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Archive for the ‘2002-2003’ Category

Been a Son

She should have died when she was born

While Manics occasionally change the instrumentation or style of the songs they cover to suit themselves, the core of the song always stays the same. The mood or the way the message is conveyed is kept pretty faithful to the original even when the song itself changes its superficial form. The cover of Nirvana’s punky b-side “Been a Son” that the band recorded during a radio session and later on released as a part of Lipstick Traces is the exception to that rule.

The original, which you can rather easily find from Youtube considering Nirvana’s popularity, is a quick and shouty little punk thing where Cobain’s rather impassionate vocal style gives a lovely whiff of emotional detachment to the song; coupled with the repetetive, simple and short lyrics it’s like a pitiful narration without much sympathy. Manics, stripped away from their usual full band getup during the session, slow the pace and minimalise the instrumentation even further. The electric guitar is switched into a menacinly jangly acoustic guitar and the rhythm section is all manpower, claps and foot thumps. James shouts in the mic and breaks the volume meters enough to give it that rough fuzz you’re probably familiar with from several Know Your Enemy b-sides. But the key importance is that James sounds angry. The music is like a jangly one-two-one-two march and rather than Cobain’s nonchalance, the narrator in the Manics version is downright spitefully telling the tale of the misfortunate girl. A simple punk rocker turns into a vicious, revenge-seeking lynch march.

Just the fact that this Been a Son has the clap ‘n thump rhythm section instead of being a James solo acoustic moment like most radio session live performances raises it above a lot of other covers by the band in its sheer intrigue value.

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All my best wishes are just lies

The mandatory original songs on greatest hits compilations have a horrible reputation. They’re widely considered to be half-arsed outtakes or quick fart-outs to just fill a contract and move on. Songs the band forget they’ve ever even written. And this is accurate sometimes. However, that reputation sadly tends to tarnish the image of those that don’t deserve it.

Door to the River should have never been greatest hits filler (nor the other new song on Forever Delayed). It’s true it’s an outtake – if I recall right it was originally written during the Know Your Enemy sessions. It’s however one of those cases where it was an outtake because of style and not quality.

Door to the River is one of Manics’ most beautiful songs. The ethereal, dreamy atmosphere perfectly works with the weary melancholy of the song. The mellow verses launch into a beautifully soaring chorus filled with hope inside sadness. Futuristic synth noises and echoing keyboards merge with majestic strings. It’s one of Nicky’s greatest lyrics – dealing with mortality and passing away to the uncertain unknown – and James’ greatest vocals. It’s one of the band’s greatest songs in general.

This could have been a hit single or this could have been a fantastic album centrepiece. Now it resides as compilation filler, ignored by most – until they hear it that is. Sadly, I don’t think anything will save it from being ignored by the band – after all, it’s just greatest hits filler.

The inspiration comes from a Willem de Kooning painting of the same name.

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A bitter-sweet kaleidoscope

Okay, so it’s practically a complete re-write of You Stole the Sun from My Heart – drum machine ever present in the back, jangly and placid verse meets grand rocker of a chorus – but let’s not let that bother us. It’s different enough. The more electronic touch really makes it its own song, even the guitar jangle in the verse sounds processed as hell. Which is cool, mind you.

I first heard this song on a hot, sunny summer day after buying the single from a music store during one of my visits to my sister’s apartment. I listened to it in her bedroom, showered by warm sunshine, excited like an archeologist uncovering a new hidden treasure that could change one’s world. And in a way it did for this fanboy, like every new Manics track at the time did.

It’s still ace.

And the lyrics are quite awesome in their complete abstractness. Do they make sense? Who cares!

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The yawning reality of regret

As far as I’m concerned, It’s All Gone is either about insomnia or the bliss of sleep. I mean yeah, the lyrics are pretty clear about how “sleep is the only thing that makes me forget” et cetera so the narrator obviously does get some sleep, but I don’t know, I’ve always felt it to be closer to sleep depravation. Praising something so common and ordinary as sleep as something almost divine and blissful thing that cures all problems sounds like the talk of a person who cannot sleep, or alternatively cannot rest easily due to the problems he has.

