Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
David Bowie is one of those American music icons that somehow manages to get under-appreciated while still being overplayed. He’s got a slew of hits and iconic look that make him immediately recognizable. But at the same time, there’s more than the lightning bolt face and Ziggy Stardust glam rock that’s worth cooing over.
It didn’t take long to find out Bowie was, and is, all about reinvention.
Three years after he came smashing into the scene with “Space Oddity,” he paraded around with his androgynous new Ziggy persona, crossed over to American airwaves with “Fame,” and cannonballed fearlessly into minimalism on 1977’s Low, a decision that would make his commercial success prevalent but wavering.
Then began the 1980s. A year before collaborating with Queen on one of their biggest hits, “Under Pressure,” Bowie dropped “Ashes to Ashes.” Casual fans felt comfortable as Bowie brought Major Tom back into the picture and let edgy funk bass, guitar synthesizers, and complex vocal layers wrap up his thoughts on the 1970s. Its deadpan delivery and interesting set up make it as intriguing today as it was back then. How else does a 34-year-old song get over 9 million YouTube views?
It’s been ten years since Warpaint formed, yet it still feels like they don’t get the attention they deserve. The four piece Los Angeles indie rock band have only put out two full length LPs, the newest being this year’s incredible self-titled, but that’s no reason to get snarky. They’ve focused their talent on releasing albums when they’re precise and ready, forgoing constants for individuality. Their work manages to mask its complicated creativity in sweet vocals.
So leave it to Warpaint to sit a Bowie song in both heaven and hell.
The four piece delicately take over “Ashes to Ashes” with a seductiveness that’s never abrasive. Delicate keys add a dream pop touch to the whole song while the dizzy direction feels like it’s spiraling towards a darker, venomous ending. The four girls’ vocals stack up neatly, at times drawing a similarity to Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, while Stella Mozgawa’s drums crash with sedative cymbals and clucking sticks that hold the whole thing together.
The cover is a part of 2010’s We Were So Turned On: A Tribute to David Bowie. The compilation cover album features a stacked lineup of bands taking their best swing at the American hero’s songs including Duran Duran, Carla Bruni, and Devendra Banhart. Even though it was originally supposed to feature covers by Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and MGMT, the crew that stuck around make the two disc release a treasure of tracks.
Right from Jenny Lee Lindberg’s first bass notes on her Rickenbacker, it’s clear Warpaint is on point. As the rest of their cover reveals itself, though, it becomes more and more impressive with its articulation, attention to detail, and, most importantly, variation. David Bowie is obviously a musician honored for his songwriting abilities and delivery, but 30 years later Warpaint are sure as hell giving him a run for his money.