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Archive for the ‘2006-2008’ Category

The Instrumental

You walk in straight lines

June Brides were a very short-lived band that nonetheless has managed to grab a foothold of some sort in musical history. In 2006 a tribute album called “Still Unravished” appeared, with our heroes appearing on it to cover the opener of the only album June Brides ever released, The Instrumental. Which, unlike the name suggests, isn’t actually an instrumental – the lyrics are short, brief and infrequent but they’re still there popping up at exactly the right places.

There isn’t much musical difference between the original and the Manics cover. The song stays essentially the same but with 80’s production values changed into Manics’ Lifeblood-style sheen. The song’s driven by its insistent bass riff and backed by an array of frantic guitar lines and chiming keyboard mats. The big difference is that where the original features a trumpet as its main melodic lead during the bridges (or verses or whatever you can call the parts between the lyrical sections), Manics choose to ignore that despite having a very capable trumpet player in their use – so most likely either Sean couldn’t be arsed to do it or thought it was too easy as a cover if they directly lifted that as well – and in its place you can find a freezing cold piano with a vaguely 80’s kind of sound. It gives the song some additional eeriness.

And eeriness is what the whole tune is about really, at least the Manics cover. On top of the already high atmospherics and the frantic guitar/bass work, you’ve got all the keyboard flourishes and punched-out pianos. It’s like an emotionally cold, stalkery brother of Lifeblood’s cold-surface-soft-exterior pop approach. The lyrics add to it – they’re very brief and rather vague, but their almost dismissive tone that’s almost as if to laugh at the subject of the song and the way the short four-line lyrics pop up out of thin air give them an additional force of impact.

One of those cases where you kinda wish the cover was an original by the band just because.

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Umbrella

When the sun shines we’ll shine together

Rihanna’s 2007 pop gorgeousness took the world by storm and proved out to be a gigantic surprise hit, even amongst the “serious music lovers” crowd who normally tends to sneer at chart fluff. Therefore, it soon became the du jour cover material of the year – countless cover versions appeared all around the net and live concerts by artists ranging from India Arie to My Chemical Romance, from faithful covers to postmodern acoustic covers that are so popular these days. By the time Manics announced they were going to join the crowd in early 2008 by recording a version of it for the NME Awards 2008 compilation album, covering the song had already become passé and an overdone gimmick and thus there was a lot of unhappy murmuring about the band trying to belatedly join the hip crowd and so forth.

Like so many times before, the band greeted their critics with a slap in the face and their version is the only one that actually somewhat rivals the original. The song’s still recognisably the same but turned into more of a rock format with the introduction of James’ guitar and band instruments in general, but keeps the ultra-hip scifistic sheen of the original with Tolerate-esque swooshes, slick production and the keyboard work. The band does what they do best and turn the song into a Big Sodding Anthem, with a chorus even more gigantic than in the original. And naturally, James roars through it with sheer force and relentless power. Hell, the bridge is far superior to the Rihanna original solely because of James’ vocals.

It’s rather fun how the song changes its mood by cranking up the rock anthem switch. While it’s always been a very uplifting song about vows to struggle through hardships and offering someone your sanctuary and protection in time of need, Rihanna’s relatively weak voice and therefore much more restrained singing style gives the song a colder, cooler atmosphere that’s very much enhanced by the ultra-slick synth work. The Manics version on the other hand becomes a gigantic stadium anthem that sings the song’s theme with pride and jubilance.

One of their best covers.

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But all the love that you showed never had the chance to grow

More Nicky solo tracks under the official Manics guise. The Long Goodbye is pretty much like every other Nicky track ever since I Killed the Zeitgeist – acoustic guitar driven, simply structured rock song. Unfortunately his post-Zeitgeist songs tend to forget the fragile, messy “I can’t sing and I’m not really a solo musician but here I am” strength-in-flaws quality of his album and simply end up as run-of-the-mill b-side fodder that do not really have anything worth remembering in them.

It’s actually quite sad because I genuinely like Nicky’s voice, fucked as it is, and his solo album had some really great stuff in it. Shame that ever after that quick emotional purge he seems to have forgotten the special touch he had on that album.

