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Archive for the ‘2013 – Rewind the Film’ Category

The old-boy network won the war again

“30-Year War” concludes “Rewind the Film”, and rather than an epilogue to the album it’s present in it’s really the bridge towards “Futurology”: the two albums shared the initial writing sessions and this is the clearest example of it even has some prominent electric guitar parts the rest of the album tries to omit from. The mash of band elements ran through a heavily produced and programmed rhythm section takes a glance towards the futuro-rock of the album that would follow; it. It’s also a step away from the melancholy introspection the rest of the album is filled with and instead, antagonistically goes against the political climate in a good old-fashioned Manics way. It’s little wonder this became a fanbase favourite very, very quickly – it sounds absolutely nothing like the band’s past but it’s filled with the spirit of the early days. With all the namechecking and gleeful stabs towards British institutions and upper-class elitism it’s reminiscent of Generation Terrorists, just ran through the filter of the old punks all grown up.

And it’s fun. It’s an angry song that’s very clear about its targets and what the band’s opinions of them are, leaving zero to imagination, but it’s practically jubilant about it. The produced drums sound like a dance beat that got lost in the wrong crowd, the horns add a sense of triumph and James is clearly cherishing the chance to let loose during the recording sessions of an otherwise contemplative album. There’s a warped sense of joy to the song, and you kind of need it by the time Rewind the Film starts winding down. I used to find it an abrupt and ill-fitting end to the album but I’ve warmed up to it with time: you probably didn’t need another downer to round off all the ones before it, and conceptually its nature as the connecting point between the sibling albums ticks my giddy nerd boxes.

The downside that stops “30-Year War” from hitting the higher tiers of the album is that it’s clearly a song stuck between two worlds. It’s the clearest example of Rewind the Film and Futurology sharing some of their initial sessions, but that same shared nature that makes it such a natural bridge between the two also inevitably leaves the song awkwardly in the middle, as both sides pull it towards their own very distinctive traits. It sounds like it could easily have a little more bombast to it, to go a little harder – but then it would stick out even more on the acoustic album it closes, and maybe it was intentionally toned down after the decision was made to leave it on Rewind the Film.

The demo on the Rewind the Film bonus disc is also quite good, worthy enough to mention specifically. It’s primarily James and acoustic guitar, with some of the familiar elements like the horns and the guitar solo in place already, and thus closer to the overall album – which gives a little indication why the song would eventually end up on Rewind the Film. The thing is, the acoustic romp version is just as vigourous as the album version: old punks gone folk.

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(instrumental)

The first Manics instrumental to make its way onto an album – not too surprising given their increasing prevalence amongst the b-sides. Manorbier is a Welsh coastal town, which ties in with the general homesickness and regional heart of Rewind the Film, and musically it’s built upon the atmospheric wistfulness the album is full of. On the album it’s the penultimate song right before “30-Year War” takes a turn towards Futurology’s themes. You could therefore see it as a quiet farewell to Rewind the Film, one more wordless round of its central musical and conceptual themes before moving onto the next milestone already in sight.

“Manorbier” isn’t really a song that screams out to be a stand-out cut. It’s a pleasant melody combined with a headphone-friendly production with a simple loop structure, but it doesn’t burst out in any way. But I don’t think that’s the point of it either. Its subtlety is intended, a breather before the finale. The role of a great bridge song is an understated and underspoken one, but in the right album context it can really enhance the flow of the music and the “story” that the album wants to tell. “Manorbier” is great at exactly that. It’s not a song you necessarily go out of your way to listen for, but on the album it plays a quiet key role and sounds really good in its context.

Another key thing to note is that this is a Manics instrumental which could only ever work as one. James getting tired of his own voice probably plays a role here as well, and “Manorbier” sounds like it was conceived as an instrumental from day one rather than something that could have been a vocal song in another reality, like most Manics instrumentals. That alone gives it a different vibe to a lot of its peers. That the band simultaneously taps into that atmospheric vibe they teased in the Tigers-era untitled website instrumental is an additional bonus.

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Has my fantasy reached its logical conclusion?

It’s hard to talk about “Running Out of Fantasy” without going back to “My Sullen Welsh Heart”, because they’re sibling songs. They’re both on the same album (duh), both are minimally arranged with just a lone guitar and some textural keyboards making up the entirety of the arrangement, and they’re both almost painfully candid about Wire’s insecurities. The key difference besides their individual melodies is that “Running Out of Fantasy” features just James. Where “My Sullen Welsh Heart” was almost sing-alongy in a very melancholy way as James and Lucy Rose traded off harmonies, “Running Out of Fantasy” is more intimate in its loneliness.

