Tennessee

Tennessee: 2/Okay

One of several tracks from Generation Terrorists which could easily have been cut or replaced. This one simply feels like another directionless rock song, and while there are plenty of good lyrical moments, the only truly worthwhile moment is the great ‘his pain forgets her agony’ middle section. Everything else feels too basic and lacks the emotion, invention, and raw power of the better tracks. The band recorded this as a B-Side to Suicide Alley long before Generation Terrorists, a more loose and punky version but still not very interesting.

Misheard Lyrics: Tennesse not some zip code law

Actual Lyrics: Tennessee nights just zip-code love

To Repel Ghosts

To Repel Ghosts: 4/Great

Another terrific song from Lifeblood which expertly welds together the guitar based rock sound of yore and the more experimental electronic sound (of more?). Filled with glorious harmonic touches which feel at once Christmasy, ghostly, and warm, the chorus is one which soars effortlessly and is served by yearning, haunting verses. Again the melodies hide the lack of lyrical depth, meaning we latch onto the strong lines rather than the repeated ones or uneventful ones. With wonderful production filled with lots of lovely little moments, it raises the tempo and energy of the album and hides a multitude of treats which are only uncovered on repeated listens.

Misheard Lyrics: And unsire Bamford’s lies (?)/ and run, sigh, and run for lives (?)/ and outside blindfold lies

Actual Lyrics: And untie our blindfold eyes

Australia

Australia: 4/Great

The band at their most shamelessly commercial, their most joy-filled musically, and sounding like they love every minute of it. Quite where songs like this came from after The Holy Bible remains a mystery – perhaps the only way was up, in desperate need of some light, some poppy, peppy melodies that could crack apart the darkest thought. One of the band’s finest, most recognisable riffs, a stadium-tearing chorus, and brilliant verse melodies and simple lyrics for even the most distant fan to latch on to, the song’s content may sound joyous but of course there is a darker core, with Wire writing the song not as an ode to the spider-filled, murderous continent, but as a desire to escape his home and the memories it had become infected with – simply to get away, to be free from everything, and live a kind of non-life for a while. Meaning behind, it remains a wonderful song to bounce around too, filled with warm harmonies and immediately infectious.

Misheard Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m air.

2. I’ve been before much too long/I’ve been defiled much too long.

3. I want to fight and run.

4. Slip for a while.

Actual Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m ill.

2: I’ve been here for much too long.

3. I want to fly and run.

4. Sleep for a while.

This Is The Day

This Is The Day: 2/Okay

In honour of the release of their latest Greatest Hits compilation National Treasures the band recorded this authentic, yet humdrum cover of a song by The The. It’s telling when the video of a song gets more interest, given that it has many shots of the band’s younger days and acts as a nice visual representation of the lyrics and where the band was at the time. The song is a bit of a non-event though, a mixture of bland synth and light guitars. Bradfield does an okay job with the vocal, and while the song feels apt and while the chorus tries to be an anthem, it all feels far too plain and average. Its sound doesn’t hint at what was to come next, nor does it recall a particular sound in the band’s past. I’ve listened to it many times now, but I still struggle to remember much about it a few minutes later. Oh yes – the original is terrible.

Facing Page Top Left

Facing Page: Top Left: 3/Good

One of the softer, more acoustic based songs from Journal For Plague Lovers is also one of the weakest. It’s still a good song, with a lovely, tender mix of harp and guitar that recalls Small Black Flowers, but it feels too light, too much like an outtake, and while the lyrics are as cutting and brilliant as you would expect, neither the verse or chorus have the melodic impact of other songs on the album. It’s short though and doesn’t fall into the trap of needless repetition, simply comes in, does its job, and fades away as if it was never there in the first place.

Misheard Lyrics: Clean fashion lines

2. This beauty is dipping neon phobia?

3. Here is oblivion babe does it rest/Here is oblivion babe that’s it wrecked.

4. Mutually discolour

5. Sugar pills – the lack of healing

6. Fragrance my ass caught up no meaning

Actual Lyrics: Clean flesh and lines

2. This beauty here dipping neophobia

3. Here is oblivion bathed acid red

4. Mute oily discolour

5. Sugar pills the flak of healing

6. Fragrance my escort of no meaning

Litany

Litany: 3/Good

Another sleepy, piano led B-side from the Lifeblood sessions, and another one which succeeds thanks to poignant melodies which catch hold and don’t let go. James is still singing in that careless manner where you don’t know if he is creating a genuine mood of disinterest for art’s sake, or if he seriously doesn’t want to be there. Even with that approach he still manages a few golden moments outside of the melodies – the high note in the chorus being particularly notable. Lyrically there is still a tonne of repetition but what remains careers between standard fare and the odd moment of clarity. There is a more guitar leaning sound as the song continues, becoming almost like something from U2 towards the end, moving away from the synthetic nature of the majority of the album tracks.

