Now the only payback is that everybody wants to know
It’s somewhat only logical that on an album that is heavily obsessed with backing vocals and supporting harmonies, at some point the creator decides that just layered vocal tracks or friends aren’t enough and decides to drag a full choir into the studio.
The calm-paced, heavily rhythm-driven gospel-influenced song holds the choir as its star ingredient and quite frankly, it wouldn’t really be much of an interesting piece of music without it. It’s a bit of a simple slog that doesn’t much muck about with instruments or James’ vocal acrobatics – it simply moves onward with a steady pace for its short length. But then you add the choir and all of a sudden it breathes a whole new life and becomes a Rather Really Good song. It’s not much of a spotlight track – I don’t think anyone thinks of this song first when they think of The Great Western – but it holds its important place in the album’s second, more personal half. It just wouldn’t be the same without this as its penultimate moment.
It’s a very interesting song lyrically as well, as it’s the first ever James-penned track about Richey. Whilst Richey songs are numerous enough in the Manics catalogue that it’s become somewhat of a running joke that everything is about Richey, this is the first time James gets to talk about it rather than Wire. There’s a clear difference between the two: while Wire treats Richey in an almost enamoured light and holds his legacy up not only as a friend but also as almost romantic semi-deification, James holds none of the latter. It’s more emotionally reserved than Wire’s words. It’s a mix of confusion and what-if and while he never says it directly, the feeling of longing and missing a dear friend is always there in the background of the words. While Wire chooses to treat Richey as more than a mere person in his lyrics (which isn’t a bad thing mind you), James’ approach is more about just quietly thinking about an old friend long gone.
Musically it may not be much of a standout, but it’s emotionally a very important part of James’ solo material and conceptually a big part of the album’s themes on reflecting on the past.