goth! Such is my ignorance of this particular musical genre that I had to resort to a musical map I found on the Net to discover where Goth fits in the scheme of things. According to the cartography of subculture, there is punk - there is new wave - there is industrial - and then there is Goth. Listening to Suffragette City from Goth Oddity, I had to wonder whether Bowie hadn't beaten Goth to it by about thirty years.
Goth Oddity is a tribute to David Bowie released by Cleopatra Records and featuring Alien Sex Fiend, Mission UK and other gothic-like bands.
The album has its highlights - for me, Ex-Voto's Scary Monsters, Nosferatu's Starman and Alien Sex Fiend's All The Madmen stand out from the rest. All three of these tracks have a spark of originality that lends each song something new and distinctive. It's possible that I actually prefer these versions to the originals in some sense. The album also has its disasters - namely, Time and China Girl. Golly Goth! These should never have made the cut. And once again, my belief is confirmed in one of Bowie's less well known songs - Always Crashing In The Same Car - which receives an excellent Gothic reworking by Silent Order (whoever they are).
Which gets me thinking - what is it that makes a great cover of a Bowie song? The song is the song - can't do much about that (thank goodness). The arrangements - most of the cover versions leave the arrangements of the originals oddly intact. So, in the end, it boils down to the vocals and the instrumentation. It turns out that (judging by this album) Goth instrumentation is not so very different from the instrumentation Bowie used. The vocals on the album, with their Gothic affectations, are for the most part acceptable but rarely measure up to the Real Thing.
Some of the tracks hardly depart from the original at all - Suffragette City, All The Young Dudes (is that Ian Hunter on vocals?), Panic in Detroit (the backing track sounds the same), Hang On To Yourself (right down to the hand-claps), and Andy Warhol (as in hols). When it comes to Heroes - a deceptively simple song that's incredibly difficult to pull off - I infinitely prefer the Wallflowers' version of last year.
The production on Goth Oddity is slick and there is some good Stuff in the (albeit short) liner notes by Tony Lestat. The album is being widely distributed and is available at the Online CD stores. Coming as it does in the middle of the quiet period between Bowie releases, it's a welcome addition to the CD collection. Which begs the question - What's Really Happening? - to which the answer (and alternate title for the album) is Goth Only Knows.
Published 1999 by Cleopatra Records