Friday, 12 January 2018

Bowie Week II: Friday

As a new decade dawned, so did a new Bowie. The 80s started pretty well for him, a number one single with Ashes To Ashes and a number one album with 'Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)'. Ashes To Ashes remains one of Bowie's finest moments. It's a phenomenal track, it really is. It's possibly also the first 'sequel' to top the charts, giving us an update of poor old Major Tom from Space Oddity. It's easy to suggest that Welsh trio The Joy Formidable jumped on the 'Death of Bowie' bandwagon when they included a cover of Ashes To Ashes on their 'Sleep Is Day EP' in October 2016, but they actually did a wonderfully atmospheric take on it.

Teenage Wildlife was one of many highlights on 'Scary Monsters...'. Bowie has said his vocal was an imitation of Ronnie Spector. I'm not sure about that, but musically it's not a million miles away from "Heroes". The lyrics are a thinly-veiled swipe at the arty post-punk brigade, in particular Gary Numan ("Same old thing in brand new drag..."). Ash had wild lives in their teens. They played Glastonbury when they should have been sitting their A Levels for chrissakes! Ash make Teenage Wildlife sound like an Ash song. It's louder, faster and altogether more youthful-sounding. Terrific stuff.

As the decade wore on, Dave became less and less interested in being the innovator. He craved hits. The strange thing is, he had plenty while he was making great music. Once he started actually trying to write hits, his music went downhill fast. Everything got bogged down in that awful 80s production that has dated so badly. His mid-80s albums were dreadful affairs. Yet, even in the midst of this low period, a gem would rear its head and Bowie fans were reassured - albeit temporarily - that he still had it in him to make brilliant records. Absolute Beginners was one such track. One of my favourite Bowie songs, possibly even in my Top 3.

Saint Etienne recorded a version of Absolute Beginners for one of their fan club releases in the 90s. It's an interesting one. It sounds like The Go! Team, but they hadn't even formed when Saint Etienne did this. Now, I won't hear a bad thing about Sarah, Bob and Pete, but while I admire their audacity to do something new with the song, I really don't think I can listen to it without feeling so disappointed that it's not Bowie's version.

While writing this article, I realised the first three songs featured acts from Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Had I noticed this earlier, I would have tried to track down a Scottish act to round things off. As it is, I'd already prepared this one. Now, my daughters were introduced to Bowie by MrsRobster in the form of Labyrinth, a movie she claims to love. Personally, I reckon she liked his extremely tight trousers and everso-noticeable bulge as much as his acting, but she'd never admit it. Bowie wrote a number of songs for the soundtrack which, like most of his stuff from the period, is pretty much unlistenable. But As The World Falls Down is a beautiful ballad which, if it were recorded in any other decade could well have been one of his most memorable songs. On her 2011 covers EP 'Baggage', Dutch songstress Signe Tollefsen stripped that 80s sound away and just let the song do the work. Gorgeous.

I'm really torn between Signe and Ash as my favourite today. Hmmm... I call a tie.


  1. Hadn't heard the Joy Formidable cover before and I like it a lot. Signe's 'As the World Falls Down' is very nice too.

  2. Ash really were good when they burst onto the scene weren't they?