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Various Artists We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

An engagingly leftfield take on the great man’s output.

Alex Denney 2010

It’s difficult to account for the lack of truly great Bowie covers in existence. Try reeling off a list of your faves now. Go on, what have you managed to come up with? Nirvana’s The Man Who Sold the World? Seu Jorge in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic? Mott the Hoople? That's cheating!

Maybe Bowie’s secret lies with his ability to blur lines between style and substance; between pop and the avant-garde in a way that almost precludes the need for interpretation. What’s more, he isn’t the sort of lackadaisical talent that squanders great material on lacklustre arrangements or weak production jobs. No, Bowie’s made sure his genius is well attended to, and that makes life tricky for your aspiring cover artist.

Seeking to buck that trend – or at least have some fun with one of pop’s most blockbusting oeuvres – is We Were So Turned On, the third in a series of War Child charity records whose previous instalments laid wreaths at the doorsteps of Madonna and The Cure respectively.

The collection leans somewhat heavily in the direction of esoteric electronic tracks, with meandering acoustic/piano balladry running them a close second. As such we get to hear the French President’s wife, Carla Bruni, share air space with trash-humping miscreants like All Leather, whose take on Fame sounds like a deviant 30H!3 and is assuredly not a highlight here.

Some contributors simply do what comes naturally – C86 scenesters Vivian Girls may only have one gear, but as their John, I’m Only Dancing jam demonstrates, it’s a monochrome rush all the same. And A Place to Bury Strangers make Suffragette City sound like, well, The Jesus & Mary Chain. Hardly a stretch, but there we go.

That Duran Duran are fans of Boys Keep Swinging should be a revelation to nobody, but their interpretation of the track is a disappointingly clubby, anonymous affair. Meanwhile LA’s widely-tipped Warpaint lend their watery essence to Ashes to Ashes’ freeze-dried psych masterpiece, and Mick Karn’s take on the same track sounds like a heavily sedated Japan.

There are lesser-known gems to be had – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ Memory of a Free Festival is an endearing rabble, and Marco Benevento’s Art Decade is engrossingly strange. Polyamorous Affair’s Theme from Cat People – a number actually composed by Georgio Moroder, with lyrics by Bowie – is a strangely early 90s-themed reworking that’s epic in scope.

Some of the tracks on this record are like moustaches squiggled on the Mona Lisa, others are actually rather dull. But it remains an engagingly leftfield take on the great man’s output, even if that classic covers list remains puzzlingly short.

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