listening to Spiders From Venus: Indie Women Artists and Female-Fronted Bands Cover David Bowie

Years ago, when I was first hooked by David Bowie, I went on an extensive internet scavenger hunt for any and all known rarities and curiosities, including bootlegs, album outtakes, literally anything I could find.  If I couldn’t obtain a physical or digital copy, I at least had this weird satisfaction knowing that certain stuff existed.  Sooooo inevitably, I learned about a compilation album called Spiders From Venus that consisted entirely of women covering David Bowie.  At the time it seemed potentially interesting but I didn’t dwell on it.

Nearly a decade later (just a few months before now, actually 😛 ) though, I found a YouTube playlist that had every song from Spiders From Venus in sequential order and a little while later I was losing my shit over iTunes not having this in their digital library.  So inevitably I tracked down a hard copy, which I received in the mail yesterday.  I mean, seriously, this stuff should be way more easily obtainable than it is.  I know for a lot of people the very idea of a compilation album of covers of their favorite bands is kind of a gimmicky turn off, but as a die hard Bowie fan, I don’t think there’s a single weak spot anywhere on this disc.  Even though, inevitably, some tracks are more memorable than others.

Pitch Black Dream’s cover of Space Oddity has an ethereal, modern feel which I found welcome, but I also…erm…don’t really care for Space Oddity in general.  It’s like We Will Rock You by Queen or Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams.  It’s so well-known that it’s grating, even to fans.  I’ll totally cop to that being an irrational bias, but that being said, this is a decent cover.

However…The Man Who Sold the World, covered by Bug Funny Music Foundation, is a strong, recent favorite.  I mean, rather like Space Oddity and many other memorable, time-honored classic rock standards, it’s very simple, almost dangerously simple.  Simple ain’t bad, it’s just risky, and the hallmark of a good rock or pop musician is the ability to cultivate depth in a small space.  Because of it’s simplicity, though, Nirvana more or less did everything there was to do with a straight-forward, vanilla cover.  The live versions of the song from Bowie’s mid 90’s tours are atmospheric and ear-catching, but in a way they sacrifice part of the accessibility for the sake of atmosphere.  The Bug Funny cover, though, pulled off the dark science-fictiony atmosphere of the mid 90’s live versions while still keeping the riffy backbone intact.  And I love this woman’s delivery, whoever she is.  The wordless vocalizing at the end perfectly captures what she brings to the song. In general, I can listen to this repeatedly ( and have, since my disc arrived yesterday).

Joe K’s Kid covers Changes, which is one of the most starkly different from the originals.  The lead singer sounds very androgynous, with a slight masculine edge, which is fitting.  The electric guitar and the way the chorus is sung makes it sound quintessentially 90’s.  Like, ’94 alternative.  You know, slow verse fast chorus, like Where Is My Mind, Lithium or Today.

Kooks, covered by Andrea Perry- one of the less memorable songs, tbh.  It’s pleasant, but it doesn’t do much for me other than provide a segue from the 90’s-ish Changes to the whimsical cover of Moonage Daydream by Wendy Ip.  And that one is pretty strong.  It starts off sounding like a piano ballad which is amazing before the rest of the band chimes in.  The piano comes back at the end of the bridge which almost calls back to the fast, slow structure of the Changes cover.  I suppose it’s mostly strong- I feel like, by making it more of a conventional rock song in the middle, Wendy Ip missed out on the chance to do something a bit more daring.

Starman, covered by the May Hart Band, is another one of the better songs from this album.  It’s one of the songs I can listen to almost compulsively.  When I first heard The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars in my senior year of high school, Starman was one of the songs that I didn’t know what to make of.  One opinion I have that many older Bowie fans might take issue with is that I think his three glam rock albums from the early 70’s got better with each release.  Ziggy Stardust was a rough blueprint of what was to follow, Aladdin Sane was a stronger and more imaginative second draft and Diamond Dogs was the fully mature incarnation of Bowie’s glam rock swing.  I don’t know what it is about this cover that I like so much, though.  Maybe the camp is just more lucid in this version, or maybe the camp just sounds more playful.

Shesus covers Hang On To Yourself and it’s great.  I love the more jangly punk bands on this album, especially the ones that cover the glam rock material.  As odd as it sounds, Bowie’s glam rock meshes nicely with punk.  I suppose it’s no accident that Bowie discovered Iggy and The Stooges during an early American tour in support of Aladdin Sane.  The manic energy segues nicely into the more chill cover of Watch That Man by The Fur Ones, which has a softer vocal delivery that adds an intriguing change to the impact of the lyrics.

