Here’s another tune I remember fondly from my childhood in the Seventies – but this version is recorded in 2021 and released today.
I first heard The Man Who Sold The World when Lulu had a hit with it in 1974, with Bowie parping away on sax and harmonising with his baritone backing vocals.
It was only later, probably after Starman and Ziggy turned Bowie into a superstar, that I delved back to discover his own version from 1970 and loved that too.
Then came the beautiful elegiac version Kurt Cobain sang on that 1993 Nirvana Unplugged session – the version that a generation thought was a Cobain song – with the added emotional resonance of coming out in 1995, after his death.
Perhaps it’s such a perfect song that it still sounds great in anyone’s hands, or perhaps it just appeals to musicians who share its melancholic emotional depths.
Whatever the answer, its hazy ethereal mood is captured perfectly by London duo The Hics – Sam Paul Evans and Rox Barker – who wave a hazy, dreamy web around the song.
Barker’s breathy vibrato carries the song from an almost a capella opening, floating over the skeletal electronic backing, with Evans’s warm baritone harmonies float bringing depth to the chorus lines.
Adopting a method akin to dub reggae production, they strip the already spare arrangement down and rebuild it from the ground up, constructing delicate textures and sounds in sympathy with those they replaced.
Crucially, they’ve retained that guitar melody that lingers long after the song has faded away.
Sonically it’s very different from all those previous versions, bringing in elements of folk and soul and jazz and the spare electronic sounds of future RnB.
But at its emotional heart it is exactly the same song that Bowie recorded, Lulu adapted and Cobain interpreted. While I’m normally apprehensive about anyone covering Bowie, so distinctive is his own voice (and vision), this one will join M.Ward and Last Town Chorus on my list of exceptions.
I’m even looking forward with less trepidation than before to the release, at the end of May, of ‘Modern Love, A David Bowie Tribute Album’ featuring Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Kit Sebastian, Jeff Parker, Sessa, Helado Negro, Khruangbin, Nia Andrews, Foxtrott, L’Rain, Eddie Chacon & John Carroll Kirby, Jonah Mutono, Bullion, Meshell Ndegeocello, Matthew Tavares and We Are KING.
I’ll be interested to know what my fellow Bowiephiles think of it.