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Democracy has sure made a fool out of me

One of Rewind the Film’s shortest chapters is also one of its best, and definitely one of the most interesting. There’s very little else like it in the Manics back catalogue. James’ short acoustic loop is covered by a bright and piercing celeste melody (a Manics first, I think) and driven by a persistent foot-tapping beat, but otherwise it’s borderline minimalist, a skeleton of a song that still sounds busier than some of its more fleshed out counterparts on the album. The guitar and the celeste together create a disjointed, clockwork-esque melody, which is strangely lullaby-like and gives the song a surreal and slightly foreboding feel. There’s an uneasiness to the song that cuts through it, like it’s constantly on the edge of its seat as it pushes forward.

Towards the end “Builder of Routines” breaks its own routine and gets majestic: James ramps up the intensity in his vocals before a gorgeous French horn appears and lays down a brief lament as the song begins to wind down. It’s a grand finale without actually sounding gigantic; the moment where the song finally lets go of its tension and opens up its wings before fading into its end, which is something both oddly triumphant as well as poignantly wistful. It’s a brief moment but one of the most arresting ones on the album, a gorgeous end to a curious song that keeps offering surprises even though it’s a short, simple thing.

Lyrically, as is clear from the title, “Builder of Routines” falls in line with Wire’s history of praising boredom and the familiar, the melancholy comfort of sticking with the mundane and the familiar as a way to build a protective bubble from the world. The difference is that for once, there’s none of the dry, self-depreciative humour of the past songs. “Builder of Routines” sounds like the confession of a defeated man that has told himself he finds solace in routines that he’s started to believe it. It has an emotional impact that builds up as the song goes along until it finally unfurls in a passive-aggressive rage in the climax. It’s effective – even if I can never unhear James singing about lemonading himself.

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There is too much heartbreak / In the nothing of the now

If we go along with the common assumption that the album title track is meant to be the most representative of the album, let’s dissect Rewind the Film’s title track from that point of view.

“Rewind the Film” – the song – was released as the first preview of the album, not as a single as such but a promotional treat of things to come. At this point in time, Manics having set on a lane of predictability was a given fact and no one believed the band when they said they’d ditch the radio-friendly guitar rockers if Postcards from the Young Man didn’t take off. “Rewind the Film”, the song, was the first real signifier that there were actual winds of change coming. They presented a six-minute song where it takes half the song before James’ vocals appear, where his typical guitar mannerisms are nowhere to be found and the tone is far removed from any stadium singalongs – for once, the Manics had actually kept a promise of theirs and while proving the point by releasing the title track first was probably the most obvious thing to do, they needed to prove that point.

Going further into the music aspect, “Rewind the Film” is an appropriate microcosm of the album too. The tenet of making an acoustic album without forgetting all the other instruments in the world is clearly present, and in an intriguing way – much of the backing track is a re-performed interpolation of David Axelrod’s “A Little Girl Lost” (the title already referenced by Manics in the past), and the demo in fact features the sample directly, layered slightly haphazardly under the Manics instrumental. It’s a beautiful, cinematic miniature epic that brings together an intimate, acoustic lament and a score that sounds like a spaghetti western by way of Welsh valleys.

Lyrically, too, the title track is an apt representation of the album’s themes: Wire’s fears of growing older, his disillusionment over where he is now and the anxieties surrounding both. Rewind the Film is almost a cry for help in the form of nostalgic longing for simpler, more easily fulfilled days. Rewind the film back to the good old times of the world being smaller and your bedroom radio being able to fill all of it with blissful sound. What’s arguably more significant though is who sings the lyrics. Around the time of the album James confessed he was bored of his own vocals and both Rewind the Film and Futurology are partly defined by their heavy amount of guest vocals – and once again, the title track points this out. Richard Hawley does his job well – he’s got a good voice and it suits the song. And yet, funnily enough, out of all the guest features on Rewind the Film he’s the one that leaves the least impression behind. Nothing to do with his own talent per se, but the contrast between his singing and Manics material just isn’t particularly exciting and if anything, he sounds like a good singer doing Manics karaoke. It’s also strange hearing Wire’s introspection through the voice of an “outsider”, which further pulls you away from the full deal. All the guest singers across Rewind the Film and Futurology suffer from this to varying extents, but it’s most noticeable in Hawley’s performance because it’s not worlds away from James’ own, at which point it comes off like a strange substitute rather than a new vocal point of view. In the demo the verses are sung by Wire and it works far more naturally even if it’s less graceful, and the juxtaposition with James in the choruses is excellent. James of course sounds great – he may have been bored of his voice, but he proves so well that he’s the best fit for Wire’s lyrics and his own songwriting.

Rewind the Film received a promo clip that’s largely a visual mood piece, an accompanying set of visuals of Welsh countryside and the band’s old locales that hammer in the point about yearning back to the roots (also, old people playing bingo). It’s an extension of the minimalistically scenic album cover – and once again, manages to represent the whole. “Rewind the Film” is a great song full of emotion, pathos and strong melodies, but the way it weaves all of the project’s multitude of themes together is arguably the most impressive thing about it. It absolutely nails the concept of the album and becomes the heart of it, even if it appears relatively early in the tracklist – and it delivers a great song while doing it, even if I probably would’ve been happier without Hawley in it.

