Jobriath is a legendary unheard figure, at least among those who scour the odd footnotes of rock and pop history. When he released his two albums in 1973 and 1974 (titled Jobriath and Creatures of the Street, respectively), the emerging rock press considered him little more than a novelty, a cut-rate David Bowie, only more flamboyant, alien, and openly gay. His two albums sank without a trace and soon so did he, staying at the far margins of pop culture and singing as a lounge singer until his death from AIDS in 1983. In the years since his death, a cult grew around his records, which were now very hard to find and all the more mysterious and alluring for their rarity. During the CD reissue boom of the late '80s and '90s, he was never treated to a reissue, even when his image and music were core inspirations for Todd Haynes' 1998 glam rock fantasia Velvet Goldmine. Seven years after that controversial film, Jobriath's music finally saw the light of day on CD, thanks to Morrissey, who put out the Lonely Planet Boy compilation on his Sanctuary-distributed imprint Attack in November of 2004. It was a long, long wait, but it was worth it, since Jobriath's music has only grown stranger and stronger over time. Lonely Planet Boy selects 15 tracks from Jobriath and Creatures of the Street, assembling them in non-chronological order -- a move that may irritate some purists, but helps to lessen the distinctions between the albums and emphasize the common threads in his work. Musically, Jobriath does sound familiar (this is glam rock, after all); David Bowie is the clear touchstone, and there are elements of the New York Dolls, Brian Eno, and T. Rex scattered throughout as well.
But even if the basic sound is not a surprise, Jobriath does bring a personal vision to this music, escalating Bowie's theatricality to hysterical heights in both sense of the words. This is as theatrical as rock ever got, balancing the heavy guitars and boogie with heavy doses of vaudeville and show tunes. This sound supports Jobriath's high, keening voice singing campy, cinematic tales of love, sex, outer space, and movie stars. Bowie tried to be an alien rock star with Ziggy Stardust, but Jobriath actually seems like an alien, both in his manner and his outlook, and that's what makes his music so fascinating, unique, and weirdly vibrant decades after it was recorded. Simply put, this is what all the legends of glam rock are about -- grandiose and defiantly silly, yet sexy and darkly menacing all at the same time. Jobriath may have been dismissed at the time, but Lonely Planet Boy proves he was a man out of time, a visionary who couldn't be understood even in the heady heights of glam in the early '70s. He may not have received the respect he deserved during his lifetime, but his music is some of the strangest, most beautiful, and giddily exciting theatrical rock & roll ever cut, as this glorious collection illustrates. Any rock fanatic with a taste for the strange will surely find this delightful. (Robert Cochrane contributes a detailed history of Jobriath in the excellent liner notes; he has a full-length biography of the musician scheduled for publication in 2005.)