I am not especially drawn to reggae music. Bowie’s main experiment with the genre was with Tonight, the album that is probably least popular among fans (which, in fairness, is not a reggae album, thought some of the songs are influenced by reggae). I also was not familiar with the East Star All-Stars before this album, though I have learned it is a popular New York City-based band.
OK, so all that out of the way— this album is TERRIFIC! It is a song-for-song cover of the entire Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, plus a few alternate versions of some of the songs and, to close it out, a reggae version of “All the Young Dudes.” The video here features Macy Gray, who does a great job, though she is only featured on “Rock and Roll Suicide.” She is one of several guest artists, some of whom I recognize, like Maxi Priest on “Starman” and several of whom are new to me. In any case, they provide a variety of voices that really make the songs bloom together.
It speaks to the artistry of all involved that every one of the songs on the album comes off as natural, distinct adaptations. Each of the songs lends itself to the album’s reinterpretations. I don’t know what more to say. I found the album to be joyous. I felt happy listening to it. I’ll say it’s the best Bowie cover album since Danny Michel’s Loving the Alien (2004), but that doesn’t do the present work enough justice. It really comes off as an achievement and will become part of my listening rotation.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t previously familiar with the Easy Star All-Stars, but it turns out the band specializes in reinterpreting famous albums in the reggae style. They have done versions of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Michael Jackson’s Thriller and others. I’m glad there came around to Ziggy.
I like this so much that I’ll post as many individual videos as I can find over time.
Finally, I should note that the cover art itself is an adaptation of that of Bowie’s cover art. One of musicians — I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know who— strikes the Bowie-like pose with guitar on an urban street, apparently New York instead of London. He reappears on the back cover behind red bars that, at first glance appear similar to the iconic red phone booth in which Bowie posed on his back cover. On closer inspection, these appear to be jail cell bars. So there’s some sort of social commentary in here. But its also fun with images— even the lettering of the album’s title— it uses the same font as Bowie used, but instead of the red an yellow colors used by Bowie, this one uses the Jamaican colors of red, yellow and green. The only thing missing from the cover is the admonition that the album should be played at maximum volume. Maybe not, but it should be heard.