Review - Easy Star All-Stars

You didn't know you needed a dub reggae version of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album, did you? Well now you do! Here's Marc Nash's review of Ziggy Stardub by the Easy Star All-Stars...

I’m not sure which are more terrifying words to hear applied to a classic work of art: ‘mash-up’ or ‘reboot’. And yet I could not resist listening to a mash-up of two of my musical favourites, dub reggae (which, after all, is a genre all about reversioning things) and David Bowie’s seminal 1972 album Ziggy Stardust: One of two albums that originally opened me up to music as a pre-teen. And while the classic rock and roll riffs are given the ska/rocksteady treatment, the vocals are shared between some stellar reggae names such as Maxi Priest, Steel Pulse and Carlton Livingston (who voiced one of my all-time favourite tracks ever, 100 Weight Of Collie Weed (itself given a fine reworking by World Domination Enterprises)).

However, the plethora of vocalists and reggae styles just makes me yearn for the original. It’s the constancy of Bowie’s voice and vision that elevates Ziggy Stardust to the highest heavenly levels. Bowie’s vocal phrasing and emotional oomph are so crucial to making these songs work and stay with the listener, even 50 years on. Bowie perfectly executes the rock and roll excess and bombast, which when given reggae’s sunshine cheery upbeat loses something. Though Maxi Priest does sterling battle with Starman, the jaunty reggae backing just seems flimsy, it really needs the more rounded rock riffs that ramp up the acoustic opening of the original. It’s interesting that the strained desperation of the female vocalists Macy Gray & Naomi Cowan that best hint at Bowie’s deeply flawed Ziggy character.

But, towards the end, we come to the strength of the album, three tracks given the full dub treatment. And then the legacy of 50 years of the original album on a musical level makes sense. The plaintive piano of Five Years, which is all Bowie suggests the Earth has left to live, reinforced by an echoey chorale and the slowed down reggae beat and choppy guitar. Yep, a dawning realisation that the end is imminent is admirably conveyed here. A thickened-out sounding version of Bowie’s original. Dub finds the spaces in-between the hectic soundscapes of music and really enhances the technologically limited 1972 mix where the sound veers towards the brittle and tinny in places. Ironically, the 1972 album was recorded on the relatively new 16-track mixing desk, whereas the dub pioneers of the 1960s were restricted to just 4-track desks, which prompted their experiments with sound to get around the restrictions.

So, a mixed experience to be sure. I think both Bowie and reggae come off just about unscathed, though neither are really enhanced by this endeavour. Which for a mash-up is probably the best you could wish to hope for.

Listen to Five Years which features Steel Pulse   

Marc Nash is on Twitter as @21stCscribe. His books are available from Amazon here.

Image - Amazon

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