Someone once challenged me to listen to this, 19 cover versions of the classic Wire single, Outdoor
Miner, in one sitting. Now, listening to a load of people (most of whom I must confess I've never heard of) pay their respect to a song I've loved since I first heard it on Wire's second album, Chairs Missing, all those years ago, might not be on a par with climbing Everest or swimming across the freezing English Channel in nothing more than a dab of oil and a pair of Speedos. But as much as I love this song (and I do really, really love it as my name here might indicate) this will surely get hard going.
So let's make those first tentative steps. Dip our toes, so to speak. Start our journey with a fanfare…
Adam Franklin. Or maybe not, because this is something of a downbeat version with low, weary vocals over a simple plucked acoustic guitar. But whilst this isn't exactly the version to get us in the party mood, it definitely works as an opening track.
Titania. Nice. An altogether livelier cover with frothy vocals and an insistent beat. Very good. One of the best here.
The mountain is getting steeper. The water is getting deeper. And things are getting weird…
Kick On The Floods. A radical re-working with high-pitched vocals singing
around the verse before it goes all orchestral on the chorus. There's also
a nice bit where the piano and vibes pop in towards the end. Interesting. Rubbish
name for a band though, isn't it?
Timonium. I've got no idea who
Timonium are, but my guess is they've been listening to Low.
Everything about it is Low-like. The soft male vocals augmented by the sweet
female harmonies. The sparse gently thrashed guitar. The simple rumbling drums.
This might not be as good as Low's version of Wire's Heartbeat, but
until Alan, Mimi, and Zak add Outdoor Miner to their already impressive
list of covers, this suitably slowed down version that seemingly goes on forever
will have to do. Actually, the more I listen to this, the more I think this
may well be my favourite version here.
Making excellent progress. Weather good. Not too cold. Everything's going...well, swimmingly.
Speak soon, Indoor x
Hey up. Spoke too soon...
Polar. This opens with a bass riff, before some Joe Meek-like keyboards joins proceedings. But I'm not that keen on the guy's voice, which leaves me thinking this is just a touch dreary. The simple guitar solo goes on too long as well. I do like that organ sound though.
Typewriter. This has some welcome energy after the last few versions. A driving beat, nice arrangements, though again I'm not wild about the singer. Otherwise, this is a good one. And just as you're thinking it doesn't over-stay its welcome either, we get lots of daft noises and another quick refrain.
I don't want to worry you, but I think the weather's about to take a turn for the worse. Indoor x
Fiel Garvie. This is a virtually unrecognizable version, with pounding drums and what sounds like a hurricane as a backing for a female voice that shows only perfunctory respect for Outdoor Miner's gorgeous melody.
Shit. What's that ahead? Surely it's not… It is. I've heard a lot about these old creatures. Good job they're harmless…
Lush. This isn't the first time that Lush have covered a Wire song. They did a fairly respectable Mannequin on the "Various Artists Play Wire" album, Whore, some years ago (a set that's well worth tracking down, particularly for My Bloody Valentine's Map Reference and Main's Used To). This cover is pretty much what you'd imagine a Lush cover of Outdoor Miner to sound like in the vocal department, although there's a lot more urgency than you might otherwise expect.
Experimental Aircraft. With a name like Experimental Aircraft, I was expecting an approach from the Gilbert/Lewis school of noise terrorism, rather than Colin Newman's more poppy class, but this isn't really experimental at all. Once again, there's echoes of Low, particularly in the beat department, giving it an almost funereal feel. Some MBV-like guitars don't turn out to be the winning combination one might expect, as the singer demonstrates that, in these days of equality, women can sing just as drearily as men.
above the orange trees. There's no capital letters for this lot, so it seemed likely that this would be one of the more, er, profound versions here. But no, with its pretty piano and slowed down beat, this is a rather listenable cover. The singer here is another who takes something of a liberty with the Outdoor Miner melody. Whilst this is more successful when he tackles the verse than it is on the mighty chorus, it's not a bad version at all. There's a nice moment towards the end when the guitars burst in over a tub thumping beat, too.
Things are taking their toll. I keep seeing things.
