"It's Crosby, Sinatra, Presley, The Beatles, and Jobriath," Jobriath manager Jerry Brandt told Melody Maker in 1974. "There's no question, no doubt about that." He conspicuously avoided one name: David Bowie, a singer Jobriath clearly studied closely. Jobriath's act was essentially designed to fill the space opened up by glam and Bowie, particularly the I'm-a-tragic-messianic-pansexual-alien shtick Bowie immortalized on The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. Brandt and Jobriath got a bite from Elektra, which paid a lot of money to plaster Jobriath's naked body all over the place in 1973. Like it or not, the promotional blitz seemed to proclaim, "Here's your next big thing."
It wasn't. In his liner notes to Jobriath's newly reissued albums, Richie Unterberger traces the Jobriath non-phenomenon from the singer's beginnings as part of the cast of Hair to his AIDS-related death in 1983, which went so unnoticed that longtime fan Morrissey tried to get him to open a tour in 1992. Jobriath's quick ascent from and return to obscurity makes for a sad story, and the music suggests that he deserved at least a little more attention. Both Jobriath and Creatures Of The Street—now available in American release for the first time—tread ground cleared by Bowie, skillfully, though not passionately. Neither album holds up from start to finish, but the fuzzy cabaret rock of highlights like "Take Me I'm Yours" and "Space Clown" will fit right in on anyone's glam-rock playlist. (Who, after all, doesn't have room in their heart for a song called "Space Clown"?)
Maybe Jobriath fell victim to his own hype. Or maybe he was simply too gay too soon. Where Bowie played it coy, using bisexuality as just another element in his fuzzed-out space fantasia, Jobriath mostly played it gay. Bowie sang about someone putting a raygun to his head. Jobriath closed his debut with a ballad called "Blow Away," a track littered with references to "pretty boys" and how it's "very gay to blow away." He sounds halfhearted when making token glam science-fiction references, but fully invested when singing about Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers.
Jobriath's two albums sound like the product of an alternate universe, one where camp fascination with old movies and paeans to all-night, all-boy parties moved from the margins to the mainstream instead of Bowie's extraterrestrial visions. They both fall well short of Bowie's work from the same period, but as glances down a path not taken—or maybe taken too soon—they're captivating now in a way they apparently weren't at the time.