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We may write in English / But our truth remains in Wales

If Rewind the Film’s opening track sung about Wire’s sullen Welsh heart, on the album’s lead single that same heart is filled with national pride.

That’s really just an undercurrent in the song but there’s definitely a sense of optimisticshowmethewonder defiance running through the veins of “Show Me the Wonder”. It’s the most overtly upbeat song on its parent album and it’s not miles away from the band’s more stadium-friendly moments; however, Rewind the Film’s intentional stripping back turns it into something more living room sized and a bit of a 70s MOR throwback. The band themselves namechecked Elvis in Vegas as the main vibe for the song and there’s an audible lineage there, with the big, bolsterous choruses accented by some lush horn sections. The band sound so into it as well: there’s a bit of cheesiness to hit but the soul of the song sounds thoroughly genuine and the joy it radiates with is honest positivity. It’s still far more Blackwood than it is Vegas in execution though.

The positive feel arguably landed it the lead single slot, deceiving as it may have been in regards to the rest of the album. For an album obsessed about looking back and contemplating on years gone, “Show Me the Wonder” celebrates them – whether it’s expressing national pride in the band’s geographic roots or love for the wonder of experiences you find through life. When the song hits its choruses it downright bursts into the kind of positivity you very rarely hear in a Manics song. It’s those same choruses that let the song down however: they’re a bit of a one-note pounder where the band hammers you down with the melodic hook until you submit. They are in awkward contrast to the sublime verses where the song really shines. Those verses are a mix of wistfulness and pride, warm-hearted nostalgia and hope for the future, and they’re executed with a grace and delicacy that makes parts of them surprisingly and enduringly touching, which then crumbles away as soon as the chorus appears. It doesn’t quite break the song but there’s such a world of a difference between its structural building blocks that I’m still not entirely sure where exactly I stand with the song as a whole.

But it was an obvious choice for a single, and it gave us one of the few memorable videos of the latter-year Manics videography. The 70s comparisons the band raised at the time more than likely gave way to the video concept, where two young lovers meet in a community club in Wales in the 1970s. It’s a decent video with a little bit more effort put into it than most Manics videos from around mid-00s onwards, but the absolute best part of it that makes it all the more glorious is the ridiculous set of 70s accessories the band wear to fit in with the decade, most gorgeously James’ sideburns and Sean’s moustache. Iconic.

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I don’t want my children to grow up like me

The Manics traditionally like to open their albums with a bang (even “The Everlasting” grew to anthemic heights from its quiet first notes) but “This Sullen Welsh Heart” signals where Rewind the Film is heading. Its arrangement is sparse but its significance as an opening track for this very particular album is grand. Rewind the Film was touted as the band’s long-coming acoustic album, and what better way to make that known than a quiet, acoustic mood piece, but it’s not just that. Rewind the Film follows the band’s extended period of attempted commercial revitalisation and in particular the pomp and bombast of Postcards from a Young Man, their “last shot” at mass communication. The return to charts wasn’t particularly successful but it was easy to be sceptical whether this really was a tide-turning moment, given the band’s reputation as a frequent promise-breaker. “This Sullen Welsh Heart” isn’t just an atypically quiet opener: it also acts as the fulfilment of the promise to chase after commercially ready rock anthems.

It’s funny how something so stripped down can sound so much more rejuvenated than the majestic overtones of the directly preceding material. “This Sullen Welsh Heart” is alarmingly earnest and introspective, with none of the literary referencing or grand attempts of emotion that Send Away the Tigers and Postcards from the Young Man tried to go back to. James softly croons Wire’s honest dark night of the soul, with its adult fears and disillusionment, and breaks apart the rock n roll sheen that surrounded its preceding albums. The direct emotional tone is refreshing, the earnestness encouraging. The song has also got a directly musical sense of rejuvenation. The acoustic cuts from the band’s past handful of preceding years bore little of the impact they used to: here James once again sounds like he means it and manages to turn the song something unique in the band’s catalogue.

It’s a simple song but each element is executed perfectly. James’ voice is on point, the melody is straightforward but strong, the light organ in the background (the only other instrument besides the guitar) brings a nice atmospheric touch and Wire’s lyrics have gone back on form (once again proving that he is at his best when at his most introspective). Lucy Rose’s backing vocals are a lovely addition and they compliment James’ perfectly (and if for some reason you’re not fond of them, the musically largely identical demo on the album bonus disc doesn’t contain them).

There’s a lot of symbolic and emotional importance within the sparse notes of “This Sullen Welsh Heart” but most importantly it’s powerful in its own right – it’s a beautiful, atmospheric piece of warm melancholy that grows to be one of the album’s most pivotal moments even when it’s as unassuming as it is.

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Despite the fact that I’ve been laying low for eons with this, the blog hasn’t been abandoned. What will be coming in the upcoming months:

  • James Dean Bradfield solo material to be added to the site. I thought it was only fitting to also touch upon the solo projects by the band. This is now in progress and babbles about all his solo material so far will be released in the next 2-3 days.
  • Similarly, Nicky Wire’s solo material will eventually end up here. Cannot say when.
  • Naturally, the new album is out soon and talking about its songs and its b-sides will appear here eventually.
  • And maybe one day I’ll finish the covers and early demos. Not that they’re particularly interesting.

Thanks for your continued interest.

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