Regardless of which interpretation you go with, it’s completely supported by the crowning glory of It’s All Gone – the music. The deep, deep production with drum effects, constant keyboard textures, vocal echoes and a thick bassline straight from an abyss create an intensively strong atmosphere. It’s dreamy, it’s sleepy. It’s ethereal. It sounds like the world feels when you’ve been awake for so long that things start to blur and your thinking isn’t all that clear anymore. It’s musically the embodiment of sleep depravation so I suppose that’s where my ‘alternative interpretation’ comes from. Coupled with the fact that this is a very summery song to me because I first heard it during a very warm and sunny summer, it’s the soundtrack for the nights when the sun refuses to go down (a very Finnish phenomenon at least) and it’s too damn hot to sleep so you just roll awake on your bed.

In short, it’s again a track that shows how perfect an album that would have been created from the Forever Delayed sessions would have been. As it is now, it’s a brilliant b-side.

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Carries us together

Unstoppable Salvation is a prime example on how simple details can create surprisingly large results.

In its core, Unstoppable Salvation is a very simple song. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Lyrically it’s simple as well. The music stays fairly the same during the whole song: the thick bassline is the key element of the music, an acoustic guitar and drums support it and like with all the Forever Delayed era songs, there’s a heavy keyboard element on the song. If it was just all these, you’d have a nice song but nothing remarkable.

What makes Unstoppable Salvation so fantastic are the small changes. The chorus consists of two lines: “Carries us forever/Carries us together”. On the first time James sings the first line alone, with Nicky quietly adding his voice to the second line appropriately, and both lines are sung rather calmly. However, during the second chorus the lines are switched, Nicky joins in both of them and James sings them in a more yearning, lengthened way. Suddenly the whole mood is topsy-turned – from quiet contemplation to emotional release as they both shout out “carries us together” with a more passionate tone, finally confronting the final echo with a hearty “carries us forever”.

And then there’s the tiny musical details like the brilliant electric guitar lines that go their own way underneath all the other instruments, nearly unnoticably. Sean’s drumrolls at the end of the second verse launching the music into the chorus with a larger push.

Short, sweet, deceptively simple but utterly fantastic. One of my very favourite Manics b-sides.

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Be your truth

Originally written for the soundtrack of the abysmal Judge Dredd film (some of the bandmembers adored the original comic, even having a cameo in one issue), for some reason it didn’t end up being used and then Richey buggered off, after which the band were reborn creatively and another chapter of their thematically darkest hour was deemed to be best unused. Come 2003 and a b-sides collection, and suddenly it’s been given a rebirth. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

Judge Yr’self is such a bitch to slot into an era. It’s a remnant from the The Holy Bible days and fits stylistically there, yet it was practically re-recorded in 2002/2003 – which makes it a huge stylistic grind against the otherwise thematically similar Forever Delayed era (or post-Richey in general). Of course, if you’re not as anal about chronological b-side compilations as I am, all good.

The song itself? Very cool. It’s the band’s roughest, most brutal moment – three minutes of violent guitar riffage and angry sloganeering lyrics. James’ chorus shrieks are his most raging in the entire Manics history. The gap between the original conception of the song and the day it was re-recorded hasn’t made it jarring despite the band mellowing out quite a bit between Bible and Lipstick Traces.

Considering how long this was kept hidden, who knows what other gems you might find in the Manics archives?

While never released as a single, it still got a video that was first shown around the official website and later included on the Holy Bible 10th anniversary re-release’s DVD portion. It’s a clipshow, your mileage may vary.

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Happy Ending

This will be a new beginning

I wasn’t around Manics fan forums when this song was released so unfortunately I don’t know if this caused any sort of paranoia whether or not the band would quit after the Forever Delayed compilation. I recall reading somewhere that the band wrote it as a possible goodbye if they did decide to hang down their instruments but that day never came and the song was still released. Sod knows if it’s true cause I can’t remember where on earth I picked that tidbit from.

Happy Ending is the weakest of the Forever Delayed era songs, but that still pretty much places it into the “damn good” territory. My problem was always the chorus: the verse is great – I love the summery vibe it has (thanks to me getting the song during a warm sunny summer) and it’s got the sort of wonderful optimistic melancholy to it. The lyrics are good too. But the chorus feels a bit… too controlled. It sounds like it should have somewhat of a grand exit vibe to it, but it feels held down, like someone’s afraid to let it really soar. It sounds a bit wonky. It gets a bit better by the end as the lovely piano enters the scene but even still.

But it’s still a damn good song. And if the band really would have quit after this one, the final chorus lyrics would have made a great exit statement.

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