Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

Closing the first half of an often celebratory, anthemic album, is one of the album’s most quiet yet powerful songs. Haunting, gorgeous, bleak, beautiful, with stunning poetic lyrics and a difficult subject matter that is rare to hear at all, never mind a Platinum selling album, this is yet another emotionally charged moment on an album filled with breathless highs and tear-provoking pieces. The duet of acoustic guitar and harp has never sounded so incorruptible, and Bradfield’s singing has rarely been better at wringing every ounce of emotion from the words and music. It’s a song easily missed and even forgotten when you have so many singles and so many albums, but it is truly one of their best.

The Story Of The Song: One of the few Richey penned lyrics on the album, the song is abuse animal abuse and seemingly about animal testing and captivity, using that as a possible metaphor for Richey’s own deteriorating mind and sense of freedom. How an individual can become a number, how a person can be trapped into being nothing more than a spectacle playing tricks for an audience, how all choice is removed and life becomes a dull, forced routine. There’s also an allusion to self-harm as the only thing which brings any joy.

Misheard Lyrics: Once you rot, now you’re just crumbling.

2. To bring your tired tricks.

3. Further your time/further your tide

Actual Lyrics: Once you roared, now you just grunt lame.

2. To swing your tyre tricks.

3. For the outside

Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky: 4/Great

Black Dog On My Shoulder

An interestingly upbeat, mainly acoustic track right near the end of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, it’s one which easily gets lost in the catalogue. It feels summery and positive, and offers some respite from the previous few gloomy and experimental tracks. Lyrically it isn’t summery in the slightest, but with the swelling of strings, the liberal use of tambourine, the gentle melodies, and the considered build up to the chorus, it certainly comes across as a sweet little song.

The song placement on the album is interesting, coming after a series of incredibly doleful and solemn songs. The album almost feels like one of two halves – the first half being all singles and melody bait, while the second half would be much more experimental and downbeat if not for this and Nobody Loved You being more traditional. This feels like a breath of fresh air after a run of songs which, on the surface, feel mundane. While the whole album is string-laden, there are a couple of moments on this song where the band are fully indulged, stripping off and rubbing their nudey chests with as many violins as they can find – the lovely ending and a middle instrumental section where the band all swing together – depression never sounded so sweet.

The Story Of The Song: The Manics have sung about depression any number of times over the years – this is another entry in the canon, and one which namechecks Winston Churchill in the second verse. Churchill referred to his own depression as a ‘Black Dog’, and many poets and writers over the decades have used the same or similar terminology. There’s an air of inevitability in the lyrics – the Carlito’s Way line suggesting that it’s something which is with you until the end. Attempts to deal with the depression, both head on and by ignoring it, have been apparently futile as well as attempts to understand it, its origins, and when it will strike.

Misheard Lyrics: Yes my life is a compromise.

2. Like our leaders say.

3. Leave me there until I’m numb

4. My eyes are shattered

Actual Lyrics: Guess my life is a compromise.

2. Like Carlito’s Way.

3. Freeze me there until I’m numb

4. My eyes are shut tight.

Black Dog On My Shoulder: 3/Good

Share your comments on the song below!

(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline

(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline: 3

The band has always had a sweet relationship with Japan – in their early days some of their most ardent fans were from Japan, their good friend and photographer Mitch Ikeda is Japanese, and Richey had an affinity with many of the cultural norms. That it took this long to write a song that mentions Japan specifically may surprise some. Perhaps if that ‘City album’ that the band talked about many years ago had come around, then maybe it would have featured something related to Japan. Presumably this song and many of the other recent songs with a city name in the title were borne out of that concept.

Back to the song itself, and it’s another lonely, sad affair on an album filled with similar moments. However, the inclusion of the gorgeous Japanese strings is gripping and startling in its newness, not least because you don’t expect such things from the band, but because you never hear anything like this in modern Western music. That inclusion alone marks the song as one of the more interesting on the album for me. James whispers his way through the verses, and barely stretches beyond hushed words in the chorus, but the emotional core still manages to break through. It can’t quite escape the pervading dullness which seeps through the album. It’s simply another acoustic song with some interesting additions from the Japanese strings and  electronic backing.

The Story Of The Song: I can’t be arsed quote hunting for every track, but given the band’s prior affinity for Japan it seems quite obvious that Nick still holds the Country and its capital in high esteem, even if it’s mainly because he can become completely isolated and unknown in its bustling streets. Hopefully I’m not gaslighting, but it’s not a song about how weird/futuristic/cute the place is, but like Australia it’s more used as a proxy for Nicky’s own desires – to be away, to be alone, to be at peace.

Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds

A mostly pseudo Glam-Metal song packed with crushing guitars and little flourishes and riffs as the band takes apart the evils of Consumerism and banking.  The lyrics are exactly as you expect from the young band for a song with this name –  shouty slogans such as ‘death sanitized through credit’ and ‘the more you own the more you are’, though the ‘blackhorse apocalypse I’ve always found particularly apt and descriptive, comparing one of the bank’s mascots to Biblical imagery. The music is hardly innovative, but I do have a nostalgic fondness for much of Generation Terrorists which allows me to ignore what is otherwise a very plain song. The best moment though comes right at the end, with a fantastically creepy piano and guitar piece that doesn’t feel like anything else on the song, or on the album, a moment which (looking back) is filled with eerie, prophetic tones of doom, hinting at a future which has already passed us by.

Nat West – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds: 3/good

The Story Of The Song: The song takes its title from four major British banks and discusses how much power they wield in society – it doesn’t really matter which one you turn to and as an individual you’re beholden to them from birth. There’s maybe something in there about how financial institutions have become the new religion, the single authority governing society and individuals, though that may be me reaching. Many have suggested the song was written because Nicky was refused a loan – way to get one back!

Misheard Lyrics: Economic fuckers

2. Oh to beat in Asia

3. Apathy is secrecy (I like this one better)

4. Lifeless automatons

Actual Lyrics: Economic forecast.

2. Words of Euthenasia

3. Apathy of sick routine.

4. Life as automatons

Little Girl Lost

A rambunctious, stiff little rocker, this B-side to Your Love Alone Is Not Enough hits the ground running and doesn’t let up. There’s nothing new or surprising here, it’s just a plain, old fashioned rock song with nifty vocals and summery melodies. Nothing special, but fun nonetheless. I like how every second is squeezed for detail – there isn’t a moment to breathe or a moment wasted, no pauses between transitions. James is going full pelt on guitar and in his vocals, with some of his finest snark in their post Rock days. There’s a cool bit of shredding in there for the solo – he doesn’t get a chance to whip out the shred much these days so you can tell when he’s enjoying himself – the extended little string bend right at the end of the solo for example, there’s no need for it but fuck if he’s gonna do it anyway. It’s barely over two minutes long, so even if you don’t enjoy it it’s before before you know.

Little Girl Lost: 3/Good

The Story Of The Song: It takes it’s name from the title of a William Blake poem, apparently. I don’t know if it’s based on anyone in particular, but it feels like another fan service/fan slapping song – both a dedication to and a loving critique of a particular listener.

Misheard Lyrics: 1.Hold you there till there’s nothing left

2. You’ve been looking to hop so soon.

Actual Lyrics: Hold you there till there’s no pain left.

2. You’ve been looking for hope so soon

Foggy Eyes

An entirely lackluster cover for the Indian Summer release, I haven’t heard the original but based on how inane and boring this is I have no interest in seeking it out. It’s another song with a silly filter on the vocals, the guitars are drivel, the band sound like they are playing in their sleep, the melodies are terrible, the lyrics are fine but their delivery is irritating as hell. The majority of the song is based around a very simple riff which repeats and repeats – that wouldn’t be so bad if the riff was remotely interesting or if the verse melody didn’t mirror the riff. There really isn’t anything positive to say about this at all, unless you have a particular affinity for James shouting ‘bang, bang, BANG’ at the end. A low point.

Foggy Eyes: 1/Crap

The Story Of The Song: It’s a cover of a song by Beat Happening (no, me neither). At this point in their career they were chucking any old shite on their B-Sides – lots of instrumentals, covers, and experimental fannying with no real direction. Fair enough.

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

The second Manics cover song I ever heard. The first was Bright Eyes, which is both a better song and a better cover. It’s another idiosyncratic cover of a classic song, you’d almost think the band were a bunch of hipsters for covering something like this. Then again, they’ve always liked Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – the film being name checked in popular B-Side Sepia. This was the band’s first recording after Richey’s disappearance, contributing to the War Child Charity album. It’s an authentic, touching cover and depending on the day I like it more than at other times. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, it’s just one of those songs that I’m too familiar with that I feel locked in by it’s all pervading fame and therefore want nothing to do with it. James does a great job belting out certain phrases with typically Manic phrasing, and it has some sweet horn play in the middle to hint at what would come in their next album. It’s a decent cover, but not one I particularly want to hear again.

