Loving The Alien: Athens Georgia Salutes David Bowie

by Dara O'Kearney
Email: daraok@iol.ie

Loving The Alien: Athens Georgia Salutes David Bowie is the latest entrant into the Bowie tribute stakes. Like Crash Course For The Ravers, the concept is to take a number of unknown bands (this time all from the Athens Georgia region), and put them together on one tribute CD. The artwork and fact that it's a CD-R betrays the fact that it's not a big budget big label project, but it is tastefully produced nevertheless.

The liner notes by John Robert Parker capture the sort of hushed reverential pomp we Bowie fans like (right?). An extract:

"David Bowie is not like other rock stars. He's a phenomenon. Tenaciously surviving thirty years in the music industry, he's rejuvenated and redefined the often vapid popular music of his contemporaries, he's influenced generations of artists and he's made a ton of money.....He wrote music that sounds new twenty years after it was written."

It starts with the sneakily-titled It's No Game Part 3, courtesy of Born To Worry. The twist here is that the Japanese Samurai part at the start of "It's No Game" is rendered not in Japanese, but in German. It's also not a direct translation of the original, but rather a discourse on how there was no such thing as alternative in the early days of rock. Apart from that, it's a very faithful (and therefore a little pointless) facsimile of the Bowie original, right down to the vocal which sounds startlingly like Bowie in places.

Next up is Big Brother, courtesy of The Quiet Men. This gets off to a cracking start with a spoken sample from the movie "1984" which sets the tone nicely. From there, another fairly faithful to the original version follows.

That fairly inauspicious of two facsimile covers doesn't prepare us for what comes next - a mad but marvellous 8-minute-long electronic dance reworking of John I'm Only Dancing courtesy of M I M E. An edgy break beat pulses underneath a sea of bleeps and electronic squeaks, with the vocals kept well down in the mix and wandering in and out when they feel like it. It's a shame tha this will almost certainly not be played in many dance clubs (unlike, say, Aphex Twin's "Heroes") because it's easy to imagine it working wonderfully in such a setting. All in all, it sounds like what Bowie's version would sound like if Photek or Aphex Twin were allowed to remix it.

Next up, the Ceiling Fan gives us Hang Onto Yourself, ham up their accents, and end up sounding like ZZ Top.

Next, The Robert Lurie Collective score top marks for eschewing the safe "stick to classic 70s Bowie" road, choosing to bring us I Can't Read instead. One of the things I liked about The Dark Side Of David Bowie was the number of post-83 songs that were tackled with admirable results. I wish more of the bands on this CD had followed this example - this is the only post-83 song on the whole album. As for the track itself, it's well-executed and atmospheric, and sticks closer to Bowie's solo re-recording (for The Ice Storm) rather than the Tin Machine original.

The next track is for me the absolute stand-out on the album and one of the best Bowie covers I have ever heard. Ryan McWhorter scores obscurity marks for doing Abdulmajid, the Heroes bonus track. This slowly builds to a thing of electronic beauty, and some spoken samples are used but not over-used, with the net result outdoing even Bowie's original for my money. This is another track that would work very well in a club setting.

E L I have at Andy Warhol next, giving it a grungey working over.

A New Career In A New Town is courtesy of Don't Analyze. The start is bizarrely reminiscent of Memory Of A Free Festival (what is it with electronic dance acts and that track?), and the rest of it is slowed down to snail's pace. With a single keyboard keeping the melody going, it's virtually unrecognisable. It's an interesting experiment, but experiments don't always work, and for me it doesn't work as well as the other electronic-based tracks on the album, but at least nobody could accuse it of being a pointless carbon copy cover.

A much more successful slowed-down song is next, with Simultaneous Discs changing Modern Love into a funereal dirge. Reminiscent of the tracks on The Dark Side Of David Bowie that took songs that were regarded as 80s Bowie pop fluff and turned them into something more substantive, this sounds a little like Neil Young fronting Joy Division and the lot of them having a go at singing the song as a hymn at a funeral while high on drugs to numb the pain. This is definitely one of my faves on the whole album.

The album ends with a fairly straight rendering of Starman by Slackdaddy. The highlight here are some nice high tortured backing vocals.

Overall, I rate this as the second best Bowie tribute album (after The Dark Side Of David Bowie) and I can see myself playing it more than the four or five times I normally play tribute albums.

The album costs $12 and can be ordered directly from Black Rider Records web site

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This document last updated Sunday, 22-Nov-1998 15:34:12 EST
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