Friday, 25 May 2012

More Demos....plus First Appearance of 'Motorcycle Emptiness'

After the first tentative steps into demo-land the Manics pressed on with another song included on the 'Tortured Genius' collection, a song familiar to many Manics die-hards as the B-side to Stay Beautiful' - 'R.P. McMurphy'. This version is labelled as 'demo circa 1987/88' and is quite different to the one we all know as it features the full band (by full band I'm guessing that meant James, Nicky and Sean i.e. pre-Flicker and Richey, but correct me if I'm wrong).



The sound is still obviously demo quality and with the drums falling over themselves a bit you get the feeling that either Sean is being over-ambitious and pushing himself to play something he maybe couldn't quite manage at the time or maybe just that they recorded everything first take, warts and all.  As it's also slightly faster James has real trouble trying to keep his 'na-na-na's on the chorus in time with the music!  Aside from the slightly shambolic feel I think this is a really good version, and it's always interesting to hear songs that you're familiar with turned into something different (even if this was in fact the original).  This song certainly seems to me as though it marks the turning point from bedroom band into the pre-'Generation Terrorists' sound and feel.

The actual timing for the next set of songs isn't clear from the sleevenotes of the releases they feature on but I believe that the next set of demos are the ones featured on the 'Lipstick Traces' bootleg, which saw the light of day on LP through Media Slut productions in 1993.  I think it's a safe bet to say that these songs came before 'Suicide Alley' was released and they are similar in sound to 'R.P. McMurphy', so I'd place them around 1988.

I first picked up 'Lipstick Traces' on a simple copied CD with hand-written insert from Ebay around the same time as 'Tortured Genius' (how easy it is to fleece a Manics fan desperate to get their hands on early material), but in the last year managed to pick up the genuine article on vinyl.



It starts off with the song most Manics fans would be interested in from the early material, marked on the sleeve as 'Motorcycle Emptiness' but I suspect at the time it was actually called 'Go Buzz Baby Go'.  It's easily recognisable as an early version of the anthem we all know and love, although with very different lyrics that hint at the song they would turn into - one of the 'Each day living out a lie etc.' sections contains the words 'Motorcycle emptiness, motorcycle empti....ness'.  The chorus is simply a repetition of the words 'Go Buzz Baby Go' and alongside 'R.P. McMurphy' it becomes quite clear that the Manics were already well capable of writing a catchy chorus that will stick in your brain for the next week or two.

The delivery of the song in particular is also improved from previous recordings, the Manics using acoustic guitar and tambourine to offset the usual guitar, bass, drums, making it sound less like a recording of a rehearsal and suggesting that more thought was now going into the writing process.

The next song is another early version of a 'Generation Terrorists'-era tune, probably the Manics song bearing the most different titles over the course of time - 'Just Can't be Happy', which would eventually turn into 'Love's Sweet Exile'.  Again it's interesting to hear how the song started life, which in this case is very different - much less Rock FM, which is fairly obvious at this stage, with more of a shuffling beat and generally understated performance.

I think the Manics have tended to disown the final version of 'Love's Sweet Exile', and while this certainly isn't the best you can see how that album version was bent out of shape from this original idea.  However, the final melodies remain even if the lyrics don't, 'ooh's replacing the words of the later title's chorus and a new refrain of 'Just can't be happy without you' taking the place of the 'Raindown alienation' parts. I really like this version as it motors along, the slightly out of tune singing, poor-by-James'-standards solo and the fact it sounds on the verge of falling apart being endearing rather than irritating.  Or maybe I'm a little biased...

'This Girl's Got Nothing' has a raw yet jangly sound, showing the Manics are developing more of an edge, although the quiet, slightly out of tune bass lets it down a little.  'Sun-glass Aesthetic' (a contender for first Richey title anyone?) is fairly non-descript but shows that James' guitar playing is improving, perhaps as he becomes more confident with the recording process.

'Suicide Alley' is next up, a little looser than the single version with more of a live sound but not quite as much edge at this point.  The build up to the chorus is more sedate, with less attitude than the studio take but overall it's not a million miles away from the 7".  The most interesting song from a musical perspective is 'Behave Yourself Baby', containing an early trumpet performance by Sean, acoustic guitar, handclaps and 'ba-ba-ba' vocals (no sheep jokes please).  It actually wouldn't sound out of place as an 'Everything Must Go' B-side and while that might not sound strange now I think your average 'Generation Terrorists'-era fan might have been shocked to hear 'their' band doing something that sounded so safe and, well, bland.  Anyone looking out for more of those early signs of later songs will note the line 'All i want from you is the skin you live within' which would later become 'All we want from you are the kicks you've given us' from 'Motorcycle Emptiness'.

The last two songs from this batch sound like they may have been recorded at a different time from the others as they are sonically different.  'Razorblade Beat' starts off with a bass intro followed by a mass of discordant squalls kicking into the song proper.  With the benefit of hindsight this actually sounds like it could be an out-take from 'The Holy Bible' with its bass-led verses and slightly haunting feel before speeding up for a crazed ending.  'Eating Myself from Inside' is different again, being the most upbeat Manics song I can think of right now.  I'm left with images of bands like The Wonder Stuff and Kingmaker, a throwback to the Manics' original indie roots.

These songs also feature on another bootleg, 'Turning Rebellion into Money' (minus 'Go Buzz Baby Go'), another CD I picked up in my Ebay gaps-in-my-collection-filling days.  However, if you are on the look out for this set of demos it's worth hunting down 'Lipstick Traces' for the additional song.



So, to me, this phase of demos marks an interim period of moving out of the bedroom band phase to become more competent and on the verge of unleashing themselves on the big wide world of gigs and studios, a move that wasn't far away.....