1992 was a very big year for the NME. The magazine celebrated its 40th anniversary and to commemorate this milestone, it commissioned a covers album featuring 40 versions of number one singles. Proceeds from sales of Ruby Trax went to The Spastics Society. 1992 was also the year when the NME had a serious and bitter dispute with Morrissey making allegations that he had used racist lyrics and imagery. As a result, far less time was given to appraising the wonderful glam racket that was Your Arsenal, produced by the legendary Mick Ronson. This was a record that built on the tales told in Late Night, Maudlin Street, centrepiece of Viva Hate, considered by some as a concept album about the ’70s.
The Wonder Stuff lead off with a glam stomp – a most effective Coz I Luv You. We’re told that Miles Hunt didn’t know all the lyrics so obtained them via fax through a friendship between his ex-Wizzard uncle and Dave Hill. Next is Billy Bragg’s “funky new version” of When Will I See You Again; it’s anything but – more like one degree. Thankfully all the cobwebs are blown away by the Jesus & Mary Chain’s distorted run through Little Red Rooster, dipping with feedback menace. Meanwhile fellow black-clad journeymen The Mission imbue Blondie’s Atomic with a keen sense of waylaid theatrics and moodiness. “Look into my eyes”: Fatima Mansions’ creepy cover of (Everything I Do) I Do It For You was something that I reveled in during late ’92, dropping into mix tapes along with their version of REM’s Shiny Happy People. Not so much now. In retrospect they come off as trying too hard on both – check out their take on Scott Walker’s Nite Flights instead. That Bryan Adams cover was paired as an AA-Side with the Manic Street Preachers’ Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M*A*S*H) but the latter got all the airplay, reaching #7.
Saint Etienne taking on Tony Bennett’s Stranger In Paradise makes perfect sense; like something from a mythical juke box in a Lyons Cornerhouse. Haunting and perfectly executed. Elsewhere The Wedding Present plough through Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap while Aztec Camera join forces with Andy Fairbrother-Low for a soulful rendition of Half As Nice. Andy being part of Amen Corner who had a hit with the original in 1969. Next comes Dannii Minogue whose Show You The Way To Go comes off as a huffing and puffing gamble rather than a unique take. And then a most baffling interpretation of Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To My Lovely from the enigmatic Welfare “Cry Blood” Heroine. Nice backing vocals and dub grooves though. It’s followed by the swagger of the Blue Aeroplanes as they (badly) deconstruct Bad Moon Rising and the Senseless Things’ unsubtle Apache. Closing this mediocre ’60s sequence are Teenage Fanclub who do a note-perfect cover of Mr Tambourine Man, naturally closer to The Byrds than Dylan.
CD2 gets underway with a band who are no stranger to covering other people’s songs – Carter USM and Another Brick In The Wall. Sadly unlike Rent, This Is How It Feels and The Impossible Dream, this one doesn’t work. Thankfully Blur arrive and crank up the guitars with a storming Maggie May. No Alex as he was too much of a hipster to play on a Rod Stewart song. The bar stays at the same level for Tears For Fears very respectable tribute to Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes, a deeper groove throughout. Two steps back: the House Of Love take on George McCrae’s Rock Your Baby and give it more, er, rock. To Cork: The Frank & Walters make a lumpy tread through I’m A Believer while EMF’s Shaddap You Face remains a bad joke. Thankfully Suede’s Brass In Pocket pops up and is one of the key moments of the entire set: “Bernard Butler’s guitar on this cut is beyond words … so patient … then the way it dives under the melody and eventually emerges at the very end.” (Art Durbano) There was a very memorable performance on The Word too. Wish 4:3
Tori Amos makes Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell into something sultry and almost tortured; yes, it is meant to be rockist. Next come Kingmaker with a very busy Lady Madonna that’s really nothing to write home about. One for completists only. From one to another: Marc Almond sets up Like A Prayer into something quite remarkable, some say “calypso meets Mission Impossible” and wonderfully orchestrated. +The Farm and a well-produced if somewhat workmanlike version of the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me. Of more interest are Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and the great departure of I’ve Never Been To Me. Lizardly, the second part concludes on a spiritual tip – Boy George’s My Sweet Lord. “Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, they all have the same philosophy – love one another, show compassion and kindness to one another and material things don’t mean anything. The only thing that matters is having love in your heart.” (Phoenix Flyer)
The third part of Ruby Trax contains 14 tracks and begins with the rather muddy (think Monterey Pop Festival) sound of Jesus Jones attempting Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile. “Phone wreckers are idiots” – it can only be Bob Geldof. You can keep your crappy Kinks cover, thanks. Once again, we need someone to step up and Johnny Marr & Billy Duffy do it with aplomb – their fabulous reworking of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly is worthy of the admission price alone. Almost funky and a worthy companion to both Ennio Morricone and Hugo Montenegro’s recordings. You really don’t hear it often enough. We slip back into mediocrity with Cud’s derivative take on Down, Down – one of Status Quo’s finest ’70s boogie tunes. But you can always rely on The Fall to work some magic. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – The Legend Of Xanadu is transformed into something special. Crack that whip: “You cannot legislate against wrongful encouragement.” Over to Sinéad O’Connor for Secret Love, a brassy update of the Doris Day tune.
I always liked World Party’s World Without Love; a sweet cover of the Peter & Gordon song, which was written by Lennon & McCartney. We then swirl along to the sound of Tainted Love, as told by the Inspiral Carpets. And for something unusual – Elektric Music are former Kraftwerk members Emil Schult & Karl Bartos and Baby Come Love is a fun Equals cover. Naturally Ride follow with their straight ahead version of The Model that could have been so much better if done in the style of Leave Them All Behind. A #2 next, it’s Vienna as re-told by Vic Reeves which trails before Tin Machine’s overwrought Go Now, a Moody Blues number from 1964. In the end zone, Curve drop a bomb with a superb update of I Feel Love, slick and epic, built for Toni Halliday’s voice. And so we go out on a high, the Manic Street Preachers’ emotional Suicide Is Painless, lyrics written by Robert Altman’s 14 year old son while his father directed the feature film of M*A*S*H. Thanks for the music Johnny Mandel; maybe Cathal Coughlan could cover it next time.
Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless
Suede – Brass In Pocket
Blur – Maggie May
Saint Etienne – Stranger In Paradise
Johnny Marr & Billy Duffy – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Lest we forget
Marc Almond – Like A Prayer