Capsula’s “Ziggy Stardust” Is A Little Muddled

Capsula’s admirable concept of reviving Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars hit us like space debris, something so random we never could have predicted it.  Redo Ziggy Stardust? Our favorite Argentine expat punk band coming up with this from their perch in Bilbao?  Wow.

Come to think of it, when Bowie released the original, forty years ago this past summer, it also came as something of a shock.  Hitting our shores the same summer that the Stones were touring behind Exile On Main Street — as straightforward an evocation of American roots music as there possibly could be — Bowie’s sheer Britishness, his theatricality, his publicity-stunt bisexuality, made him seem like the man who fell to Earth three years before Nicholas Roeg would actually cast him in that role.  That Bowie arrived more or less at the same ephemeral moment as Mark Bolan/T.Rex, the same moment as glam rock, gave us something to hang onto.  Here comes rock’s next thing, though it would take Roxy Music and Bowie’s own Alladin Sane and Diamond Dogs to herald just how completely different things were on one side of the Atlantic from the Little Feet, Alice Cooper, and Big Star rockets that began going up on our side.

Musically, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars had the transformative effect of connecting the Beatles to Iggy and the Stooges, no small feat (nor Little Feat.)  For Bowie was one part British cabaret, one part avant garde, one part Velvet Underground.  Songs like “Hang On To Yourself” predicted the sound we would associate with what became punk rock more than any other song of its era — you can hear its echoes in both the Sex Pistols and the Ramones — and both this album, Bowie’s faux transvestism, and the glam rock reshuffling of Chuck Berry riffs gave license to bands like the New York Dolls, who vamped until punk rock was ready for the curtains to be pulled back.  Ziggy was amazing, because of its sheer inventiveness, because of Bowie’s voice — and because of the crunch of Mick Ronson’s guitar atop the thunder of Woody Woodmansey’s drums.  What we’re getting at is that everything, from the concept to the sound of the band, rendered Ziggy Stardust as one of rock’s pivotal moments.

Which was why we got so excited by the idea that Capsula, who we consider to be the most exciting rock’n’roll band in the world today , were releasing their take on the album in its entirety.  The problem is, it doesn’t quite work.  Martin Guevara is terrific songwriter and bandleader, and an exciting guitarist, but he’s an adequate singer, and English isn’t his first language.  Bowie is, of course, one of the greatest singers ever, and his vocal performance on Ziggy made him a superstar.  Moreover, as great a drummer as Ignacio Villarejo is, on this album, the drums are a little muddy — in fact the whole production is a little muddled, which wouldn’t matter so much if it were an album of Capsula songs, but because it’s a remake of an album that depends on the singer’s voice, the particulars of the guitar sound, the precise tuning of the drum kit, it’s off-putting.  Musically, it fails, by a small margin, to deliver.  Because it is punk rock, Capsula’s version (with Ivan Julian, among others, playing along with the core band),  of “Hang On To Yourself” is amazing.  “It Ain’t Easy,” which starts out with Coni Duchess singing, is wonderful — better even than the Long John Baldry version!  “Suffragette City” of course is fantastic in Capsula’s hands.

Any of these songs would be startlingly wonderful live encores.  But doing the whole album?  Well, it likely could go in one of only three directions.  It could be a nominally reverent but actually tongue-in-cheek send-up, like Camper Van Beethoven recording Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.  It could be an actually reverent, quite sincere effort to redo the original — which then would have to be compared to its predecessor on its terms.  Or it could have been enlivened, like Mike Nichols’ revival of Death Of A Salesman with Philip Seymour Hoffman — great theater because of the quality of the performance stretching the limits of an iconic play.  Alas, Capsula’s The Dream of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars falls in the middle category.

We love them no less for trying, and perhaps the balls it took to attempt this will open one of our very favorite bands to the global superstardom they deserve.  But sadly, Capsula’s version of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars does not transcend the original, or win on its own terms.

2 Responses to “Capsula’s “Ziggy Stardust” Is A Little Muddled”

  1. […] version of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk was a curiously obsessive one-joke album; if, like those of us at Tulip Frenzy, you were disappointed that the great Capsula went into the studio with Ivan Julian to remake David […]

  2. […] of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.  Now, unfortunately, we viewed that homage to Bowie as something of a misstep, an unfortunate career detour, but happily, with the excellent Solar Secrets, they are back on the strong form exhibited in […]

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