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Archive for the ‘B-sides’ Category

I’m swallowing flies and thick lead petrol

Kendon Hill is a steep hill in Wales, James’ birth country¬† and, as pointed out by dai in the comments, running up the hill was a frequent part of the training routine used by the boxers in the nearby boxing club. Which ties to Joe Calzaghe, namechecked in the lyrics, who is a Welsh boxer. Nothing of any interest seemed to have happened to him around 2006, the single’s release year: he retired in 2009 and before that had a successful career with a healthy amount of ups and downs, very standard to any regular sportsman. Reading the lyrics literally, Victory and Defeat seems like a song about jogging to the top of Kendon Hill, thinking one’s never going to make it to the top but finally succeeding in it after a long, exhausting ‘battle’ against the uphill path. Whether it’s in character, James comparing himself to one of the boxers in a metaphor sort of way or simply reliving some old memories is up in the air.

That’s about the most interesting thing in the song though. It’s a rocker that wouldn’t have gone amiss as a b-side on a Manics single, most of the sheen of its surrounding era taken away and relying more on the traditional rock trio of instruments. The lead guitar sound on the path that leads to the chorus is quite lovely and suffice to say, the chorus itself does lodge itself into one’s head in a pleasing way should you let it do so. The production’s a bit shoddy but I can’t say if it’s present on the original track or if it’s just the vinyl rip I have (thanks very much, vinyl only b-sides).

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Some newspaper, petrol and broken dreams are all that stands between you and me

It’s fairly common to title songs “x Blues” because there’s something old-fashionedly romantic in titling a song like that, even when the actual music has nothing to do with the ol’ blues. Silver Birch Bonfire Blues then, in a surprise twist, is a proper blues tune. Rugged, raw and entirely built of the traditional blues chugga-chugga.

You can sort of get the sense that by the time it came to recording the b-sides for his second solo single, James had already began to thirst to do something a bit different to the pop sensibilities of the album. Silver Birch Bonfire Blues could be an outtake from the Manics catalogue and is far more guitar-driven than most of the other tracks during the Great Western era. The production’s simple and modest and frankly, it fits the song perfectly. The fire burning in it doesn’t need fancy polishing.

My love for James’ guitaring once again gets some ground to prove itself before the final chorus, with the surprise solo placed in the song instead of the second half of the second verse. It may not brag much with technical skills but it sounds great.

Whether it’s because it’s such a stylistic stand-out from the rest of the era or because of it’s rather good (yet obvious b-side) quality, Silver Birch Bonfire Blues is a a minor standout nonetheless.

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It breaks my heart to see I’ve looked but never found

Good intro on this one. It’s dead simple and nothing particularly special I spose, just some infrequent guitar melodies, a steadily humming bass and eventually a simple drum pattern but there’s something peculiarly nice in it. It has a sort of classic track sound to it, instantly recognisable like the one of a hit single. Familiar in a very lovely way.

Lost Again itself doesn’t really reveal itself to be that sort of a classic track that the intro would signal but it’s a perfectly pleasant little rocker nonetheless. Has a nice energy to it and all. A bit of a nonentity and slightly forgettable but it’s not surprising to have your foot tap along the rhythm while it goes and such. James’ quick “no intervention!” in the chorus is the only truly memorable part outside the intro.

It pains me to be so nondescript about a song but it’s a very nondescript song. Bog standard enjoyable rocker.

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Some things you gave me I’ll take to the grave

Compared to the majority of Bradders’ solo works, Kodachrome Ghosts is relatively subdued. It lacks the flashy nature and is more comparable to a leisurely stroll through the town. It even lacks the lushness of the slower works on the Great Western period, being perfectly satisfied to chug along enjoyably.

Not that I have anything against more grounded, less flashier works – heavens no – but Kodachrome Ghosts is one of the more forgettable tracks in James’ solo catalogue. It strolls along rather pleasantly indeed and I’ve always liked the open hi hat beat that the song heavily uses throughout its length, and admittedly James’ falsetto in the chorus is swell and all, but it somewhat gets trampled under pretty much everything else. It’s one of the more obvious b-sides he’s got, in the sense that it’s a track with nothing wrong with it per se but which is still pretty audibly a discarded outtake that wasn’t good enough for a more public release.

I think the best bit of the song is actually the title. There’s something really interesting in it.

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Don’t wanna live in a golden age

FUN!

A lot of The Great Western era encapsules an element of fun and joy that rarely gets a spotlight in the Manics catalogue as James gets to let out his inner pop fan and relishes himself in cheery melodies and upbeat structures. I Never Wanted Sunshine is pretty much just that.

James may have never wanted sunshine but it’s what the song’s made of. It’s fairly simple and sweet rock-up that goes on with full throttle and bounces along without stopping. It’s always wonderful to hear an artist have genuine fun during the recording process and the joy here is infectious. Can you honestly say you can resist that massive urge to sing along to the chorus that hooks you up from the very first listen and get-go, or to the almost Arcade Fire-esque “woo-oo-oooh” finale?

The best thing is how engaged James himself sounds. He sounds like he’s having a real blast. That “c-c-c-c-c-c-cause” adlib is brilliant.

This energetic little romp should have been on the album instead of the few weaker cuts. It’s not a life-changing song but goddamn, it’s just feel-good fun. Definitely one of James’ best b-sides.

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Sing another song as long as the words won’t break your heart

One thing that really pleases me with James’ solo era is the lack of acoustic solo moments. Usually a song like this would end up being a stripped down strummer but for some reason James decided to abandon that easy b-side approach and actually flesh out all his material. Don’t Look Back has the structure and sound of the usual Bradders acoustic moment but the fact that it’s gained meat around its bones does it a world of good – it’s one of James’ best b-sides and one of those moments where you feel that the song was given absolute injustice when it was decided that it should be cast as an outtake rather than an album centrepiece.

There’s beautiful, blissful weariness to Don’t Look Back. It’s the closing moment of a long journey where the heroes reflect on the adventure behind them, give a silent moment to the ones who were lost on the way and take a look at the uncertain future looming in the distance. It’s not what the song is about (if anything, the rather nondescript, openly vague lyrics are the song’s only weaker point) but it’s the overall mood around it. James does his best bittersweet tenderness and once again goes to show that he has more charisma than most rock singers around.

It’s just such a sublime song. It’s not particularly original perhaps, musically somewhat obvious in its heartstring-grabbing intentions, but it achieves what it was set out to do bloody brilliantly. It rings gorgeously and regally around the space, sounding carefully anthemic and grand with a sense of intimacy. The middle eight is easily one of the best of the period.

The backing vocals are performed by Thorunn Antonia, of the now-gone Fields.

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The past isn’t done with you

The English Gentleman b-sides somewhat moved towards a more rocking direction and Days Slip Away isn’t an exception. In its heart it’s still the same melodic pop/rock as the majority of the Great Western era but the emphasis is shifted away from the backing vocals and somesuch while James riffs the guitar a bit more than in most of his solo tracks. Not everything’s changed – we’ve still got some handsome handclap action.

Days Slip Away has a strange sort of familiarity to it. It doesn’t remind me of any specific song but songs like these crop up fairly often from young guitar bands – as singles. And maybe it’s just my warped, fanboy-biased taste but I could see Days Slip Away work as an a-side: it has the right sort of drive to really work as a rock single, having it blast out from a car radio while speeding on the road, and so forth. The understatedly effective chorus works like a wonder with James’ falsetto sniper shot providing the big moment that the whole chorus revolves around.

If one were to create an EP out of Bradders’ b-sides, I’d probably choose Days Slip Away as its lead track.

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