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Week 23 | Heaven and Hull (1994)

This Mick Ronson album, which features three songs on which Bowie collaborated, is not a reunion of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Mostly recorded 20 years after Ziggy’s last appearance, this collection of songs is fairly tame. Bowie and Ronson are together again, but the makeup and the edge remain in the closet. Ronson, best known as a guitarist, includes several guest singers including Christie Hyde, John Mellencamp, Ian Hunter and Joe Elliott.

Bowie is the lead singer for one song, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.” There’s a novelty aspect of hearing Bowie sing this song (I’m not sure why, other than that it is sort of hidden away on this obscure album), but it isn’t an especially inspired performance. It almost goes without saying that Bowie is a better vocalist than Dylan, so this song shouldn’t be difficult to sing, but to my ears Bowie sounds a little off.

Bowie also sings backup on the original song, “Color Me,” and plays sax on a live performance of “All the Young Dudes,” which he of course wrote, on which Hunter is lead singer. That song was performed at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert and I used a video of the performance to illustrate my comments on the album, “All the Young Dudes.” Poignantly, “Heaven and Hull” is a kind of tribute to Ronson in that it was released following his death from cancer.

Oddly, there are two other songs on the album that at first glance seem to be covers of other songs associated with Bowie— “Don’t Look Down” and “When the World Falls Down.” Bowie included a completely different song called, “Don’t Look Down” on his album, “Tonight,” and “As the World Falls Down” on the “Labyrinth” soundtrack, but alas he had nothing to do with the two on “Heaven and Hull.”

I don’t listen to this album very often. In doing so again before writing this commentary, I found myself largely disinterested. I liked the Christie Hyde song, “Trouble with Me,” the best. But on the whole it is pleasant but not engaging. Another oddity for me is that Ronson’s guitar-playing, which should have (and probably was supposed to be) the main attraction of the album, comes off more as an accompaniment to the singers. I don’t play guitar myself so I don’t know, but while his playing is certainly competent, it isn’t especially complex or really memorable.

All that said, there’s nothing actively offensive about “Heaven and Hull” and for me, it falls into the category of better-that-it-exists. And the album that exists in my mind of Bowie songs that originally appeared on other peoples’ albums would include at least one from this.

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