The first thing to be said about Luxembourg vs Great Britain is that it has the world’s worst sleeve. A poorly cut-out black’n’white picture of a scrawny and spotty bare chested man – his head brutally cropped at the neck – is placed on top of a garishly colourful supermarket backdrop. The man could be a hooligan looking for a fight, but given how starved he looks, he’s more likely begging for food. It is an aesthetic horror. The inner cover is just as bad, with the band’s features digitally softened until you can barely make out their faces. What are they hiding?
Also, you might ask, what impact does this have on the music? Superficial people will say ‘none!’ arguing that the band have other things to worry about or that music is heard with the ears and not the eyes. In arguing this way, they are like a psychoanalyst, whose patient has syphillis, ignoring the visible signs of disease and merely talking to them. This cover is alarming for a band whose flyers and artwork have previously been rather good – from appropriating Naumann’s Fountain to the mannequins on their rarities collection. With this one, I feel like Marlow nervously approaching Kurtz’s stronghold in Heart of Darkness. As with Kurtz, Luxembourg have been separated from the mainstream for so long that they have gone mad.
Like the crystal meth addicted wretch on their cover, they are desperate: desperate for success, desperate to escape Britain’s indifference, desperate for something, anything. “Screaming in your face, but you still can’t hear us,” as the lyrics go. The last song to have desperation so central to its theme was Patti Smith’s Piss Factory and as with that song, they differentiate themselves by comparison with the masses:
You think you’re very special but you’re all the same
A pathetic apathetic pissing life away
While Slaving all these hours to pay for finery
It’s all true, but possibly unwelcome to the people who still actually buy music. And does listening to Luxembourg differentiate a person? Not especially: they’re neither as odd-looking as Pulp, nor as romantic as Suede.
An anaemic, lazy version of The Exhibitionist, a live favourite which was as virile as Handsome Devil a couple of years ago, doesn’t help to redeem the single. Nor does About Time, which is the first Luxembourg song I’ve heard that sounds like a B-side. In the past, they slung together three A-sides and called it a demo. Now, in their insanity, they are doing what every other band would do.
For all the evident qualities of the A-side, which is catchy, intelligent and full of passion, it lacks magic. Never has a decline announced itself so deafeningly.