Somewhere in the ether of the internet is a transaction in which I purchased a download of the band Shearwater’s recording of the entire “Lodger” album. I am not, however, nor have I ever been in possession of the download. I never figured out what happened to it. Fortunately, I have heard all the songs, which I discovered while writing my daily Bowie tribute in 2016, on YouTube.
Shearwater is a Texas band that apparently has a national following. I have never encountered the band outside the context of my Bowie project and its web page that featured the option to purchase the download. Seems like a good band. The performance of “Lodger” is excellent. Actually, Shearwater’s version is very faithful to Bowie’s original. There is little interpretation or improvisation.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? On the one hand, Shearwater recreates much of what I liked about Lodger in the first place. But on the other, why would I listen to Shearwater’s version over Bowie’s? After all, the original includes one thing Shearwater’s version is missing— Bowie. On the other hand, many covers of Bowie songs that deviate further are also further away from being as good as the originals. An example is Peter Gabriel’s 2010 cover of “Heroes.” I am a Peter Gabriel fan, but his slowed down, almost mournful “Heroes” doesn’t do it for me.
While I was unable to successfully download the Shearwater album, I was able to download the Peter Gabriel cover. I would probably listen to Shearwater’s album from time to time, but rarely listen to Gabriel’s “Heroes.” In theory, someone could come along and do with a Bowie song what Jimmy Hendrix did with Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”— make a cover version that’s better than the original. I know some Bowie covers that I like, but as I write this I can’t think of any I like more than Bowie’s original versions. (The only possible exceptions are songs that Bowie wrote or co-wrote, but were recorded first by others, such as “All the Young Dudes” or “Sister Midnight”). Still, there are some that are both very good and very different. One example is the collection of covers by Seu Jorge— sung entirely in Portuguese. Another is the collection performed with classical backing in the “At the Proms” Bowie tribute. My favorite collection of Bowie covers is probably Danny Michel’s “Loving the Alien,” which is pretty distinct but nonetheless very good. All of those collections are different than Shearwater’s Lodger both in that they deviate from Bowie, but also in that they mix up the songs in a different way than Bowie originally presented them. Shearwater’s “Lodger” is, to my knowledge, unique in that it is a song by song reproduction, in order, of an entire album.
So in the abstract, the kind of thing that Shearwater created has limited potential for adding value. That said, those YouTube videos add something that Bowie did not— videos of an actual band performing all the songs off Lodger. So that’s something. Beyond that, I very much like the band’s performance. In that Shearwater’s versions sound much like Bowie’s does not make them unenjoyable. Great job, Shearwater! Now if only I can ever come into possession of the album…