Once you roared now you just grunt lame
Richey’s depressed zoo animal lament (that probably extends as a metaphore for his own mental wellbeing, as thought by everyone) is at the same time the most off-kilter moment of Everything Must Go as it is its emotional heart. Obviously the album was largely inspired by Richey’s disappearance and while several songs reference it in various ways, Small Black Flowers is the only one which feels like its commenting on the scenario and written by the man himself. It’s a song about desperation and mental agony over the horrible feelings one goes through every day in his miserable life, the feeling of imprisonment in a mockery life – somewhat of an epitaph, I suppose.
Small Black Flowers is a gorgeous acoustic moment and a sure-fire hit at gigs but I’ve always felt it loses much of its power when the serene harp isn’t playing in the background. The beauty and gentle touch of the harp contrasts greatly with the hopeless, gloomy lyrics and together with James’ performance turns it into something much more touching than the rather morbid lyrics initially make it out to be – or making the morbid nature of the song eerily beautiful, perhaps. It’s a very, very sad song and the harp adds to it – while at the same time bringing it more in touch with the orchestral touches elsewhere on the album.
There’s one fantastic solo acoustic performance of this though, the Manic Millennium concert one. After the joyous singalong of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” where the whole gigantic crowd participate in the song, the subsequent performance of Small Black Flowers sees the whole stadium go completely silent outside James. It’s a very, very touching moment, the biggest tearjerker in the Manics history. Shame it’s slightly ruined in the end as James turns the closing “here chewing your tail is joy” line into an extended shouty vocal performance rather than keeping the calm, fragile tone of the original. It breaks the mood. Ah well.