Pop Goes the World: “Ruby Trax,” Disc 3

Written by Music, Pop Goes the World

This week, David Medsker reaches the third and final disc of the NME’s 40th birthday compilation, featuring covers both ridiculous and sublime.

Last but certainly not least, Disc Three of Ruby Trax. And there is just no gray area when it comes to the opening song.

In late 1992, the idea of Jesus Jones covering Jimi Hendrix was viewed one of two ways: it was either the most awesome idea ever, or grounds for justifiable homicide. (Bear in mind, this came a full year before the Hendrix tribute album Stone Free, where everyone from the Cure to PM Dawn took Jimi’s songs for a ride.) He’s the greatest guitarist of all time, and they…play keyboards! (*Shake fists at God*) As Popdose resident remix geek, I’m guessing you already know which side of this debate I’m on.

Jesus Jones’ historical legacy is of the one-hit wonder variety, but let’s remember something: their 1991 album Doubt was a damned fine record, and in fact spawned two Top Five hits, not one. (Whither, “Real Real Real”?) So if Mike Edwards decides in 1992 that he wants to tear a Jimi Hendrix song to ribbons, no one is going to tell him no, nor should they have. The end result, a version of “Voodoo Chile” that sounds like the Chemical Brothers before there were Chemical Brothers, stands as the second to last great thing Jesus Jones would do. (Forgive me, but I’m still fond of “The Devil You Know.”) The drum tracks rocked without delving into industrial noise, and the guitar squeals have an otherworldly sound that would have brought a smile to Jimi’s face. And let’s not forget what a unique vocalist Edwards was for the time. That raspy tenor of his was unmistakable.

Wow, I can’t believe I just dedicated two paragraphs to Jesus Jones. Let’s move on.

Only a handful of the covers on Disc Three play it relatively straight. Saint Bob Geldof gives the Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” a Celtic spin, and surprise, Karl Wallinger decided to cover something written by a Beatle, the Macca-penned “World without Love” that Peter & Gordon took to Number One. (Paul was dating Peter’s sister at the time.) Perhaps the straightest cover here is Ride’s dead-serious take on Kraftwerk’s “The Model,” and leave it to the music supervisors to put that track right after Elektric Music, which features two members of Kraftwerk, rip the ever-loving shit out of the Equals’ “Baby Come Back.” I’d love to know what former Equal Eddie Grant thinks of that cover.

In the why-didn’t-I-see-that-coming department, Curve turns in a faithful but hard-driving rendition of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” and longtime mates Johnny Marr and Billy Duffy turn in a surprisingly beat-driven version of “The Good, the Bad & Ugly.” Meanwhile, in the ‘la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you’ department is comedian Vic Reeves deciding to take Ultravox’s “Vienna” – the only song here not to hit Number One – and turn it into a bitch slap of Belgium (!). Who knows, maybe it’s an English thing. But from this side of the pond, it was a complete waste of time and space.

The disc’s last track has taken on an eerie subtext in the years since. The Manic Street Preachers cover “Suicide Is Painless,” blissfully unaware that Richey Edwards would disappear two years later and never be found. Frankly, I can’t listen to this without getting the chills.

In two weeks, we’ll tackle yet another out-of-print collection of covers that will have Anglophiles drooling. See you then!

1. Jesus Jones – Voodoo Chile
2. Bob Geldof – Sunny Afternoon
3. Johnny Marr & Billy Duffy – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
4. Cud – Down Down
5. The Fall – Legend of Xanadu
6. Sinead O’Connor – Secret Love
7. World Party – World without Love
8. Inspiral Carpets – Tainted Love
9. Elektric Music – Come Back Baby
10. Ride – The Model
11. Vic Reeves – Vienna
12. Tin Machine – Go Now
13. Curve – I Feel Love
14. Manic Street Preachers – Suicide Is Painless