V/A: A Houseguest’s Wish: Translations of Wire’s ‘Outdoor Miner’ (Words on Music, 2004)

by Brent

A Houseguest's Wish Translations of Wire's 'Outdoor Miner'Would listeners find it interesting to listen to the same relatively obscure song 19 times in a row? Innovative Minneapolis music label Words on Music is counting on an affirmative answer to this question, as they present their new compilation A Houseguest’s Wish. The compilation is a tribute to the legendary band Wire’s song “Outdoor Miner”, originally released in the late 1970’s. A Houseguest’s Wish finds the song being reinterpreted by 19 bands in various musical styles. Ultimately, the project adds up to a group of different bands playing the same song and singing the same lyrics over and over again…

Yet, somehow, the compilation makes it work! The entire CD is a fascinating listen, from start to finish, as the artists Words on Music has chosen for this compilation display a high quality of musicianship and vision. The compilation works on a variety of levels. First, the song itself is a gem, featuring a very catchy melody sung over dissonant chords and infused with strange (but somehow idyllic) lyrics. “Outdoor Miner” possesses a strong enough hook that inspires the various versions heard on A Houseguest’s Wish, and the depth of meaning hidden in the lyrics provide for a wide range of interpretation.

Second, the compilation works because the various styles mesh together so nicely, resulting in a cohesive listen despite the wide range of subgenres covered by the artists involved. True to the Words on Music ethos, the majority of the interpretations lean toward shoegaze/dreampop-influenced sounds. The other styles that are used to interpret “Outdoor Miner”, such as punk, folk, indie-pop, blues, new wave, slowcore, and chamber-pop, are played well and sequenced on the CD nicely to hold a listener’s attention.

Of course, another major reason why A Houseguest’s Wish works so well is found in the sheer quality of the interpretations served up on the CD. Two legendary groups, Lush and Flying Saucer Attack, both contribute their versions of “Outdoor Miner” recorded in the 1990’s. Flying Saucer Attack’s version is appropriately enveloped a buzz of white noise, with David Pearce’s barely audible vocals penetrating the feedback and distorted guitars. Lush, as one may expect, takes a more delicate approach to the song, as angelic female vocals croon over a bed of dreamy guitars and a strong pop sensibility. Other notable bands create wonderful tributes to Wire, such as Titania, whose version combines the pop approach of the original with a more ethereal feel by adding keyboards and male/female harmonies. Kick on the Floods (a new band headed by Carlos Forster of For Stars) reinterprets “Outdoor Miner” as a sunny, Pet-Sounds meets new wave song, made complete with bubbling electronics and intriguing harmonies. Spain’s Polar creates a mysterious feel with their slow, Mus-like version. In fact, if it were not for the male vocals in Polar’s version, the track would sound exactly like a Mus interpretation, which is at all a bad thing. Sharron Kraus, with her frail little-girl voice singing over a solitary plucked banjo, creates a haunting folk version, while rising space/dream rock stars Experimental Aircraft create a dark and tense sounding version of the song.

While these artists (and others, such as the weird electronic jumble of  Junetile and the singer/songwriter approach of Adam Franklin of Swervedriver, among others) indeed shine, the bands of the Words on Music roster each create equally compelling interpretations of “Outdoor Miner”. The amazing Fiel Garvie steals the show with the best sounding version of the song: a snobby and dirty noise-rock version with industrial elements that features wickedly delicious female vocals and screeching guitars. The Meeting Places strip back their trademark walls of sound to create a more conventional and almost live-sounding shoegaze version of “Outdoor Miner” that work very well, as it retains the original feel of the song while infusing it with a hint of shoegaze sensibilities. Label-mates Should re-emerges after an extended hibernation with a compelling instrumental version that sounds completely different from the haze of droning guitars that one associates with the band. Somehow, though, the performance still sounds like Should, as their version incorporates darker undertones and a full sound.

All in all, each of the tracks showcase a different possibility for “Outdoor Miner”, and taken together as a whole, it’s quite startling that Words on Music have pulled off this ambitious project so masterfully. 19 tracks of the same song, yet there is no hint of monotony! The listener is never bored, and quite the contrary, each track is an exciting revelation of how different artists can interpret one beautiful song. A Houseguest’s Wish is a stunning tribute to a wonderful little song, and is another remarkable release from this inventive label.

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