Friday, March 14, 2008

David Bowie - Pin Ups

Coming after the incredibly successful triumvirate of albums Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane, Pin Ups seems to often be overlooked, but although it is comprised entirely of cover songs, it is an incredibly strong effort.

While all too many people either re-do a song by copying the original or by doing their best to eradicate every vestige of the tune, Bowie manages to always keep the spirit and the feel of the song while still making it his own. He is aided and abetted by a truly phenomenal band who really play together in a way that all too few groups do – they actually interact and play around each other to create a fantastic whole. In addition to stellar guitarist Mick Ronson, fellow Spiders From Mars member, bassist Trevor Bolder is joined by drummer extraordinaire Aynsley Dunbar and Spiders keyboardist Mike Garson.

Ronno’s distinctive guitar tone dominates this record and gives many of the songs their updated, original feel. Opening with the Pretty Things incredible “Rosalyn”, the record blasts off in a wave of high energy! As I said, the song is true to the original, but still has a heavy 70’s glam feel. Great, rockin’ stuff!This immediately segues into their take on Them’s “Here Comes the Night” with cool saxophone by Bowie and/or session player Ken Fordham. One of the songs that I was least familiar with is Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would”, which, at least in Bowie’s hands, is a cross between the Who and the Pretty Things again driven by Ronson’s Les Paul and then, bizarrely, finishing with an electric violin solo!

“See Emily Play” is still eerily psychedelic, but is still tougher than Pink Floyd even when David sounds particularly fey in his singing. Aynsley’s drumming makes the middle freak-out section sound somewhat Who-like but this is still damn trippy!

The other fairly obscure tune of the collection is the Mojos’ “Everything’s Alright”, which I’m told was a beat group hit in England with none other than Dunbar playing drums! (Not to be confused with the Mojo Men, of “Sit Down I Think I Love You” fame.) It’s a damn good tune, though I dare say that Bowie changed it up a bit cuz it hardly sounds like a standard beat song in this incarnation.

A slowed down, sax-driven, incredibly distorted guitar version of “Can’t Explain” somehow changes it from a amphetamine ode to teen sexual frustration to a seductive number. The Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind” is actually reasonably straight-forward, though the original’s intricate guitar interplay would be difficult to improve upon! There is a truly clever version of the Mersey’s “Sorrow” (I knew it from the Searchers) with overlapping vocals on a verse and a really nice ending – a super Mersey-beat pop tune!

The rest of the album is powered out takes on some huge hits by the best of the British 60’s stars. “Don’t Bring Me Down” is another Pretty Things’ screamer with Mick’s terrific guitar propelling it along and some good harp playing by Bowie. “Shapes of Things to Come” is probably more related to the Jeff Beck Group version rather than the Yardbirds, which only means it is even heavier! Ronson does a fine take on Beck’s innovative solo, as well.

“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” sounds like the version the Who would’ve done if they had included it in their Live at Leeds set – maniacal hard rock! Again, Dunbar shows off his skills and shows why he was one of the highly respected drummers of the 70’s.

Finishing this album is an impassioned take on the Kinks classic “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” and while it is not wildly different from Davies’ original, Bowie sings it like he means it while the band cooks behind him.

I think that Bowie is an incredible songwriter, but this collection is super fun, extremely well played and despite the closing song, is an damn good time!

(In a supremely odd move, Bowie apparently even covered Bruce Springsteen’s (!) “Growin’ Up” during the Diamond Dog recording session, though it is not included on the original Pin Ups. I haven't heard it, but I guess it isn't quite as odd as it sounds - I could see it alongside of "Changes", maybe...)