Onto this week's battle, and it's another epic. Make sure to leave your vote in the comments, as that's how the winner of each week's Monday Music Duel is determined!
Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie
Poor Major Tom. Shot up in space in 1969's breakthrough hit Space Oddity, his journey beyond the stars seems to end in despair in 1980's Ashes to Ashes. But what discordantly entrancing despair it is.
After a decade spent in decadent glam rock territory, with a length side trip to cocaine city, Bowie took a lot of the lessons learned in some of his more experimental works and adapted them for bigger commercial success. The result was the Space Monsters (and Super Creeps) album, and it's smash hit first single. Ashes to Ashes is a synth masterpiece, a key foreteller of the emerging New Romantic movement, and bloody catchy to boot. It's key riff is instantly recognisable; it's message from the Action Man "I'm happy, hope you're happy too" sung in a dramatically deep-voiced fashion by many people over countless jugs of beer.
Regarding its central character, the once-hopeful spaceman of the 60s has gone, replaced by a needy junkie, "strung out in heaven's high, hitting an all-time low". I'll admit I'm not sure what "pictures of Jap girls in synthesis" really means, but there's no mistaking lyrics like "Time and again I tell myself/ I'll stay clean tonight/ But the little green wheels are following me/ Oh no, not again" are pretty clear about the dire situation the astronaut has gotten into.
My favourite part is the heavily-reverbed final bridge: "My mother said, to get things done, you'd better not mess with Major Tom". I once heard that "Major Tom" was a euphemism for "a shitload of drugs", and hell, that's quite possibly the case. But I think it has a secondary and character-based meaning - to continue his rock music journey, Bowie has to move beyond the trappings of what Major Tom and Space Oddity brought him. Drugs is surely part of that; but so is fame, and wealth, and his changing musical styles and personalities. The message is to reclaim that moral ambiguity ("I've never done good things/I've never done bad things") that those too will pass, like ashes returning to ashes.
The film clip was the most expensive ever made at the time of its release, and is still a little bit freaking terrifying. That Pierrot clown costume is the stuff of nightmares. It's also strangely prescient, with Bowie seguing to clips of himself in a padded room and as Major Tom in some sort of pod through a vaguely iPad-esque tablet screen. If there's one thing you can say about Bowie, it's that he was always ahead of the pack.
Ashes to Ashes by Faith No More
I'm going to admit having a very cursory mid-90s knowledge of Faith No More, when their biggest radio hit was a cover of The Commodores' hit Easy. I didn't even realise they were a heavy metal outfit until I read an article in Smash Hits (or TV Hits or Smash TV or Music for Daggy Teenagers or whatever crap-tastic publication I used to read) about how band members could often be seen urinating in their shoes at concerts. That was a world away from the Spice Girls, my friends. I don't recall Posh or Ginger cracking a number one into their Jimmy Choos during a rousing rendition of Stop.
Anyway, it turns out by 1997's Album of the Year (in fact their last studio album before breaking up), they'd become radio-friendly enough to have Ashes to Ashes firmly implant itself in my ear as what "heavy metal". I loved the rampaging guitar riff, and the contrast between the slow and steady verses with the ramped-up, high voltage It showed me, along with Sound Garden's Black Hole Sun, that "heavy metal" could still be musical, not just pounding drums and screeching voices.
Speaking of voices, doesn't Mike Patton have an impressive set of pipes? His sound is a rich, deep, throaty thing, like a mudcake with a microphone. But he can belt it out with the best of them as well; "Smiling with the mouth of the ocean/And I'll wave for you with the arms of the mountain" seems like a love ballad in his hands, more than the slightly stalky tone the lyrics alone imply ("Give it all to you, then I'll be closer").
The song actually doesn't mention the phrase "Ashes to Ashes" at all, so if anybody knows why that is the title, please fill me in. I'm always interested when that happens. Ditto for Bizarre Love Triangle, while I'm thinking about it.
The video clip features the band in smart suits complete with natty lapel flowers, playing their instruments in a series of dingy rooms in what appears to be a concert hall. It seems like they're a wedding band; but then as the chorus swells there appears to be a maelstrom of nude people behind them. So maybe an orgy band.
Verdict: I'm going to have to go with David Bowie, because, well, I don't want glam rock enthusiasts beating me up in the street.