Everything Will Be

Everything Will Be: 4/Great

One of my very favourite Lifeblood era B-sides, Everything Will Be has all the hallmarks of the lack of inspiration which Wire was suffering at the time – childlike, basic lyrics spun on repeat, and a very simple musical approach that seems like it was thrown together in a few minutes. Why the love then? It’s the melodies again, and the emotion behind them – that coldness which permeates so much of the era is blown up to the max here, the scratching lead guitar riff sounds heavenly and pained, there is a lot of empty space between the notes and sections with jarring pauses and sudden interruptions. But it’s the vocals melodies that make this so strong for me, a glorious chorus that extends its reach far beyond what is expected, and served by a detached verse where Bradfield sighs his way through the silly lyrics as if he has given up completely.

Misheard Lyrics: Torn between walls/still makes us carry on

2. Your sleepy eyes can no longer care

Actual Lyrics: Torn between what still makes us carry on

2. Your sleepy head can no longer care

Rendition

Rendition: 3/Good

A neat little punk quickie with flamboyant performance from Bradfield, thunderous drums, and some amusing lyrics. It’s all very catchy too, with the verse taking the most points but with a chorus which still does a fine job. It’s not going to change anyone’s world, but it’s a good, quick, impactful rocker that gets to the point without excess and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Misheard Lyrics: All the animals I’m missing/All the animals are missing

2. Another moment of Japan and sorrow/Another moment of general sorrow

Actual Lyrics: All the emeralds that are missing

2. And at the moment I’m jumping at sorrow

There By The Grace Of God

There By The Grace Of God: 3/Good

Between the release of Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood, the Manics were busy looking back and planning ahead, releasing two compilation albums – the greatest hits Forever Delayed and the collection of B-sides and rarities Lipstick Traces. Rather than simply chuck out these releases as a stop gap, the band recorded a number of new songs, led by this single which would hint at the sound of the coming album. While there had been dabbling of experimental electronic sounds previously, There By The Grace of God is the first true embracing of this glacial sound, a single which manages to keep a guitar riff but merge with the cold, detached electronic sound of Lifeblood. Building with digital, disturbed beats, a shimmering guitar riff emerges along with a restrained Bradfield vocal. The verses are ghostly, the chorus feels like it could be bigger thanks to a melody of anthem quality, but Bradfield sings in such a ‘can’t give a fuck’ way that it never becomes the singalong moment that it could be.

Misheard Lyrics: Victims with the saddest eyes/pacify the grace of God

Actual Lyrics: Victims with the saddest hearts
Passing by the grace of God

Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart

Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart: 4/great

It’s always been a mystery to me why the band never quite hit it off in America, at least from a purely musical perspective. The band released their first albums at the height of grunge and shared many similarities with the leading US guitar bands of the period. They were angry, introspective, sensitive, knew how to shred, and had a political and moral stance. Of course much of their politics was anti-american in some ways, or even (horror or horrors) Communist leaning. When you look back at what bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine were saying at their peak – they too were rallying against the right leaning US policies of the time, and their fans were loyal to the cause – all the more reason for a band like the Manics to be popular. But no singles were released, they rarely toured, and received little to no exposure. This second track from The Holy Bible is a lyrical mass of politics and morality, a literal barrage of words and references and name-checking that even the most ardent student will struggle to keep up with. Musically it has the militaristic core that runs through The Holy Bible, with machine gun drumming, off centre robotic guitars, vocals that sound like they’re screamed through a megaphone, and a shifting structure that feels like a chaotic, absurd blend of blues rock riffage and heavy metal thrashing.

Misheard Lyrics: 1. A messenger from Santander and napalm.

2. Grenade, a heetee (?), pole in Nick a rock you are!

3. Big Mac, smack, fix our knees

4. Killer Mexico

5. Yeah I do speak so much of the abyss

6. Come down Harlem

7. Morning fine groovy first coffee of the day

Actual Lyrics: 1.Images of perfection, suntan, and napalm

2. Grenada, Haiti, Poland, Nicuragua

3. Big Mac, Smack, Phoenix R

4. Cuba Mexica

5. Your idols speak so much of the abyss

6. Compton Harlem

7. Morning fine serve your first coffee of the day