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!
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!
Engage With Your Shadow: 1/Crap
Another experiment and another failure. How exactly to a judge whether something like this is a success or a failure? No, I’m not getting into that, it’s shite. We can see what the band are trying to do here, but that doesn’t stop it from being a complete mess. There are not many great B-Sides from the Postcards era, but there aren’t many efforts as bad as this. Nicky basically recites (badly) a poem, throws in the odd bit of German, while a coughing industrial beat wafts along and Bradfield interrupts with sudden bursts of nonsensical guitar. On repeated listens, some of those guitar parts are pretty tasty, but as a whole? It’s as if the band heard Pulk/Push revolving doors by Radiohead and thought ‘now there’s a great idea for a song!’ Wire rants about something, but after about thirty seconds we’ve given up caring. Credit for giving it a full fisted go lads.
The Story Behind The Song: Nicky was probably pissed and decided to rant about how disconnected he is from the modern world. I bet he was wearing a beret.
Bored Out Of My Mind: 3/Good
An unusual B-Side to go along with the anthem of Motorcycle Emptiness, but an interesting counterpoint. The title says it all, as this mainly acoustic cut discusses boredom, failure, lethargy in typical Manics phrasing, and with a lazy tone of procrastination. The music still manages to be interesting, and the melodies are engaging from start to finish, while the atmosphere created does achieve that dull sense of lying in a heap on the floor without being arsed to do or see anything. There’s a neat little guitar outro, overall a good B-side but not one I can imagine having too many fans.
Misheard Lyrics: I tried everything to get alone with you
2: The night’s too long son when he doesn’t care.
Actual Lyrics: I tried everything to get along with you
2: The nights too lonesome when the heat doesn’t care
Locust Valley: 4/Great
With an experimental sound that would return on 4ever Delayed, Locust Valley is a significantly better song than many which made it onto Know Your Enemy. It’s easily one of their best rock songs of the period, with emotive melodies, a fantastic chorus, and swirling broken up riffs which are pulled away, sucked up, and spat out again in whirlpool of distorted noise. There’s also an excellent guitar solo, suitably strange and flying all over the place, but one which builds and crackles and leads expertly up to the final chorus in a glorious peak. The outro also feels fresh and interesting rather than a simple re-tread or fade out.
Mishead Lyrics: Elusive and de-smiled
2: Art correspondent school behind
3: Long item blues
4: Too shy to portrait stand
5: I feel I want some company name
6: My first attempt’s an empty fail
Actual Lyrics: Elusive and dismantled
2: Our colours form the truth behind… or A correspondence school behind – no-one seems to know
3: Long Island Blues
4: The shattered portrait’s frame
5: I feel the words and Company names
6: Of his attempts at empty fame
Askew Road: 1/Crap
One of the weakest Lifeblood era songs, it is too sleepy and uneventful to mention. It has the weak lyrics and lack of inspiration which often cropped up around this era, a weird vocal delivery, and is melodically-lite. The only notable thing to say about it is that Richey audio clip at the end, but even that doesn’t add anything. It’s not completely crap, but it is totally, tonally barren, doesn’t have anything to say, and drifts around aimlessly as if they let a child into the studio to press a few notes on a keyboard and say ‘job done’. Arguably the most dull Manics song of them all, though weirdly it does have a lot of fans.
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.
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: 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
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