Apr 1, 2011
Vic Reeves had a big hit when he teamed up with The Wonder Stuff to cover Tommy Roe’s Dizzy, but the comic genius reached his musical zenith with a “version” of Ultravox’s Vienna. The song featured on Ruby Trax, a 40-track triple CD released in 1992 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the NME and to raise money for The Spastics Society — now known as Scope — which also celebrated its ruby anniversary in that year.
Reeves’ ditched Ultravox’s nonsense lyrics for some nonsense of his own, largely concerning the Belgians, their police force and how they aren’t to blame for the destruction of Europe.
The Belgian police are very, very kind,
And invented the waltzers.
And the Belgian people spend all day drinking port.
Hello, hello, my Belgian friends.
Let us now make amends.
We English do not blame you,
For the destruction of the rest of Europe.
By contrast, The Mountain Goats’ Your Belgian Things is a lament for someone lost, possibly a friend of songwriter John Darnielle who died when a meths lab exploded (what some might call poetic justice).
The men were here to get your Belgian things
They’ll spend the whole day hauling them downstairs
I shot a roll of thirty-two exposures
My camera groans beneath the weight it bears
The song appeared on the Goats’ 2004 LP, We Shall All Be Healed, alongside Letter From Belgium, which is believed to be an account of Darnielle’s own experiences with crystal meth. Belgium stands for the state of oblivion and bliss that drug takers seek; either that or he wrote it in Belgium.
A handful of contributions aside, Ruby Trax was largely disappointing, perhaps because 39 of the 40 covers were previous UK chart toppers. Vienna was the exception though as the sleeve notes it did make number one in the NME’s own hit parade. Presumably NME chose to ignore the hundreds of thousands of tone-deaf numbskulls who pushed Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face to the top of the “official” BBC chart.
Billy Bragg’s version of When Will I See You Again? may be a low point, but neither The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Little Red Rooster, Tears For Fears’ Ashes to Ashes, Blur’s Maggie May nor the Manic Street Preachers’ Suicide is Painless set the CD player alight. Exceptions to the rule proved to be The Fall, whose version of the Legend of Xanadu only adds to the feeling that Mark E Smith and friends are the best covers band in the world ever; the under-appreciated Mark Almond, giving new life to Madonna’s Like a Prayer; and, coincidentally, the Inspiral Carpets re-roll of Tainted Love, which Almond took to number one in 1982 as one half of Soft Cell.