It’s a good entry to really discuss the lyrical subject matter of Rewind the Film. Wire has been open about his melancholy side for a while and his introspectiveness has cropped throughout the Manics discography since Richey’s disappearance, often leading into career highlights. Never to this extent though. While the band had already called Lifeblood as their three-piece version of The Holy Bible all the way back during its release, it’s really Rewind the Film that merits that description because it shows Wire at his most vulnerable and darkest. The lyrics to the album paint a picture of a man who has lost sight of his tracks, who is scared of his own present state and is actively cautious about hurting those who are closest to him due to his own internal pain. When Wire has been introspective in the past, there’s been a certain kind of romanticised tortured artist veneer over it: true emotions but expressed in a way that appeals to Wire’s love for artistic flair and ideals of being a spokesperson in a rock and roll band. Rewind the Film in contrast is stark and blunt, a snapshot of a man at his lowest with no attempt to make it anything cool or appealing to the fanbase. If anything, it cracks any rock and roll glamour.

“Running Out of Fantasy” is a stark reminder of that. With its simple arrangement and slow, soft melody the song draws active attention to James’ singing, and James’ calmness draws the attention to the lyrics. After the somewhat more diverse center section of the album, “Running Out of Fantasy” brings the focus back to the album’s lyrical core and returns it to reality, starting right with a declaration of “my eco-system is based on hatred” and moving further and further towards self-doubt and self-defeat with each verse.

It’s a gorgeous, simple song. It’s also a very dark song.

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Can you save someone from the hidden depths

Rewind the Film is a fairly melancholy album throughout but “Three Ways to See Despair” goes above and beyond it, right from the title. The sound is gloomy and the song lurches forward slowly, with no light in sight as James utters another depressing insight after another. While there’s been subtle stabs of electric guitar used sparingly throughout the album, that rule is pushed away when James lets out his one big solo of the album, in a manner that sounds like a breaking point for all the bottled up anxiety the rest of the album only kept as a flavouring. The demo available on the deluxe edition of the album hammers the point across even more: it features, as a Manics first, a children’s choir backing James in the sort of eerie manner only a child choir can do. It’s actually kind of cool, but you can understand why they didn’t choose to go with it in the end – the song is melodramatic as it is and the choir stretches it to the point of ridiculous.

These details are also the most interesting thing about the song, which for all its bluster and attempt of a late-album emotional centerpoint doesn’t offer anything to be really excited about. The melody isn’t a strong one, the guitar solo isn’t a stand-out even though it’s the only full-blown one one on the album and the broodiness feels like it’s trying way too hard to be the dark night of the album’s soul. When the song lets the relenting death march go for a moment towards the end (“I am as tired as John Lennon sang…”) it perks up again, with a final verse reprise that breathes a little more life into the song right before it ends.

One of the things I appreciate the most about Rewind the Film is its honest soul-searching, and I’m generally a fan of melancholy in music, but “Three Ways to See Despair” takes it almost comically far: where the rest of the album sounds naturally downbeat this song tries really hard to be so, and ends up falling shorter. Married with a tune that’s not one of the strongest on Rewind the Film, and what you get is a song that sounds like it should be something more impressive than it actually is.

Fun fact: the band originally wrote the song with Morrissey in mind but chickened out of sending the song to him in fear of being rejected by their idol.

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Oh redemption, love and departure / I think your work is done

The first comparison point for “Anthem” is obvious – the strings, the almost choir-likeanthem background vocals and the big crowd-pleasing tone are like clear leftovers from the Postcards from the Young Man era. There will always be a side to the Manics that wants to create stadium-sized singalongs and this is Rewind the Film’s version of it, coming close to an acoustic take on one of its predecessor album’s songs given the album’s generally more down to earth sound. It’s a sweeping, chorus-centric anthem (well, yeah) that’s arguably the most traditionally Manics-like song on Rewind the Film, whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

But I think there is another, more accurate comparison point – The Great Western, James’ solo album. “Anthem” shares a lot of superficial traits with the Postcards era, but the tone and feel of the song are closer to The Great Western. Appropriately enough, as this is another one of James’ lyrics and there’s always a very clear change in his writing style and attitude towards arrangement when he’s in charge of everything from the words to the music. The leisurely pace of the music is reminiscent of his The Great Western period style, as is the emphasis on vocal harmonies which are very much like the ones you could find scattered throughout the solo album. Rather than being a stylistic leftover from the previous album re-arranged, “Anthem” sounds like James is tapping into a source he has been brushing off for a good few years.

