Sometimes justice can be sweet and so pure
If you look at Inky Fingers musically, it’s not particularly interesting. There’s very little in terms of hooks or anything to grab onto, and it’s another victim of the Manics’ recent desire to cut b-sides abrupt almost as if they cannot be bothered to spend time on them anymore. A stereotypical single bonus track, then. Nor is there anything eye-catching in the lyrics either, it’s more of Wire’s somewhat awkward political criticism.
But the sound of the song is one of the more interesting ones in the past handful of years for the band. While the band’s been spicing up their music with some electronic features in the past, nothing’s really sounded similar to this. The song is entirely carried by a soft, minimal electronic beat on top of which a big fat bass riff strums a more hard-hitting rhythm. All the other sound elements that go with them – which aren’t many – follow similar whimsical routes. It’s atypically quirky and absolutely fascinating. The mood follows a similar route: despite the lightweight tone of many of the elements and almost upbeat vocal melodies, the atmosphere of the song is very tense and almost a bit warped. A menacing prowl disguised as something more innocent.
In the end it doesn’t lift the song far higher than “interesting b-side” status because it lacks a strong tune and suffers from abruptenditus, but it’s certainly a strong curio.
Wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of Nicky’s.
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I won’t cheer those sad refrains anymore
In all honesty, there’s little of anything special to mention on The Passing Show. It’s a short, simple and very straightforward song – a mid-tempo, acoustic-driven little thing that doesn’t show off with any instrumental or structural quirks. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, finish and that’s it, with no fuss. It’s not really even worth it to mention it’s a Nicky-lead song because in the gallery of Nicky songs, it’s also a bit unspecial and not attempting to really establish anything extravagant that stands out. It has a certain weariness to it that makes it sound somewhat personal but even that’s not really a large enough factor in the song. It’s just a song.
But it’s a good song. It doesn’t attempt to do anything particularly ear-catching or special, but it doesn’t need to either. It’s an enjoyable little ditty and that’s all it wants to be. It’s pleasant and surprisingly catchy; it’s one of those songs you find yourself repeating not because of any “this is a TUNE!!!” reactions but moreso simply because it was such a pleasant little thing that you might as well give it another whirl (or several) if there’s nothing else in the queue.
The main point of intrigue arguably is the final set of lyrics that seem completely detached from the “can’t stop us now” sentiment of the rest of the song. For a band that’s always loudly criticised all sorts of governmental establishments and had a bit of a rebel attitude in the political view of things, it’s fairly surprising to hear Wire proclaim that he’s always believed in high taxation and he’s never been bitter or blamed the tax-man. It’s a sentiment that’s intriguingly peaceful and at ease compared to some of the political statements that’s come from the man’s writing pen in the past.
Apparently this song is a tribute to Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces.
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The hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself
A song where all the melodic tendencies of the band have been allowed to frolic freely and dominate the music. There’s no hard edges, no rock guitars, no raising anthemic qualities – just soft, lush melodies layered on top of eachother and set to a mid-tempo shuffle. It’s hard to state with words just how gorgeous it sounds: the piano that acts as the headlining star of the song is arguably the most elegant piano part in Manics history and the whole song moves with suave class and effortless beauty.
It’s also short as hell, in a typical modern Manics fashion, but it’s a rare case (for this band’s current trends) of the shortness not feeling completely abrupt. The song runs for little under three minutes but in that time we’re not only treated to the usual verses and choruses but even an instrumental section (a rather refined, subdued guitar solo) and a lyrical middle section. The final half-length chorus does give the feeling that the band panicked as they saw the three-minute barrier approaching but the song is still actually closed rather than awkwardly stopped on its tracks like many recent b-sides. This time the song is short simply because it doesn’t need to go any longer.
You’d love it to go on though. Kiss My Eyes for Eternity is a delightful gem, a lovely warm breeze of fresh air that showcases just how great a melodic ear Bradfield has. It’s a gorgeous song, in fact, and one of the best Postcards-era bonus tracks no doubt.
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Unlocking your true potential
Somewhat surprisingly, Nicky Wire seems to have become the embodiment of the element of surprise in the Manics these days. Once the guy who self-degraded his musical abilities with every chance he could get and who sometimes left the recording of his chosen instrument to James’ hands, ever since creating his solo album and then subsequently writing the band’s biggest hit in the recent years with Your Love Alone Is Not Enough Wire’s started to offer his writing pen to the Manics’ music more and more and the results have been staggeringly good, and acts as the member who’s most interested in thinking outside the usual box.
And then we get these. I’m tempted to say ‘as a flipside to that’ or prefacing a sentence or paragraph with ‘unfortunately’, but it’d feel like a lie despite that I find it hard to actually find a praising word for Engage With Your Shadow either. It is the first Manics song I’ve heard that has left me completely baffled. It is… what it is.
And what it is is Wire croaking some form of an incoherent anti-technology(!?) rant (complete with repetetive mantras that make sure the words ‘engage with your shadow’ and ‘unlocking your true potential’ are forever imprinted to your mind) over a hard-hitting, monotonous electronic beat and dischordant guitar noise, for three and a half minutes. Which doesn’t read like a long length but sounds far longer than it actually is when you’re faced with a song that sounds this confrontational. It’s almost as if Wire knew that this was going to get a dodgy reputation among the fans (already regarded as one of the worst songs put out under the Manics name!) and decided to just up the ante of the song for additional laughs. It’s not abrasive, experimental or in any way anything any music fan of today hasn’t heard before – it simply sounds like all it wants to do is be a nuisance and something you can hate and it’s loving it.
