The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions
(Hollywood Records; 2005)
By David Bowie, as told to David Greenwald | 12 January 2006
It is with great trepidation that I allow anyone to cover my songs. They are as much a product of their respective albums and performances as they are a part of me; as much the work of Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke as they are of, well, David Bowie. Detached from their requisite eras, I’ve found, they lose a portion of their considerable luster. Aladdin Sane is best appreciated as part of its period, just as some consider Low the defining work of what has been dubbed the “Berlin trilogy.” That said, occasionally a talented new prism appears, from whom fresh perspectives can be derived.
When I first heard Seu Jorge’s renditions of my work, I was startled by the simplicity and candor of his performances. With nothing more than a classical guitar and a heavily accented voice, Jorge has taken my compositions and quite literally made them his own by translating them into his native Portuguese. Particularly impressive is how in translation, Jorge has for the most part accomplished the feat of retaining the original syllabic cadences within the melodies, so much so that I was able to sing along with my own English lyrics and duet quite smoothly.
Beyond the beauty of his phrasing (Portuguese is a beautiful language well-suited for song), what Jorge has accomplished here with the best tracks of my early catalog is to explore their distilled essence. Before the sonic experimentation that characterized my later work, I was a composer of rock songs, and Jorge presents them as such, albeit in the Brazilian guitar tradition. His extensive use of 7th chords and relaxed strumming creates a breezy, bittersweet feel; certainly not containing the urgency of rock and roll, but not careless or nonchalant. The closest approximation of my original (and perhaps in friendly competition with my own version, which appeared on the first The Life Aquatic soundtrack) is the thickly strummed, major chord “Queen Bitch.”
Jorge restricts himself to songs from my first few albums; most interesting to me are his interpretations of “Starman,” which he strums with a brisk intensity, and a very serious take on “Suffragette City.” Both of those songs are from my famous The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album, which he has clearly explored thoroughly. Particularly enjoyable is his original composition “Team Zissou,” a frivolous ode to the characters of the film these songs soundtrack. Jorge makes the humor evident by singing in English: “Team Zissou / On the water / I love you.”
Fortunately, the songs presented here are of a much higher fidelity than the versions included on the initial soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s film. For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. That William Murray never fails to amuse. Jorge’s performances of my songs provided an excellent score and mood-setting device, of course, but they have provided far more than that. His re-imaginings shed a fresh light on my early catalog, and this collection pays an equal tribute to both myself and Jorge’s own formidable abilities.