Review: Various Artists ‘Ziggy Stardust: 50 Years Later’

June 16th, 2022 marks 50 years to the day since David Bowie released his iconic album Ziggy Stardust. Well, those who only have a small awareness of the album know it as that, but to give it its full title, it’s actually The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Now if you are like me, and are under 50, unless you were brought up with Bowie, you may think you only have a vague awareness of his work, but the chances are you already know at least a third of this album already. It’s been floating about for half a century, how can you not have heard Starman, or Ziggy Stardust even once. The chances are, even if you didn’t recognise them at the time, they are inescapable.

Various Artists 'Ziggy Stardust: 50 Years Later'

Well, as it’s hit this milestone, it has become eligible to be included in a series of Pale Wizard Records releases, in their 50 years later collection. It features the entire classic album, with each track reworked and covered by a number of different bands, and runs in the same order as the original release did. With this release there are also three bonus tracks, which were not featured on the original album, so you get even more for your money.

Across the entire album, there are fourteen tracks, the eleven from the original, and the additional three at the end. There are also some familiar names on the roster, most notably for me are Raging Speedhorn, Tony Reed, and Possessor, as well as a lot of bands I had never heard of too.

Mostly, I think the true spirit of the album is captured wonderfully with some fantastic performances, but there are also a couple of real leftfield inclusions, which for me, don’t seem to work as well on the new version. As would be completely understandable, there has been a complete overhaul of the songs, and while some are incredibly similar to the original works, some are pretty unrecognisable too. That’s the thing with these sorts of concept albums, do you stay true to the originals, and in essence make a carbon copy, or do you take a gamble, and hope that what comes out, even though vastly different, can still be within the same ballpark.

With this album, I believe that it’s a 90/10 split, where for me personally, a couple of tracks don’t work as well, but I can’t pinpoint if the mark has been missed, or whether it’s me not feeling the flow so much at a couple of points.

I can categorically say though, that there isn’t one weak performance throughout the whole opus. Each performance is still great in its own right, and I do have a couple of specific tracks and bands where these new takes really are a joy to hear.

One of those, in particular, is Raging Speedhorn’s cover of Suffragette City. Taking the original, and updating it, without fucking about with it too much, the band have dragged this right up to date, and it’s absolutely blistering to hear. It’s as vibrant and pacy as ever it was, and it feels very current too. It’s a joy to hear. Sergeant Thunderhoof also are absolutely compelling with their cover of The Jean Genie. It’s a chugging powerhouse, recognisable, yet at the same time, feels completely new too.

the true spirit of the album is captured wonderfully with some fantastic performances…

Tony Reed appears twice throughout the album, covering both Moonage Daydream, and Sweet Thing. With both, it takes a second for me to align myself with the originals, but once I do, I realise just how phenomenal both works are. Especially on Sweet Thing, where the iconic Bowie vocal style and approach is different, and unrecognisable. Reed performs his own take on both pieces, not trying to emulate, but to approach with his own style, and they work to maximum effect.

There are some surprises here too, Bitter Kisses rework of Ashes To Ashes is a peculiar one. Lighter in tone, and uneasy on a first listen, but once you settle in, its truly wonderful to hear. It’s a diversion, but a joyous detour indeed. The same can be said of Kong Social’s take on Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. It’s a surprisingly wonderful rework, it builds and builds, into a powerful outburst. It’s both emotional and inspired.

While The Lunar Effect keep things within the Bowie realms with their honest rendition of Lady Stardust, Sail takes on Five Years, and give it a twenty first century overhaul. The vocal is still very Bowie, but with a heavier, chunky sound, fit for a new audience.

I’m also taken with Mother Vulture’s reimaging of Starman. It’s never easy taking a classic and making it your own, but the band give us a cracking rendition. This is where I think throwing out the rulebook works the best, it’s insanely heavier than the original, but is still recognisable, due to the Bowie vocal throughout. This is truly in the spirit of its original, even though it is heavier.

Like I said earlier, some of it works really well, and some of it falls a little flat. Reworking an iconic tune can, to some, be unlistenable by throwing too many ideas into the mix and overwhelming the sonic charm of the original, whereas for others, it hits that sweet spot propelling it into the solar system, like the aforementioned Raging Speedhorn’s take on Suffragette City.

Obviously, even with a tribute album, you don’t want it to all be just direct copies, but to at least keep it within the realms of the original source material. At the end of the day, existing fans will want something they can recognise, and with new fans, it will be something that pulls them in, and isn’t just a load of outdated tunes from decades ago.

This album is a great blend of ideas, some maybe will grab you more than others, but under the overall umbrella, it’s an absolute knockout.

Label: Pale Wizard Records

Scribed by: Lee Beamish