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head: 2/Okay

Happy Ending

Happy Ending: 3/Good

As the title suggests, this does sound happy, one of the very few songs in the Manics catalogue that sounds genuinely content. It’s another very simple song with simplistic, poor, repeated lyrics from the Lifeblood/There By The Grace Of God era, and at the time felt like a possible goodbye from the band. The band seemed like they wanted to go in one direction musically, but there was an uncertainty over whether they could convince themselves and fans of this direction, so possibly they would just pack it all in instead. Happily they didn’t, and we are left with this curious, piano driven pseudo-goodbye, pseudo-dedication. The melodies are amicable enough, Bradfield hits some high notes and while the song reaches for those crowd-pleasing chorus peaks the piano makes it feel more like a Coldplay song in places. It rarely goes beyond ‘yeah, this song sounds nice and nothing else’ but it’s enjoyable enough in small doses to keep it higher than average for me, with extra points because the band sound like they are content. 

The Story Of The Song: I’m not sure if the band has ever talked publicly about this one, but based on what they were going through at the time – the downgrading from Stadium chart toppers, the changes in musical and stylistic direction, the boredom Wire was always mentioning in interviews, and of course the lyrics themselves, it seems reasonable to assume they had this planned or written as a thanks and good bye song. It’s a little too soppy in one way for a band as angry and punk as they are, but it does fit. If it was meant to be a goodbye, I’m surprised they released it at all.

Let us know your thought in the comments!

Little Trolls

One of Wire’s finest lyrical moments, this one is a savage response to some journalist’s racist attack on the Welsh; if there’s one lesson folks, it’s that you don’t go up against a Manic in a verbal war and hope to win. The lyrics are of course brilliant; funny, perfect one-liners, and Bradfield’s deadpan delivery is spectacular.

Musically there isn’t a whole lot to say – a simple blending of electric and acoustic, notable only because of the little middle section where Bradfield shrieks like a monster. There are easily missed moments of interest – the acoustic guitars feel like they’re being played with a floor brush rather than by hand, and the electric parts are extra fuzzy. The percussion is light in the mix too.

At its core this is a protest song with a simple hook, and you feel like it wouldn’t be as fondly remembered if the lyrics had been unremarkable.

Little Trolls: 3/Good

The Story Of The Song: Critic, writer, Journo, dead guy, A A Gill wrote a piece on Wales and Welsh people in The Sunday Times for some reason. He didn’t think much of the Welsh, and described them as dirty, ugly little trolls and other such jibes. His comments were even reported to the Commission for Racial Equality, to which he responded that he couldn’t care less as the Welsh have said plenty about the English with no comeback. While much of what was said was done in a tongue in cheek manner, the twat clearly had some deep-seated issues with the Welsh which he covered up with the bravado of Trump-supporting Podcaster. Wire didn’t approve of the insults and responded in kind.

Misheard Lyrics: You taste but ridiculous

2: Pay your dues and pay your tolls

3: Live like animals/Live like Hannah Balls/Live like Anna Boulds

Actual Lyrics: Your taste buds ridiculous

2: Pay our dues and pay our tolls

3: Live like cannibals

Let us know what you think of Little Trolls in the comments!

Sex, Power, Love, Money

I think I would like this one a lot more if James had picked literally ANY other way to sing than the cringeworthy way he does. Is he rapping, is he speaking? It’s not right whatever it is. The chorus is fine, but the verse vocals make me want to pull my shirt over my face and hide until it goes away. Making matters worse are Wire’s ill-advised bonus vocals building up to the chorus, and the embarrassing old man lyrics. And whatever the hell that cowbell thing is – I CAST THEE OUT! It’s a shame because there’s a better song in there somewhere, and it even manages a decent guitar solo at the end. It’s best forgotten.

Sex, Power, Love, and Money: 2/Okay

Misheard Lyrics: A recycled novel, women inside

2: Its tone is truthful, it really never lies

3: Self fuck your tears as they rain from above

Actual Lyrics: It reads like a novel

2: It’s cold, it’s truthful, it really never lies

3: Set fire to tears as they rain from above

The Story Of The Song: Is it about money and greed, is it about the blurring of political and class lines when you reach such a level of wealth that such things don’t matter anymore? Is it about the self-made tech and social media billionaires? Fuck knows.