With Blixa Bargeld’s version of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ he proves that if you judge a book by the cover then at least read the blurb. After all, even Edward Scissorhands had a heart of gold despite the deadly appendages at the end of his arms. Blixa Bargeld might be renowned for his industrial underworld hellscapes and have the look of a recently reanimated Alaskan vampire, but the one-man atmosphere machine clearly has a sweet side too.
Back in 1995, for his Commissioned Music album, he took on the classic Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg ballad, originally written in 1939 for the troubled film The Wizard of Oz. At the time, Bargeld was just pulling away from the heavy chains of Einstürzende Neubauten and trying to establish himself as a solo artist.
The darkness he extolled throughout his career might have proved too heavy to scurry away from in the end. Nevertheless, he manages to lift it to exultant heights that assails the azure blue beyond the rainbow and further still to some pillow-propped twilight in heaven. The sweetness to the song is still dark like the inside of a humbug and the floaty feel is weighted by a deeply sombre anchor.
If the original beauty of the song has often been rendered kitsch by cheesy incarnations of marshmallow clouds and screeching high notes, then Bargeld recaptures its original humble purity in his own unique way. As Nick Cave once opined of his former bandmate when he joined the Bad Seeds and liberated their sound: “He’s a complete kind of atmospheric guitarist and incredibly economical and it gave me room to breathe.” It would seem that he simply gives songs the room breathe too.
Commissioned Music may well have had imagery on the mind, with the album’s sides titled Music for The Play Dempfe Stimmen and Music for the film Jahre Der Kälte respectively, and as such, all the songs soar in their own little worlds, however, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ proves the most exacting. With a touch of Leonard Cohen in the mix, Bargeld reimagined a ditty heard a million times before without mangling it out of recognition—and he did it in such an expressionist way that you can’t help but imagine the movie that goes along with it in Bargeld’s singular mind.
You can listen to the little-known ethereal ditty below.