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Bowie is Back: The return of the Thin White Jukebox

1 Mar

Well, today, the first of March, is Saint David’s Day, and it seems that this merry month of March 2013 has been unofficially dubbed Bowie Month, as the elder statesman of chameleonic pop (or rock, or blue-eyed-soul, or glam, or whatever), the gentleman known to Smash Hits readers as “the Dame” is officially back with a new album housed in the most controversial Bowie cover art since a canine male member graced his inside leg on the gatefold sleeve of Diamond Dogs in 1974.

Bowie’s unannounced return to the radio waves with new material (a paltry TEN YEARS, less than half the time it took Kevin, Bilinda and the other two to deliver the third “proper” My Bloody Valentine album) was even more surprising considering that it had been generally considered that the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust had discreetly retired from rock and roll to be a doting dad to his  second child and basically to chill out following a heath scare (and… er…  a lollipop in the eye). Rumours even floated around cyberspace that Bowie had cancer or was wasting away, victim of some unutterable lurgy.

Where Are We Now? was thus a bolt from the blue, a slice of unexpectedly elegant nostalgia that surfaced – totally unannounced – on the man’s 66th birthday. Many of us old enough to remember when vinyl was the main “physical support” for all music (rather than being the preserve of hipsters, djs or audiophiles) were then transported back to an impeccable run of albums and characters from the close of the 60s to the early 80s, conveniently blocking out all memory of diabolical duets with Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, never mind Tin Machine.

Most unfortunate for Brett Anderson – once chided for aping early Bowie vocal delivery – that the day chosen for Suede’s announcement of their reformation and return from an equally long hiatus unintentionally coincided with that of the return of Bowie himself. Ouch.

bowie chameleon

David Bowie’s back-story is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing knowledge of music in the last 50 years. He changed his surname to Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with one of The Monkees, his missus caught him in bed with Mick Jagger and John Peel told him to drop the miming spiel. He “invented” glam rock,  penned some of the finest songs in music history and once lived on a diet of milk, peppers and DRUGS. He named his son Zowie Bowie (the lad later became known as Duncan Jones, the film bloke), he shared a flat with Iggy Pop in Berlin (where he moved in a rather hopeless attempt to stem his substance addiction) and his career went downhill rapidly when he got his teeth fixed. But despite that consistent run of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s he only clocked his first solo number one single with the 1983 hit Let’s Dance. As any fool know.

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Pierrot, Young American, spikey-haired-goatee-bearded junglist… Bowie has had slightly fewer characters than the typical Frank Ocean tweet. And then there was Tin Machine.

But let’s not go there.

Today a stream of “The Next Day” has been unveiled for the world’s aural delight, while a few days ago a cannily casted video featuring Tilda Swinton alongside Bowie set the internet alight with tweets that the previous video had really been rather lacklustre and links to the Tilda Stardust tumblr page which may just have inspired the aforementioned canny casting. As with the My Bloody valentine album I am lazily going to pass the baton to the more polished wordsmiths in the employ of  The Quietus and The Guardian Music Weekly to review it, while we concern ourselves with curious Bowie reworkings, as if stocking a virtual Wurlitzer with bizarre promotional and semi-legal re-treads of his finest hours (see what I did there) , past and present.

And so. let us unveil…

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX!!

One of the first (cough) semi-legal Bowie remixes I encountered online that impressed me more than a bit was a fine cosmic take on Space Oddity, the song that really catapulted the former David Jones into the consciousness of the British record-buying public when it was used to accompany BBC reports on the moon landings in 1969.

At remix controls is Appo, a Middlesborough native who – it says here – has worked with the likes of Danny Rampling, Pete Tong, Graham Park and other turntable luminaries from the acid-infused 90s, and the balearic edge of his chilled re-work is testament to that

I would have added a link to Appo’s site, but it appears to be infected with a virus. Which is a shame.

Anyway, enjoy the choon:

Atlanta’s DJBC, veteran patron of the genre-defining Get Your Bootleg On (or GYBO to its pals) internet fraternity, managed – with other like-minded bootleggers such as SF’s Bootie collective – to produce an entire “mash-up” album of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP, and stick it up on the internets for no money. Click on the link and find out!

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Fritz von Runte (sadly not a Berliner, but a Manc who has worked with Peter Hook’s ill-starred vanity project Freebass, among other things) has also created his own album of Bowie reworks – spanning most of his career – entitled Bowie2001. Not only has he created an album’s worth of stuff, but there’s a DVD too as the whole project is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which has now passed was once the future and predicted the internet which brings this whole journey full circle. Or something. Read more here, where you can sign up for a free download of the album, or even purchase the DVD. In case you didn’t twig, what’s being done here is Space Oddity  is being melded with “A Space Odyssey”. Right.

Oh, and there’s also one mix which makes the latter-day Bowie sound like Antony on that Hercules and Love Affair track Blind. This isn’t it though.

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Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler to his doctor) is best known to bootleg (or “mash-up”) aficionados for being “there” when the genre was fresh… and for making classic couplings of other people’s records, the Sex Pistols vs Madonna “boot” Ray Of Gob, being a prime example (which apparently met with the approval of both Steve Jones and Madge herself). Bowie was also impressed with GHP’s “skillz”, as he commissioned him to do a mix of Rebel Rebel with his “Reality”- era single Never Get Old called (true to old skool bootlegger track nomenclature) Rebel Never Get Old.

GHP also “mashed” the Dame’s I’m Afraid of Americans with his beloved XTC (and later went on to work with Andy Partridge), but for now lend your ears to this splendid remix of Fame:

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Jeremy Sole is a “roots” DJ (whatever that is) on Santa Monica radio station KCRW. Bowie liked his remix of Golden Years so much he officially sanctioned it for release to promote the “Station To Station” box set thing.

Not hard to see why, as it’s a fairly tasteful re-rub:

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Chicago’s TR34TM3NT (obviously a one-time 5IVE fan) wasted no time in putting out this trippy, almost post-dubstep mix of bolt-from-the-blue return from oblivion single Where Are We Now?

With no officially sanctioned 12″ mix, this makes for a fine substitute:

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The Pinker Tones are a jaunty Barcelona-based duo / trio (in a twee-pop-meets-Shibuya-kei vein) who have remixed Pizzicato Five, among others.

Here’s their mix of number two single off the new LP – The Stars Are Out Tonight:

Happy Saint David’s Day, everyone, Welsh and otherwise!

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