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So detached from all we see

It really gets clear with the Indian Summer b-sides that the band got some brand new inspiration to music after the factory line Send Away the Tigers. Heyday of the Blood isn’t a grand b-side standout or anything, I wouldn’t include it in a compilation with a limited track selection, but there’s so much more idea and conviction in this than many of the album tracks. And it’s hilariously backing an A Design for Life re-write.

Heyday’s got a good kicking chorus, call-and-answer parts are always fun and I do like the handclaps. The loud and storming acoustic guitar is a pretty fun addition to the Manics rock song format. It’s perfectly enjoyable and it’s one of the better Send Away the Tigers b-sides but it’s not that huge of a thing in the end. It doesn’t have much of anything really special to it. Lacks the big oomph, the x factor.

So what b-sides tend to be, then. Shame we’re talking about the best b-side band around but still.

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I’ll bring the book and you’ll give it a title

I think it’s about time we give some props to Sean Moore. Not only is he a great drummer with a sense of style as well as having a wonderfully dry and sardonic wit, the man’s a great songwriter.

Not many are mentioned, but it’s known that Sean contributes quite a bit to the band’s back catalogue and not just in the terms of drumming. Welcome to the Dead Zone for example has been described by the band as Sean’s track. Sean boy, you’ve just created one of the greatest songs of the SATT era. If not the very greatest.

Let’s forget the few lyrical missteps (although the majority of the lyrics are quite good), Welcome to the Dead Zone is pure gold in every other way. At the same time both personal and downstated as well as epic, this wonderful chilled anthem surrounds itself with glistening guitar lines while James shows why he’s one of the best vocalists around. Oooh, and that wonderful one-note piano glimmer before the chorus – a stupidly simple musical detail used right at its finest. There is something very beautiful and pure in this song.

To be honest, even if you overlook my distorted sense of great singles, Welcome to the Dead Zone would have been the sort of massive hit song the band were looking for during Send Away the Tigers. And then it got relocated as a b-side. Uh.

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Put the feeling back in your sad eyes

You know the second disc of Lipstick Traces? The one with all the covers. That disc was full of short (under three minutes) quick guitar rockers, the band covering their sources of inspiration on stage and in studio. It had some other sorts of things too but it had a lot of those short rockers.

Little Girl Lost reminds me of those covers. It lasts for two minutes and 14 seconds and for that duration it just quickly guitar-rocks its way. It could have been on that disc and no one would have noticed that it was actually a Manics original.

Outside that anecdote, take it however you will, it’s not a particularly memorable track that you can much talk about. Alright 2 minutes but that’s about it.

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Sleep through the queen’s speech cause it means nothing to me

The moment the Manics snapped. Or something.

Manics are known as a very serious band, all that politics ranting and self-cutting missing persons and anthems about serious topics and what have you. And sure enough, musically the band’s pretty serious. There’s a few off-tangent moments here and there (Miss Europa Disco Dancer for one) that show the band being a bit more tongue-in-cheek in the studio and extending their dry wit and occasional desire to goof off a bit further, but I’m sure no one was expecting what was coming out of the digital christmas wrapper when the band announced Ghost of Christmas and offered it as a free download in Christmas 2007.

Despite the eery title and the slightly pessimistic lyrics drenched in nostalgia of times long gone (no idea if that chorus is supposed to be that the ghost of christmas has gone or come), Ghost of Christmas is made of cheese. What do you expect, it’s a Christmas song. It’s good cheese though, none of that liquid factory crap you spurt from a tube or the smelly white shit you eat because you want to feel posh, but the proper yellow stuff you proudly put on your sandwich and eat with pleasure. A saxophone and sleigh bells make appearances, some Christmas bells show up in all their cheesy glory, there’s a “Merry Xmas Everybody” vibe going on throughout the song and everything just feels so warm and cozy. The rather mechanical Send Away the Tigers period closes off with a song that’s pure heart and glee. Sure the band will probably feel stupidly embarrased about it one day but it’s the good kind of embarrasement. It’s a goofy track for homely Christmas days.

It’s got a big, big heart.

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