Most of Rewind the Film draws towards the personal – “Anthem” is more about the universal. Inspired by James listening to a radio broadcast about the power that songs have can have in people lead him to wonder if songs can have any meaning to anyone anymore in these digital days of fast access and consumption. It’s an incredibly ridiculous thing to wonder about but that’s nothing new when it comes to Manics and modern technology. But to be fair to James, he goes along about this pet peeve with a much more nuanced hand than Nicky usually does, and the result isn’t actually half bad. At the very least there’s a style to James’ writing that suits these sort of string-laden, suaver numbers well. It’s not an old man rages at the world changing kind of thing, but instead finds a nuance to the topic and marries it to fitting music.

“Anthem for a Lost Cause” has had an intriguing longevity to it. I’m going back to my initial comparisons, but at first its superficial Postcards-isms stood out sorely from the rest of the album. Over time it’s won me over to some extent: the chorus has become one of the album’s sweet spots that I don’t particularly reach out for when I listen to the album, but which always strikes with its sweetness when it does appear. I’m a sucker for a good vocal harmony and I loved The Great Western, and it’s nice to have the brief flashback to it.

With its suave swooning and earworm of a chorus, the song was the obvious candidate for Rewind the Film’s second single. The video continues from the one for “Show Me the Wonder”, featuring the lead kids some years later. It’s a decent little sentimental period piece and even if I’m not particularly excited about it myself, you can tell it feels personal to the band.

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As wasted as the lifetimes we spent apart

Of all the things that Manics have ever done, a Sunday school singalong isn’t what I expected to hear. The downright naively simple “As Holy as the Soil” strums along on a straightforward, earworm-like melody that is incredibly reminiscent of every religious ditty aimed for children to participate in and which I had to endure during the more habitually Christian parts of my childhood. Wire gives his sole lead vocal contribution to Rewind the Film here and his increasingly confident but still rather homely singing just enhances the mental image even further. It’s what I imagine being stuck in Sunday school with your teacher and his guitar feels like.

Given Rewind the Film is a nostalgia album and this is sung by Wire, it’s no surprise then that this is an ode to Richey. The lyrics follow the simplistic approach of the music by being very blunt, though there are some nice ideas to them – remembering the little everyday things, Wire sounding genuinely emotional as he pleads for his best friend to come back – but lines like “as holy as the coffee you made for us” are just too ridiculous and clunky to take seriously, tripping the personal observations into the schmaltz territory. Leave it to James to save this from complete awkwardness. His backing vocals make the chorus into a bit more of an actual event than the clumsy verses, his significantly more towering voice being the uplift that makes the chorus soar, even if briefly.

If anything, this is a decent song in search of a good arrangement. The stripped-down demo on the bonus disc shows that the song has a fine rough idea in its core, but the plodding execution of the album version underlines its unrefined weaknesses. It is perhaps intentionally straightforward and uncomplicated, but it goes about it in such a way that it ends up sounding amateurish. The weakest point of Rewind the Film.

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Everything is happily lost in translation

Rewind’s most obvious reminder that the band’s dogma for this album only restricted the use of the electric guitar, nothing else.

The base of “Tokyo Skyline” is a brisky acoustic piece, but the star is the layers of electronic busywork which covers it all over: ambient fuzz, fluttering noises, skittering rhythms. They pick up the core melody and drive it around, buzzing new life into the acoustic skeleton of the song. It’s a busy song, full of various little bits and pieces that clutter its soundworld in an almost overwhelming way, but it all adds up to something memorable and enchanting. There’s also a gorgeous violin part appearing throughout the song and cuts through the programmed parts: a clear, plaintive melody rising above the wall of sound.

It’s been noted that the electronic side of the song has a fair bit of resemblance to Max Richter’s “Tokyo Riddle Song”, a short electronic piece that is undeniably similar. Given the title track of Rewind the Film is built around a pseudo-sample and has been credited accordingly, it’d be strange if another case of the same happening wasn’t mentioned officially in the writing credits. It’s thus a bit uncertain if this is a weird coincidence or something a little cheekier, but it bears worth mentioning.

“Tokyo Skyline” is one of the most unconditionally optimistic moments of the album, a love letter to a city that the band have fallen in love with, expressed in the most Manics-esque way possible – being happy about the isolation as a tourist unable to speak the language. The music’s perkiness reflects it, and the intimacy of James and his guitar against the heavily programmed, very un-Manics production gives it an enchanting atmosphere of its own. You can practically imagine yourself in a quiet hotel room, staring into the busy urban jungle through the window of your private quarters.

Random thought – a resurrected chapter of the fabled Cities Project?

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