Monday, June 4, 2012

occasional dream, sixteen

Cover tunes are a tricky and frequently irritating rock ‘n roll convention.  More often than not they’re meant to convey the artist’s ‘influences,’ and as such they serve as a way of drawing attention, first and foremost, to the artist’s great taste.  The cover tune, in other words, is less about the song and more about the artist who’s borrowing it.  We get it.  You’re extremely eclectic with taste ranging from Pere Ubu to the Kinks.  Throw in a little guilty pleasure stuff, some Bacharach here, some Kiss there, and you’ll end up with just the right balance of earnestness and ironic distance, and the distinction between the two will be slippery enough to win you the award for the hippest, most opaque guy on the planet.  The other thing is that the vast majority of covers are inferior to the original versions.  There are scattered exceptions, but most of the time a cover tune just seems like wasted effort, particularly if an artist covers a tune that was already just about perfect the first time ‘round, like when Bowie covers Here Comes the Night, featured on  his covers album, Pin Ups. None of Pin Ups is at all compelling.  I understand that he was trying to camp the songs up, filtering them through the polymorphously perverse Glitter thing, but it just doesn’t work well.  What Pin Ups shows more than anything is that Glitter, at least Bowie’s version of it, was tapped out by late 1973.  As I mentioned in some recent posts, we can already hear things running out of steam on Aladdin SanePin Ups finds Bowie reaching back towards his Mod days – he covers The Who, The Floyd, Pretty Things, The Kinks, The Easybeats, among others - and when an artist looks backwards for inspiration in this way it’s usually indicative of creative inertia.  There is still some residue of the Ziggy era on the subsequent Diamond Dogs, but a new sound and a new set of concepts begin to emerge on that the album.  It also doesn’t hurt that the music on Diamond Dogs is stunningly good in parts.  But we’re not there yet.  For now we have Pin Ups, a rather dull collection of covers that represents what was arguably the only time in the 70s when Bowie’s artistic vitality was nowhere to be found…

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