Nothing’s gone and nothing’s changed
What makes a band choose songs like this to be put out as a b-side?
A random garble of radio chatter is pierced with a guitar riff and soon a blissful organ kicks in. A downstated epic begins. A large, large song under the guise of a dreamy, hazy moodrocker. James sings about the feeling of alienation during a world tour, all the time backed by the sleepy rock glory before finally collapsing back into the countless voices wrapped in static and speaking in languages one can’t understand. But not until a glorious solo that lasts over a minute and is absolutely. fucking. fantastic throughout its massive length.
I really cannot praise enough the organs of this song. I’m an organ lover and on Valley Boy the instrument once again shows why it’s so fantastic. It’s the key piece in setting the mood on this song. The elegant sleepy stream of sound it produces turns the song otherworldly.
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Your ego will destroy itself
Even if the Tolerate single isn’t one of the best singles ever released, it’s certainly the very greatest Manics single. Not only was it fronted by the unbelievably gorgeous song – their best – but it was backed by two absolutely stellar b-sides that would be hit single material in their own rights and that any other band would die for to have on their albums.
Montana/Autumn/78 is simply irresistable. Fuzzed up keyboards constantly spazzing out in the background, Sean’s madman drumming, James roaring a fantastic set of lyrics (about the Unabomber, I believe? Or at least using him as a reference point to something), a stellar chorus with the wonder of making spat-out overcramped syllables sound fantastic and which features some downright brilliant backing vocal action. The ending is sheer perfection too as the song just swirls into a final climax after the final chorus, background vocals and guitar licks gorgeously shining through the airspace.
Such a huge shame that it ended up being a b-side AND left out of Lipstick Traces (why? WHY!?) because this would be one fucking amazing live track.
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We’ll be the ones who give you soul
Little Baby Nothing is a stand-out both in the stylistic and quality ways on Generation Terrorists and adored by many. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough is what brought them back to commercial spotlight after some years of non-hits and was the starting point for many new MSP fans. But the greatest Manics duet of them all is the gorgeous swirl hidden into the depths of a single b-side.
Taking with them the indie-cred pop princess Sophie Ellis-Bextor (before her solo fame) and her swooning vocals, the Manic Street Preachers embark on a dreamy pop bliss filled with swirling keyboards, majestic organs, deeply pounding drums and ethereally echoing vocals. Bextor’s vocals work perfectly with James’ amidst the hypnotic, elegant groove while the lyrics attack against the empty holes of urban lifestyle.
Oooh, and that middle bit. When all the instruments drop down except layers upon layers of dreamy keyboards and a tiny drumbeat and James and Sophie sigh and scream in the echoing ocean of sound.
Pretty much one of their greatest b-sides, and possibly one of their greatest songs. This band really does throw away some gorgeous tracks.
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I was thinking everybody had a chance
Filled with minor controversy this. I once read that Sean hated this song so much that when it came the time to record the drums from it, he bashed together something in the studio and then just decided that the song’s drum section should just be looped from what little he played. Then there’s also the fact that the final verse often included in the lyrics (“Robin Cooks’ gone wild/He’s licking too much pussy”) and so forth apparently does really appear in the song but it’s either mixed so ridiculously low or was taken out at the last moment that it’s practically unhearable.
And fair enough, it’s a pretty odd track. The lyrics are what they are, completely daft and in a way foreshadowing the silly-politics move they took on some of the Know Your Enemy songs. It has a really odd vibe too, not just because of the ramshackle drum loop but also because it just sounds so… alien. James gives a great vocal performance but it sounds like he was the only person present in the recording and even he didn’t think much of it. It’s like the ugly duckling no one cared enough about.
I like it though. Not loads, but on the sliding scale between shit and good, it’d appear more on the good side. I like the ramshackle drum loop and I think there’s some really good vocal moments in the song (“ha ha ha ha! They all believed in you!”). But all that said, when you think at how brilliant the b-side quality was in the Truth era, it really does come off as one of the weaker ones. It kinda shows that no one really gave a crap about it.
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Get ready to say goodbye
The path to Know Your Enemy starts from here. The introspective studio atmospherics reigning over This Is My Truth have all been thrown away and whilst the previous single’s b-side – You Stole the Sun’s ‘Socialist Serenade’ – already gave the world a far more dirtier and rocking Manics, it’s Buildings’ lo-fi dirge that really shows first tastes from the upcoming Know Your Enemy material.
Hard-rocking guitar monster, rough on the edges and aggressive attitude. Buildings for Dead People stomps like a monster, lead by the monster guitar riffage. The dirty rock attitude in very many ways shows to be the father of such tracks as The Convalescent or My Guernica from the following album. Halfway through the song the mood and tone change completely as the guitar riffage halts, drums are reduced to mainly a beating kick drum and James’ vocals echo in the dark, musky air. The angry, political tone is still there but much more doomsday in its mood than angry marching.
I miss b-sides like these really. An unpredictable stylistic difference to its mother album, not being afraid to take its time (with what this clocking at five and a half minutes whilst the Manics’ current stance seems to be that four minutes shall never be crossed again) and generally a rather unformulaic take on composing a song. At the time of writing, mid-2009, the band’s really fallen in a strut of making every song with the exact same formula. But that’s a rant for another place, I suppose.
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Perhaps I’m hard all the same
It is true what they say. Prologue to History is the b-side that could have been an a-side. It’s also one of the few cases where the band has downright stated that the only reason it was left off the album was because of its major stylistic and atmospheric difference to the album it was left out of (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours) instead of anything to do with quality.
I don’t think it would have been a hit single though. Not like the actual TIMTTMY singles and certainly not like Tolerate. It’s catchy and it’s got a big chorus sure but it’s like dropping an abstract painting in the middle of classic pieces – it’s all art alright but it sticks out and won’t really be appreciated by the same people.
It’s the words and delivery, really. Prologue’s one of Wire’s most personal tracks, somewhat fitting as it was from the Truth sessions which in general were lyrically a lot about Wire’s soulsearching. But instead of the melancholy self-wallowing of the parent album, Prologue is pure spite and rage. The lyrics are spit out in an intense, even hostile tone and the words themselves are a cut through Nicky Wire’s psyche with a fair amount of self-hatred sprinkled on top. It’s the words of a man at his most paranoid with no self-confidence left, trying to defend himself from all the possible accusations flinged at him. It’s Nicky Wire attacking the life of Nicky Wire.
Musically it’s just as brilliant, and just as unlikely to hit the top charts. It’s such a gigantic, energetic, raging force of a musical backing that just goes on and grows more furious with each moment. It never brakes or holds down, it keeps on going like a train. Finally it all explodes into a massive rock orgy before finally calming down, offering a contemplating moment of melody before snuffing out.
Prologue is probably the band’s largest and most praised b-side (alongside maybe Donkeys whose got a random fit of fame for some reason), the “classic hidden track”, that proudly opens the Lipstick Traces compilation. And why not? In many ways it’s possibly the ultimate Manics statement, musically and lyrically.
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