Loving the alien
Matthew Dear covers Bowie on the Life Beyond Mars tribute album.
Tue Jul 1 2008
David Bowie, in theory, should be one of the easiest of artists to cover. His songs, from his early space-folk workouts through the sci-fi androgyny era and Thin White Duke coke-disco days, tend to exhibit a certain detachment bordering on emotional blankness, which theoretically should make it easy for cover artists to leave their mark. (As an added bonus, the songs have hooks galore.) Yet, up till now, relatively few have given Bowie a go, beyond the occasional note-for-note rendering such as the Wallflowers’ “Heroes” or Nirvana’s unplugged “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” That’s about to change with the release of Life Beyond Mars: Bowie Covered, on which 12 acts, including Kelley Polar, the Emperor Machine and Joakim, pay tribute. As is common with such collections, it’s a hit-or-miss affair, but one of the best takes is the cover of Low’s “Sound and Vision” by electronic-pop and minimal-techno artist Matthew Dear.
“I think covering Bowie is kind of intimidating,” Dear says, pondering why so few have dared to take the performer on until now. “When you think about him, it’s like that South Park episode where whenever somebody suggests doing something, somebody goes ‘The Simpsons did it!’ Bowie’s done everything already, like 20 years ago, and it’s intimidating to cover somebody who’s been such an influence and inspiration for so many modern artists.”
Dear manages to recreate the surreal, vaguely optimistic tone of “Sound and Vision” without slavishly copying it—though his voice is eerily reminiscent of Bowie’s deadpan crooning on the original. He admits that the aloofness of the music made it easier to handle the task at hand. “Bowie songs are really these moments in time,” he says, “kind of a Polaroid of sounds caught on record. They’re almost more like captured ideas than songs. And that makes them fun to cover, because it’s easy to put your stamp on this little idea of notes that he’s left.”
Of course, at 29 years old, Dear wasn’t even alive when Low was released; what appeal could there possibly be in covering an old codger like Bowie? “I think he was like the Beatles for alternative-minded teenagers when I was growing up,” Dear explains. “I remember his songs really sticking with me when I first heard them. Part of that is simply that the songs are really catchy, but even as a kid, I could tell there was something more to it. When I got older and learned more about music and its history, and could place Bowie within that history, I became more and more infatuated. And for the first cover that I’ve ever had released to be a Bowie song is pretty cool, isn’t it?”
Life Beyond Mars: Bowie Covered (Rapster) is out Tue 8.