Turning our attention now to this years Fruits de Mer subscribers Christmas box, as synonymous with the yuletide season as turkey, festive crackers and Morecombe and Wise. No cheap off cuts here, celebrating their fan base and rewarding the loyalty of those who’ve made the label one of the finest in record land has been what its all about, rule 1 in the fruits de mer handbook look after your friends, which given the rise in FdM’s stock over the last eight or so years, it’s a maxim they have never, and neither look like ever forgetting. Anyhow to bring those new and unfamiliar to these happenings, since 2009 the label has cobbled together an annual gift sent out to those on their subscription list or having purchased any of the December releases – and believe you me there’s plenty of them this year. Often a selection of random tracks / exclusives that due to time, costs or schedules – missed the final cut in being issued as proper bona fide releases throughout that year, for the collectors out there one of the rarest FdM moments was the 100 only cassette ‘we come bearing gifts’ – the first subscribers freebie issued 2009.
Following the acclaim heaped upon last years Bowie covers set, indeed last year’s subscriber’s freebie exclusive, plans were afoot to follow-up matters with a swiftly planned second volume. Yet fate is a cruel mistress, events unravelled rapidly and soon the Thin White Duke was no more, leaving in his wake his most personalised statement to date not to mention a diary that recounted his hopes, fears, his coming terms with the terminality of his condition and his ultimate embracing of death. For most, Bowie had never gone, he drifted in and out of our lives and just when some of us were learning to love him all over again, he was gone. The music remains, it always will, if anything positive came from his death, it was that it gave us a chance to re-evaluate him, the weeks that followed his demise were littered by sounds of forgotten albums and tracks whispering in our ear, like a photograph album it was a trip down memory lane led by the hand of a forgotten friend remembering moments, feelings, sensations, smells and friends, it was like a musical bookmark in the blur of quickly disappearing days. He was the coolest of cats. And so the second volume as said was stalled, foremost out of respect and secondly due to the label feeling such a release so soon would be deemed bad taste and cashing in, not withstanding the fact that the original ‘Fashion’ selection had been announced long before Bowie dropped the opening salvo from his parting album last November. Its only fitting that FdM stepped outside of their comfort zone to pay homage, at the time eyebrows were raised as to why, FdM had after all been more accustomed to championing the lost 60’s and 70’s acid freaks, prog gods and kraut curios, Bowie was considered an odd choice by some, but then when you thought about it and stripped away the shiny surface of those who had been hailed before, then somewhere there the omnipresent influence / appearance of Bowie was found standing large as life in the shadows.
Aside the music and the seasonal gathering of familiar friends, what makes ‘a new career in a new town’ such an intriguing listen, is with reference to the influence and the malleability of the songcraft that allows for the reinvention and rephrasing of these much-played sonic milestones. Sixteen tracks sit within, 15 artists, Jack Ellister featuring twice and again as with last years ‘fashion’set the tracks focus on Bowie’s pre 1980 canon, in fact a quick check on the track listing reveals its solely concentrated on the 70’s with ‘V-2 schneider’ proving a popular choice featuring here twice courtesy of the Spookers and the Nomen. Enough waffling then and onto the tracks, opening with the aforementioned Jack Ellister’s superbly hymnal relocation of ‘a new career in a new town’ – the original a personal fave around here, a sucker for harmonicas you see, here though sweetly glazed in a sepia toned fondness and a tearfully sighed mistiness that’s delicately shimmered in ghost frosted keys. Anton Barbeau surprisingly stumps up a near faithful version of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – I say surprisingly because you never know with the Barbeau dude in truth all through this sub four-minute acoustic nugget we’ve half expected things to splinter and fracture, instead its all pleasingly Marc Bolan-esque all said. That said if it’s splintering and fracturing you want then the Nomen do it all in controlled abundance on their retelling of ‘v-2 schneider’ – a woozy cosmic flotilla that flirts to a flying lizard trace line albeit as though they were reading from a slightly wiry Air template, a wonderfully distressed solar schizoid. One of the best moments of the collection comes with the appearance of Cary Grace’s frankly jaw dropping take on ‘Queen Bitch’ – deliciously scuzzy, loose and feral this nugget strikes a wasted pose as it pouts, purrs and sneers like a bad assed forgotten sibling of a sisterhood bloodline of Siouxsie, Nico and Joan Jett types. Up next Blue Giant Zeta Puppies do a rather nifty lunar swirled take on ‘heroes’ which after its initial dream dazed kosmiche entrance soon ruptures and fires up to the kind of wiring strut shimmer much recalling a particularly animated Lou Reed all said. Ah Joseph Cave, now would that be the same Joseph Cave who put out that rather dandy ‘psych out the silence’ set a few years back, answers to the usual place, whatever the case putting in a ripping version of ‘rock n’ roll suicide’ that so howled and raw its emotionally shredding not to mention blessed with some exemplary riffage that dove tails into Fripp / Belew terrains. Clay Cambeck, another new entrant to the FdM academy spruce up ‘Fame’ and gives it a curiously sassy and funkily kaleidoscopic makeover that wouldn’t look amiss on either of the Beatles favoured platters ‘runner soul’ / ‘revolver’. Which neatly leads us to the Seventh Ring of Saturn who I must admit we didn’t initially recognise given this is kissed with a pristine pop that falls somewhere the kind of classicist touch of say 10cc or Cheap Tricks, anyway all you need to know is that their take on ‘Star’ is succulently grooved to a neatly purring power pop throb. Mega Dodo’s favourite sons Mark and the Clouds apply the miniature Mott the Hoople like anthemic euphoria to their smoking interpretation of ‘lady stardust’ while we’d just love to know what the FdM say or do in order to coax Jay Tausig to keep matters to a briefly shoehorned sub six-minute take, herewith the attractively pastorally allured ‘bewlay brothers’ replete with some nicely worked saxophone. With its metronomic underpinning Consterdine’s wonderfully rescored ‘warszawa’ takes it from its machine rok Kraftwerk adoring environ and with some cooly chilled application rehouses it in the sparsely traced shadowy future worlds of a Foxx fronted Ultravox. Best moment of the set time, mentioned in earlier despatches Rob Gould’s rephrasing of ‘we are the dead’ will literally just blow you away, a dream like progressive opera that nods to the Pretty Things ‘SF Sorrow’ that comes pressed and blessed in a majestic fracturing grandeness, a perfect homage to the fallen Mr Bowie. similarly covered in earlier musings the Spookers take on ‘v-2 schneider’ which admittedly takes a while to kick yet when it does sounds like la dusseldorf sharing musical notations with a seriously mellowed and kosmick magic mushroom band. Elsewhere the Past Tense cook up some organ drenched 60’s beat pop wigginess with a seriously whacked out version of ‘the laughing gnome’ with some uber groovy mind morphing psychotropic riffola and a brief nod to ‘ashes to ashes’ even it does sound like a studio love in between the Stranglers and ? and the Mysterons being gatecrashed by the Smurfs. Equally tasty, and this is just the edited version apparently, Jack Ellister leading an assembled crowd of FdM friends for a rousing version of ‘rebel rebel’ this rare version captured live at a recent appearance at the 14th dream festival and for the best part sounding handsomely like some kind of wayward head tripping and stoned out folk mystic. Bringing up the rear and taking matters to the end groove, new to FdM towers Steve Barnes turns in a killer smoking cool growling and crooning a cappella variant of ‘Jean Genie’. A faultless farewell to the thin white duke.