Posted in 2009, tagged b-side on May 27, 2013|
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I feel the love within me / And love can’t be removed
I’ve debated for a while whether to include this here or not as I’ve wanted to keep this list limited to the band’s official studio releases, and when this was originally released it was noted down as a demo. It’s however really hard to view it as one – the sound quality, composition and production are far from the band’s usual demos. So without much further ado, it now finds a place here as it’s more or less a fully-fledged Manics track.
That said, it is in fact a Shirley Bassey track. The legendary Welsh singer’s 2009 comeback album The Performance featured songs written by a number of contemporary artists, and “The Girl from Tiger Bay” was Manics’ contribution. While written for Bassey, and about Bassey, it doesn’t really move itself away from Manics’ safe zone; in fact, after Journal for Plague Lovers this could be seen as a precursor to Postcards from a Young Man as it carries much the same sound and feel. It’s a swooping orchestral rock track in exactly the vein you’d expect to come from James Dean Bradfield’s hands, to the point that the Shirley Bassey version never really feels like it’s actually hers. It’s probably its Manics-ness that lead to the release of Manics’ own version (free on the band’s website at the time); something that any of the other songs Manics have written for other artists have never gotten.
While not even thinking about reinventing the wheel and certainly not a important hidden rarity, “The Girl from Tiger Bay” has the feel of a timeless classic, even if not the strength of one – it’s clear that the idea was to write something befitting for a respected artist full of style and class. Wire’s lyrics, offering his interpretation of Bassey’s mindset at her old age, aren’t bad either even though it’s the first time he’s tried to write from the viewpoint of someone else. It’s overall rather enjoyable and would have slotted fairly effortlessly somewhere within Postcards or its b-sides.
The Bassey version’s main difference outside her vocals is the added orchestra behind the track, replacing the faintly audible synth strings on the Manics version. Otherwise they’re more or less identical.
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The origins of this song date back to all the way around somewhere around the Gold Against the Soul, intended to be on that album. It never did appear there and then all of a sudden it made a random appearance as one of the Japanese bonus tracks for Journal for Plague Lovers. T’was another previously mentioned Richey lyric and naturally there was some excitement in the air to ‘unearth’ something that was known before but never heard.
And then in a complete shock-twist, it turns out it’s an instrumental.
According to the band, the actual lyrics to Alien Orders/Invisible Armies are ridiculously short, almost like a haiku. Despite not being strangers to the tradition of repeating the same lyrics throughout the song (a sad trend even found in several places on Journal for Plague Lovers itself), for one reason or another the song was scrapped from the idea pile of what to include on the album. They decided to use the title however for one of their instrumental workouts.
Alien Orders/Invisible Armies is a different sort of instrumental to the Manics instrumental canon. All the previous ones have taken stylistic steps away from the band’s general style, be it the lounginess of Horses Under Starlight or ambientish Untitled Instrumental. At the same time, each song has sound like they were clearly designed to be instrumentals from the very start. Alien Orders differs on both accounts: it could stylistically easily fit on its parent album, and it’s the only Manics instrumental so far that desperately sounds like it needs lyrics. It doesn’t sound self-contained, it sounds like someone simply forgot to mix in the vocals. It’s more bothersome than you would think.
Ignoring that, Alien Orders is musically quite good. It’s got oddly bright and sharp, almost metallic, sounds in its percussion that lends it an odd tone – somewhere between synthetic and ‘organic’. The verse pushes on with force with a rather viciously nice guitar riff from James but oh man the chorus. Things calm down, keyboards flare up, James’ guitar starts doing this weird, heavily processed slow riff that sounds like heavily processed vocals in falsetto going “na na na na” which is awesome. The ending is a bit lackluster and sudden which is a bit meh but damn, there’s some nifty instrumental bits here.
Shame that it still sounds like half a song. There’s a weird emptiness to it because it sounds exactly like it should have singing to it but it was removed. It’s a damn good instrumental but that one thing never stops bothering the mind when listening to it.
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