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100 best covers: #53 Suede “Shipbuilding”

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I’ve already written bits about the Help Warchild album a couple of times for this series. Songs from this, my favourite ever compilation, have already appeared at number 100 and number 74 on this list and here we are again, this time with Suede’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding”.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea this was a cover. Given how quickly the Help album was recorded and released*, the CD copy of the compilation that I purchased used from Penguin Music the year after its release had almost nothing in the way of liner and production notes. I was also still something of a newbie when it came to Suede. I had obviously heard of them, their eponymously titled glam rock debut, and had fallen hard for “My insatiable one” off the “So I married an axe murderer” soundtrack, as well as the “We are the pigs” single off their sophomore release “Dog man star”. Still, I was a few months shy of the full on love affair with their third record, “Coming up”.

I only discovered the original when I finally decided it was time to explore the work of Elvis Costello a decade or so later. It appeared on a Best Of compilation that I tracked down and recognized it immediately as track eight from Warchild. The music was originally written by Clive Langer for Robert Wyatt but unhappy with his own lyrics, he approached Costello to refine them. The song was a reaction to the Falklands war and played on the irony that shipbuilding towns would see a modicum of resurgence while its fighting age sons would be sent off to fight and perhaps die.

Costello’s original is a hip and jazzy number, emboldened by a trumpet solo by Chet Baker. The musicianship is tremendous and you can’t argue with those phenomenal lyrics** but there is something just a bit more suave and swank about Brett Anderson, no? In his and Suede’s hands, it’s a bit more of a rock ballad, heavy on the bass and the piano, and though the trumpet still appears, it’s more muted.

Yeah, I dig Elvis Costello. But I love Suede. I’m going with the cover here.

Cover:

The original:

*All within eight days!!!

**Elvis Costello himself has said that these were some of the best lyrics he had ever written

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.