It seemed like for much of the ‘90s another tribute compilation came out every damn week, and since huge-deal affairs like If I Were a Carpenter, Red, Hot & Blue, and KISS My Ass hogged the lion’s share of attention, the sheer volume of also-rans consigned the majority of the truly great ones to obscurity. One of those was inarguably among the most interesting—Whore: Various Artists Play Wire, from 1996. Interesting partly because bands that would even want to be on a Wire tribute album are likely to be vastly more interesting than those which wouldn’t, and partly because the label that released it was WMO, which stood for Wire Mail Order. Though it released Wire compilations and Wire members’ solo projects, the members of Wire didn’t run the label; it existed with their blessing, but not their involvement, so this wasn’t an exercise in self-curated narcissism like the above-mentioned KISS tribute. Still, the fact that this could have been construed to have existed under the band’s imprimatur, even if only indirectly, made it a tantalizing disc to dive into.
Interesting also because it contains one of the only two My Bloody Valentine songs released during the lengthy drought that band suffered after Loveless basically changed music. It was their cover of the 154 classic “Map Ref. 41°N 93°W.” Bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig had already left the band in 1995, so this cover features only Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher. Still rules, though. And while we’re gazing at shoes, there was a worthy contribution from Lush: the Pink Flag track “Mannequin,” which frankly stomps all over Lush’s better known Wire cover, the version of “Outdoor Miner” on their For Love EP.
Wire’s influence on multiple genres is reflected in the comp’s diversity of artists—New York noise gets a solid nod here via Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo contribution of a reverent rendition of “Fragile” that’s good for multiple spins. Less worthy is Band of Susans’ tepid version of The Ideal Copy’s lead-off single “Ahead.” BoS’ tour with Wire was the first time I saw both bands, and their opening set was much more exciting than their Wire cover here.
Much heavier fare is in the offing as well—Godflesh, the long-running experimental project of Napalm Death’s Justin Broadrick, transform “40 Versions” into an industrial metal dirge, and Fudge Tunnel are a great choice for the already sludgy “Lowdown,” and their lo-fi take on the song hits a really satisfying groove. But not everything hits its mark so well—a favorite band of mine, Bark Psychosis, debase “Three Girl Rhumba” so completely that I kind of wonder why Wire couldn’t have just forgiven Elastica. Ministry/Revolting Cocks singer Chris Connelly goes completely off the map for “A Mutual Friend,” and while his mostly a capella-and-whistling performance is definitely novel and transformative, it’s also, um, not that good.
The concept was repeated by WMO two years later, on Dugga Dugga Dugga, whereon all the involved artists reinterpreted the song “Drill.” Save for a contribution by Chris & Cosey, it’s not nearly as engaging as Whore.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Wire’s Colin Newman advised My Bloody Valentine to cut down on the white noise stuff!
‘Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father’: Sonic Youth, the Wedding Present and the Fall’s tribute to the Beatles