Thursday, June 26, 2003

oh, Brittania: a personal history of British rock, v.4: under the covers
[note: this volume is covers of British artists by British artists. Except where they’re Irish, ‘cause I’m a fuckup. Right, Cor?]
1. Stereophonics, “Handbags and Gladrags.” Basically, Stereophonics are shit. Basically, so is Rod Stewart – but he wasn’t always, as this song proves. From his early-‘70s heyday, a song so fine not even the ‘phonics can fuck it up. [To be fair, Kelly Jones’ voice is actually quite well-suited to cover Rod, as well.]
2. Morrissey, “Drive-In Saturday (live).” There’s just something about hearing the Mozzer covering Ziggy Stardust (especially in light of Bowie’s ’93 cover of “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” – and in light of former Bowie protégé Mick Ronson having produced Moz’s ”Your Arsenal”). The highlight from this boot? Hearing Morrissey’s opening: “I didn’t warn you that this was karaoke night … let’s see how many mistakes you can count.” Of course, after having said that, he turns in a gorgeous performance of one of Bowie’s finest lesser-known moments.
3. PJ Harvey and Bjork, “Satisfaction (live).” Well, you had to figure that this pair of phenomenal women would bring out the seedy undercurrent in the Stones’ classic, didn’t you? ‘Cause you’d be right. PJ slows it down and draws it out, with her Icelandic pal on backing vox, doing some surprising growling.
4. Placebo, “20th Century Boy.” For some misguided reason, when Todd Haynes (now best known for directing Far from Heaven) came looking for contemporary artists to contribute to the soundtrack of his glam valentine Velvet Goldmine, the most obvious choice, Suede, said no. Fortunately, the second-most obvious choice said yes. An androgyne like Brian Molko was tailor-made to cover T.Rex, and accordingly turns in a tour de force performance, ripping it up with élan, infusing his fashion with passion.
5. The Pogues featuring Joe Strummer, “I Fought the Law (live).” Yes, I’m cheating just a bit, including a cover which features the lead singer of the original. But the way the Pogues redo “I Fought the Law,” with their trad Irish/folk instrumentation, is glorious.
6. Manic Street Preachers, “The Drowners (live).” Not great, admittedly. But nice to hear James Dean Bradfield singing that classic “we kiss in his room to a popular tune” lyric.
7. Oasis, “Helter Skelter (live).” Really, perfect for the Mancs to cover; I’ve always assumed that despite their Beatles obsession, they’re covering the Charles Manson version.
8. U2, “Helter Skelter (live).” “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealin’ it back.” More faithful than Oasis’ version – and better, too. A highlight from the all-too-maligned Rattle and Hum.
9. The Cure, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I’ve no idea of the genesis or date of this cover; it sounds like a rough-around-the-edges studio take. But fuck, really, what could make more sense? Musically speaking, Ian Curtis died so that Robert Smith could live. And rough-around-the-edges makes perfect sense, as well.
10. Suede, “Brass In Pocket (live).” What a marriage of source and supplicant. After hearing this magnificent take on one of Chrissie Hynde’s finest songs, I ache to hear Suede (or at least Brett) take on her entire catalog.
11. Robbie Williams, “Wonderwall (live).” He’s nothing if not an anthem singer (in the UK, at least), and this is nothing if not an anthem. He does the justice, in case you’re wondering. [From his Slade Castle concert.]
12. Sisters of Mercy, “Gimme Shelter.” Few bands have been covered as often as the Stones; few Stones covers are as distinctive as this. This song already had a sinister undercurrent to it in its original form; lead singer Andrew Eldritch brings it front and fucking center.
13. The Venus in Furs, “2HB.” Another from Velvet Goldmine, this one too sterling to pass up. VIF were an ersatz supergroup put together for the film, including Roxy’s Andy MacKay on sax and Thom Yorke on leads, showing remarkable restraint and understanding of Bryan Ferry’s meaning – and at points, you could nearly swear it is Ferry. That’s how good Yorke’s performance is.
14. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Dear Prudence.” Ah, the early days of 120 Minutes, when this video seemed to run every week for nearly a year. Siouxsie and company without much of their later polish, and better for it in this case. I’d certainly rather hear this than the Beatles’ original.
15. Motorhead, “God Save the Queen (live).” Now this is pretty fucking perfect. No, Lemmy’s voice doesn’t have the same character to it as Rotten’s, and no, it doesn’t matter. His sandpaperish growl still works a charm, and you know he means it. Maaaaaaan. The only real surprise here is how almost restrained Lemmy and the boys seem.
16. Joe Jackson, “Heroes (live).” From an NYC performance a few years back, Jumpin’ Joe nails Bowie’s chestnut – complete with bongos!
17. Roxy Music, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Ferry had the glamorous image (and, before him, Jerry Hall) that Jagger always wanted, and it’s never been more clear than here. Not as glam as you might expect, this is more jump-up rockism via Weimar decadence. Just as it should be.
18. Bauhaus, “Ziggy Stardust.” The man who many think created goth given tribute by his most superlative disciples. Almost makes you forget Bowie. Almost. Peter Murphy has never received the respect he deserves (mostly for Bauhaus, of course), but remember what the Pistols taught us: all crimes are paid.

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