But as I said, I’m baffled. I’m not hating it. I’m not liking it either. It’s not mediocre. It’s… something else. It just is. It always jumps out like a sharp nail when it appears on the tracklist or shuffle, but it’s oddly compelling to listen. Almost hypnotic.
It’s Engage With Your Shadow.
As a final note, the sequencing on the Postcards From the Young Man single issue this is on is ingeniusly done as the music moves from this to the extremely melodic and warm Kiss My Eyes for Eternity.
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Time keeps us beneath while autumn sheds its leaves
There is an element of unearthing a treasure from underneath the sands of history with Midnight Sun. It may have been released as a single b-side in early 2011, but its origin is ten years before that – written and recorded during the Know Your Enemy sessions or ones succeeding it for its single b-sides, but then lost in the archives for whatever reason. The KYE sessions were a hotbed of mad creativity with no idea left unused and being a bit of a fanboy for that era, excitement for it was rife. Especially when it was found out that the version of Midnight Sun on the b-side of the Postcards single is the original 2001 recording rather than a remake.
The thing is, we’re dealing with a band who rarely leaves anything to the archives. The Manics are workaholics and love to release what they record, filling each of their singles with several b-sides even during a time when most bands have abandoned the entire concept of a single altogether. The KYE era especially was a time of the ‘anything goes’ ideology, as witnessed by the… eclectic nature of the songs recorded during that era. Unlike a lot of acts who make it clear that not everything survives through the recording sessions, Manics have been a very open band about what they’re doing and while the fans know of a lot of songs that only exist as names, we also know those never made it past the demo stage. So how come Midnight Sun was simply ‘lost’?
Listening to the track, it’s fairly obvious – Midnight Sun sounds unfinished. It’s a fully-fledged and fully-formed song in its own right, but lacks the finishing touch. Its recording is somewhat stuffy and muddled. It’s not a demo but it also sounds like the band stopped working on it before the process was finished and in the aftermath, the song was shelved. Why it got resurrected now, who knows.
That said, it still has an element of the magic of its era. The band sounds more relaxed, James’ vocal delivery is more effortless rather than rock-shouty even during the song’s calmly high-reaching chorus and, as a meaner point, it’s actually a finished song with a full lyric and musical progression rather than the repeated verses and abrupt endings of a lot of modern Manics b-sides. And it’s not a bad song in general – it has a nicely weary atmosphere, the organ of the choruses is genuinely fantastic and overall it’s an enjoyable song, albeit far from the general high quality of the era it belongs to. It carries the feeling of lacking the final touch, that extra polish that would take it one step further. It’s a bit of an odd one – and maybe it being a bit of an odd one was the reason it got initially shelved.
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The pictures on my wall are fading
The recording of this most likely had something to do with the band looking into their past, caving into fan wishes and playing some Lifeblood in the form of Empty Souls on a handful of their Postcards tour gigs (until apparently Sean had a stroppy and refused to play it any longer). The two songs share definite similarities: the stomping beat isn’t unique to the two songs in the Manics catalogue, but its crisp and clear sounds of Broken Up Again’s drums are a surefire flashback to the Lifeblood standout, and the atmospheric keyboard part accompanying it is a sound unlike anything the band’s used in their songs since, well, Lifeblood era (bar a few high-caliber rarities like Untitled Instrumental).
That said, Empty Souls #2 it isn’t. Outside its verses it’s a wistful rock belter, loaded with Wire’s introspectivity and some impressively good instrumental parts throughout. I say impressively because Broken Up Again doesn’t sound like a b-side, it could belong on an album of its own. The band keeps saying that they’re bringing back their anthemic rock side but occupies itself with all sorts of garnish and extra mass-pleasing tools on their album (to a mostly good effect, mind you) and sometimes forgets the direct life-filled, heartfelt power in favour of pretty pop hooks. Not to dismiss those but it’s songs like these that really make the band sound invigorated. That chorus, guitar riff and all, is classic Manics.
I can’t stress this enough that I really do like Postcards and modern Manics in general (the other entries here can prove to that), but probably the best thing in the Postcards era is hearing b-sides like this again – strong, memorable tracks that sound like A-sides, just like the band used to churn out all the time as single bonuses.
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So much to write but not much to say
There’s been a surge of increase with acoustic James solo spots in the Manics’ recorded catalogue over the past five years. There’s no denying that a lot of those moments are strong, intimate displays of James’ talents and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the approach. But whilst each of James’ solo spots felt special in the past, the current stream of them is starting to take its toll: it’s getting hard to really distinguish these from one another.
Sure, they’ve all often got their own sound gimmicks – in the case of Slow Reflections it’s the occasional electric guitar backing the acoustic. But it’s not enough to disguise the feel that you’ve heard this song already several times during the recent years. Slow Reflections is pleasant and certainly listenable, I’ll give it that. Lyrically it’s excellent even and shows that Wire’s back on track after the slight embarrasements of the past handful of years. But as much as you can mention positive things about it, it simply doesn’t stand out or really act like it’s anything other than some quick single filler. It’s a pleasant James spot but it doesn’t really offer any part of its own that would make it rise above all the other James spots. It’s indistinguishable.
Just can’t help but feel that despite being able to enjoy it, the song feels a bit like a waste of a good lyric and great title.
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