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Various artists dilute colors of
rock's ultimate chameleon

Various Artists - .2 Contamination:
A Tribute To David Bowie

(Failure To Communicate Records)
2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Sept. 19, 2006
David Bowie

Review by Tony Bonyata

Throughout the years hundreds of artists have covered the ever-changing styles and songs of rock & roll's own chameleon - David Bowie, and with so many cover versions floating around there's also been a glut of tribute albums from various artists all paying their respect to this great artist. There have been collections that feature all electronica versions of Bowie's music, homage's by string quartets and classical orchestras, an all female tribute album, regional tips-of-the-hat (as in Loving The Alien, where the bands were all from Athens, GA), along with pasty dirges from Goth rockers and bombastic maulings from metal acts.

While none of these collections have ever done any real justice to the man in question - save for the UK magazine Uncut's cover-mounted Bowie tribute CD entitled Starman released three years ago, which featured artists such as Alejandro Escovedo, Echo and The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch, Blondie, Peter Murphy and, my personal favorite Bowie cover, Midge Ure's icy, robotic retelling of "The Man Who Sold The World" - they're still often entertaining albums in their own right.

The latest Bowie tribute album is actually two CDs in one package, released by the Grayslake, IL independent label Failure To Communicate Records. The set is entitled .2 Contamination, after Bowie's recorded, but never released, follow-up album to his 1995 return-to-form effort Outside with Brian Eno. With a hodgepodge of styles and various artists that lean a bit more towards the Goth side of things, the tone of this collection is dark, uneven and, only occasionally, truly entertaining.

The album works best when the bands either try to nail Bowie's renditions dead-nuts (as witnessed on the Milwaukee-based band The Danger's incendiary version of "Hang On To Yourself," complete with hand claps and a steamrolling rhythm channeled directly from The Spiders From Mars, as well as The Brides' faithful version of "John, I'm Only Dancing") or when they saddle up to Bowie's thespian trappings, while adding their own greasepaint to the numbers (as on the smoky, Brechtian approach of The Dresden Dolls' "Life on Mars," as well as former Bauhaus member David J.'s new band Cabaret Obscuro's vaudevillian dirge of "Time"). On Starlit's dramatic interpretation of "Modern Love," the singer drips with sexuality when the band turns the jazzy arrangement into a pole-scissoring, strip-tease number during the choruses, and on Count Zero's "Golden Years" they've turned Bowie's own self-admitted 'plastic soul' into a delicious slice of lethargic funk.

The main problem, with .2 Contamination, however, is that too many of the acts have taken it upon themselves to drastically alter the originals into crass, ugly send-ups. Voltaire's use of viola over a cowpoke beat and priggish vocals weighs down "China Girl," while additional affected butcherings continue through Abbeyvain's "Quicksand," Schlechtes Mord-Bumsen's "Cracked Actor" and the sped-up, canned metal of Fashion Bomb's "I'm Afraid of Americans."

I'm all for one covering great music, and David Bowie's certainly ranks with the best, but this two-CD collection could've easily been whittled down into a much tauter, more enjoyable single CD.

The Danger are performing on Sat. Sep. 23rd at 10:00 pm at Memories, 4358 N. Cicero Ave., Chicago IL.

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