Yay Zeta Bane!  Covering Cracked Actor!  Freaking love ittt!!!  This is making me want to hear a female punk album covering Bowie’s glam rock material.  Very, very listenable.  I still don’t know what my favorite version of Cracked Actor is.  It’s sort of like All The Young Dudes in that nearly every live version is superior to the studio version (at least the studio version from ’73 or so that they put on Best Of compilations these days).  The Zeta Bane cover is probably in my top three.  The other two are probably from David Live and the soundtrack to the Ziggy Stardust concert film.

The spazzy bouncy happiness continues with Teagan and Sarah’s cover of Rebel Rebel.  The vocal delivery is freaking spot on.  It’s plenty loud and fast enough, but still has this distant quality, it makes me think of like…Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Alice Cooper with a female singer.

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES!!!  SWITCHBLADE KITTENSSS!!!!!  THIS is the definitive version of All The Young Dudes, as far as I’m concerned!  I mean, that beginning: “You know what I like about living in California?  All the young dudes!” Aaaahhhhhh this song was always meant to be a punk song performed by a woman.  This cover, for me, is pure, auditory crack.

Essra Mohawk’s cover of Golden Years is decent but it’s roughly at the same level as Andrea Perry’s Kooks.  I also get the impression that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bowie.  For all I know, that could be her ordinary singing voice, but it seriously sounds like an imitation of Bowie.  However, it is making me wonder what Essra Mohawk sounds like when they’re doing their own material.

Boys Keep Swinging, covered by Aspyg, is one of the more stark re-imaginings on Spiders From Venus.  It resembles Joe K’s Kid’s cover in how dramatic the differences are.  Based on this example alone, Aspyg sounds like a stripped down, earnest electronica band before that stuff saturated the market with the likes of Owl City a decade later.  I know this song was always meant to be a sarcastic riff on patriarchy which makes it a bit more accessible with a female voice.  I do think the Bowie version was a master class in camp and irony, though.  On it’s original album, Lodger, it also had a nice thematic consistency with other songs like DJ and Repetition.

Next, Astrid Young, daughter of Neil Young, covers Modern Love as a folk ballad, and holy shit if she doesn’t channel her dad.  This one hit me in waves the first time.  First impression I was like “Ooohhhh okay, this is like Johnny Cash covering Hurt, we’re taking an electronic song and making it sound as acoustic and earnest as possible”.  And then, after you’ve been listening for awhile, the slower pace actually let’s both the music and the lyrics breathe a little, which changes the character of the song a lot.  Not that I like the original early 80’s dance song any less, but this is some good stuff.

As The World Falls Down, covered by Ce Ce Zen, EASILY reaches par with the original in my opinion.  When I first heard this I almost wanted to stop it and listen to the Labyrinth soundtrack to make a comparison, and then I realized I didn’t actually want to.  This version of As The World Falls Down and the Switch Blade Kittens’ cover of All The Young Dudes is the kind of shit that makes me want to start my own band just so I can cover these songs myself.

OH GOODY 1.OUTSIDE MATERIAL!  1. Outside is criminally under-rated and for a few years it was actually my favorite Bowie album.  I still think it’s up there.  Anyvay, Lunasect does a delightfully crunchy industrial cover of The Heart’s Filthy Lesson.  Along with Joe K’s Kid’s version of Changes and Aspyg’s cover of Boys Keep Swinging, the mirror of Bowie’s own androgyny is beautifully front and center here.

Oh there’s a second 1. Outside song?  DOPE.  Hallo Spaceboy, covered by First of June.  The piano sections of the original were some of its defining qualities, courtnesy of Mike Garson’s genius.  The dual emphasis on industrial music and acoustic piano is still present in this cover and First of June makes both halves their own.  First of June’s re-imagining of the piano segments are probably the most distinctive quality, though.  Like Wendy Ip’s Moonage Daydream, I feel like this cover could have benefited from a little more risk-taking.

Next we have I’m Afraid Of Americans, covered by Q.  It sounds like something that should be used in a dark science-fiction video game, maybe something with a survival-horror angle.  I get the impression that this would be a fun band to see live.

Last song- Afraid, covered by The Jenn Beast Band.  Very lovely capstone for the CD.  The main deviation from the original is a hazy, lo-fi surf-rock emphasis.  This is another band whose live performances I wonder about.

The fact that the album ends with material from Heathen reminds me of the long gap between 2003 and 2013 when it seemed like everyone had implicitly decided that Bowie was retired.  There was even a biography released in that interim that ended with the author wondering, tentatively, if Bowie was done being a public person.  Then The Next Day was the biggest and best blindside ever.  Which then…leads us into territory that might be better saved for another entry.

So yeah.  Spiders From Vensus is a solid tribute album, well worth the money if you can find it on eBay or Amazon.  I truly don’t see how this flew under everyone’s radar when it was released in 2003.  It might not be everyone’s thing, but if you like Bowie and female-fronted bands, this is absolutely worth a listen.

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