Tops of mountains. Land. I think I'm hallucinating…
Christian Kiefer. My eyes deceived me for a split second, as I thought this said Christine Keeler, who with her early 60s affair with politician John Profumo, came closer to bringing down the British Government than the Sex Pistols ever did. What you get though is a bloke singing Outdoor Miner over a wild slide guitar. Yes, this is Wire gone Deliverance. Interesting, but thankfully brief.
It's getting worse. The hallucinating , that is. I think I can see a…
Flying Saucer Attack. A fairly satisfying version that has received a wider release, featuring as it did on the Domino compilation, World Of Confusion, a couple of years ago. Strangely enough, FSA are one of the few people here to speed Outdoor Miner up. Which poses the question, where are early Wire tribute act The Ex-lion Tamers when you need them?
And no disrespect to FSA – because theirs isn't a bad cover by any means – but I have now reached a critical stage. The journey is taking its toll and morale is low. I need a change of scenery. I'm two thirds of the way up Everest. I can just make out the French coastline. But I have to rest before making that final assent. Tread water before swimming on. Escape snow. And sea. And Outdoor Miner.
Back again. That's better...
Boy Division. What we get this time, by the amusingly monickered Boy Division, is some bloke bellowing out Outdoor Miner's willfully obscure lyrics through a loud-haler over some pounding drums. It gains a point for not over-staying its welcome.
Sharron Krauss. Yippee. Just what you always wanted: Outdoor Miner in introverted female singer-songwriter mode, accompanied by what sounds like a ukulele. Admittedly, there's something slightly more left-field than that description might suggest, but it's pretty dismal all the same. By now, I'm becoming delirious. I feel like I'm falling out of love with Outdoor Miner and keep wondering how George Formby would have done it. Better than this, I reckon.
The ice is slippy. The water cold. I want my mum.
The Meeting Places. Pretty straightforward version with nice fuzzy guitars.
Not as distinctive as the Sharron Krauss's cover admittedly, but that's not
necessarily a bad thing. And at this late stage, I'll take it.
Laura Watling. Twee Talullah Gosh-like girly vocals over a quirky drum beat. Now I'm well aware that those artists who have their version this late on the CD face an uphill to win approval, as I suffer from what has become medically known as Outdoor Miner fatigue. But even so Watling somehow manages to remove all trace of charm from the song. I will, however, concede that the woodwind and vibes instrumental break is a welcome diversion.
Don't stop now. Things can only get better. Keep looking ahead. The top must be over that hill. It must be. Wait. What's that in the distance? There on the beach? Is that a man in a beret?
Should. No. It's all a mirage. And after a promisingly dirgey opening, this turns out to be something else entirely. In fact, it's just what we always dreamt of: Outdoor Miner done as a lounge music instrumental by the terribly named Should.
The Sems. Thrashy, fairly reverential version. Nothing to blow your socks off admittedly, but pretty enjoyable all the same.
Yes! Nearly there!!
Junetile. There's always one, isn't there? Let's dissect a pop single and put it back together in some deep, hypothetical way. Maaan. We'll make the verse kinda weird, then let all the instruments sort of fade away for the chorus. It'll be really far out. And Wire art terrorist Bruce might like it. Unfortunately, little tired Indoor is close to the finish, and he wants a brass band to accompany his finish, not some art students treating a weary traveler to some abstract aural design. The instrumental break is pretty good, and its extended outro grows on you, but this isn't what I want right now. For god's sake, where's the Nutley Brass of Beat On The Brass fame when you want them?
So here I am. Planting that (pink) flag into the crisp white snow. Staggering along that French beach. And I'm exhausted. I've climbed the highest mountain. Swam a filthy sea. There's been ups and there's been downs. And there was very nearly one fatal casualty – my longstanding love of a Wire song.
But then I put the original on and, guess what, it still sounds as special as ever. Even so, my advice to all you fellow Wire travelers is to tread carefully with Houseguest's Wish. It's probably best to dip in and out of this collection for maximum enjoyment. Load them on your mp3 player and listen to them randomly. This might set a record for the most mentions of an egg timer on one album in the history of music, but just don't try and listen to it all in one go.