Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Early Press

After a few recordings under their belt people had a chance to hear what the Manics were all about....but how would they hear about them in the first place to know they even existed?  'Campaign' is probably the best word to describe the early Manics assault on the music press, targeting specific journalists who they felt would fall for their charms.

The first press in a major publication that I'm aware of is a feature in the NME from 4th August 1990.  As with much of the press that I'll be referring to in this blog, if you didn't happen to buy and/or keep the music papers over the years, you can find them in the NME Originals magazine which came out around the time of 'Forever Delayed' and contains the major articles and reviews about the Manics in the NME over the years.  I didn't pick this up at the time, so ended up with a slightly dog-eared copy bought from Ebay a few years ago.

The first thing to say about the feature is that the picture is hilarious....basically four music fans sat looking at the camera, James looking nervous with what appears to be a blonde bowl cut and Richey pulling down the neck of his shirt to reveal 'Riot'.  The opening line of 'We are the scum factor of the Mondays meets the guitar overload of Five Thirty/Ride while killing Birdland with politics' highlights their slightly lower aspirations before they decided to move on to the likes of Guns 'n' Roses and Public Enemy as reference points.

The article is written in an interview style but seems to be just one of their 'manifestos' cut up, with 'questions' inserted in between to make them sound a bit silly.  The quotes range from the slightly snotty 'We've spray painted our school shirts to wipe out the brainwash and the boredom' to the classic 'When we jump on stage it is not rock 'n' roll cliche but the geometry of contempt'.  Speaking as a maths graduate I'm highly impressed that anyone can manage to get the word 'geometry' into a rock interview.  Manic Street Protractors anyone?

The article is a positive one though, Steven Wells commenting 'They still sound too much like The Clash but by the end of the year they will be releasing songs that match the beautiful, stark, gibbering genius of their prose.  Then they will be the most important rock band in the world.'  The timescales weren't exactly correct, but an impression had certainly been made.

The same edition of the NME also contained a brief review of 'New Art Riot', being described as 'Sham 69 with balls and brains' by the resident reviewer before guest reviewers the Pixies decided it 'sounds pretty good...but it just didn't suck me in.'

After a brief feature and a single review, in the 11th October edition of the NME there was now a live review at the Camden Falcon, a chance for the Manics to really let the press sit up and take notice.  With a photo of Nicky kneeling, shirt adorned with the words 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' and a picture of Sid Vicious, it certainly put across a more exciting visual message than the photo attached to the previous feature.  Reviewer Simon Dudfield, later of Fabulous, has obviously been converted to the cause gushing forth 'I love their tight white trousers that make them walk funny, I love their spray painted T-shirts with 'Destroy Work' on them....and I love the way they look so alienated and misunderstood.'  It also touches on another common feature of the Manics early career - the fact that they seem to polarise opinion so completely.  Already it seemed you either love them or hate them.

Another live review in the NME followed in the 1st December edition, this time at Manchester International, home of the burgeoning baggy scene.  Accompanied by a photo of a screaming (and no longer blonde) James with Richey in the background, the review concentrates on the difference between the Manics and the 'glazed hordes of basin-cut lovemuppets.'  The Manics were getting themselves out there, with bands that were nothing like them (let's face it, who was?) and converting the few while irritating the rest - 'I'd be scared to come down the front if I was you as well!'.  Presumably a Nicky quote.

It was time to get back in the studio again, and after this initial spell in the spotlight led to the band signing to Heavenly records they were sent into the studio to record a set of demos,  which turn up on 'Lipstick Traces'.  Disregarding those songs recorded on the first singles this presumably represents their entire arsenal at this point in time, although despite having existed since the early days 'Motorcycle Emptiness' is conspicuous by its absence.

I have to admit to being slightly dubious as to whether these songs are the 'ten songs for two singles' requested by Heavenly, as referred to by Simon Price in 'Everything'.  There are 7 songs included, which minus the 3 songs on 'Motown Junk' does add up, however 'You Love Us' sounds slightly different and its B-sides (not included here) would push it over to 12.

'Repeat' kicks things off with a whimper, for what is an obviously energetic rallying cry live the band are definitely struggling to capture it on tape, this version seeming slow and lethargic with a strange echoey quality to it.  The first appearance of 'Methadone Pretty' shows more of a classic rock feel, definitely less punk than the other early songs.  This is effectively the same song that would turn up later on, just a little rough around the edges but with no real change to the lyrics or music.

'Faceless Sense of Void' (later to become 'Love's Sweet Exile') is next turning up like an old friend, and it is definitely starting to sound more like old material.  Shuffling along it certainly doesn't seem like it would have fitted in on 'Generation Terrorists' in this form.  However, it is another great version with a fantastic performance from Sean on the drum stool.  A new song 'You Love Us' follows, apart from a few bits here and there this is essentially the Heavenly version with an inferior production job.  If 'Motown Junk' did come from these sessions it says a lot for the power of that song that it was picked ahead of this.  Compared to their recorded output so far this is the first song that seems genuinely exciting, that meets the expectations you would get from reading one of those early manifestos.  Listening to this version actually reignited my love for the song after hearing all the more recent bouncy, cabaret live versions. James still says 'fake like saver' though.

Speaking of exciting, 'Generation Terrorists', later to become 'Stay Beautiful', continues the new material.  In terms of differences to the final version there are maybe 50% different lyrics, additional back up vocals, and the final two words of the chorus are actually spoken rather than being replaced by a squall of guitar (sorry this is a family blog).  Between this and 'You Love Us' there is most definitely more attitude in the new songs.  'Soul Contamination' gets a recording, being a song that dates back to the Horse & Groom gig a year or so earlier although compared to the rest of the material it sounds like it is destined to be a B side, which it ultimately was.  The last song, 'Democracy Coma', is another new one that, like 'Methadone Pretty', shows more of a rock leaning than the punkier songs, and that's not to say that either type is starting to get diluted, the songs are definitely getting better.  It seems like there are three types of song now - early songs still hanging around, the energetic punk songs and the more mature rock songs, definitely not the one-trick ponies that the music press might like to have painted them as.

Picture from NME Originals - look closely and you can see the scar on Nicky's  neck
Now that the music was out of the way it's back to the business of stirring up the press.  An interview with the NME in the 5th January 1991 edition could quite possibly be the one that started it all.  Filled with loads of the quotes that you've heard over and over again this was the Manics translating the content of their manifestos into an interview situation (although it's debatable how much of an interview there actually was as the feature contains a lot of references to live gigs and letters to journalists).  'Smash Hits is more effective in polluting minds than Goebbels ever was', 'Parliament is more ugly than a gas chamber', not to mention starting as they mean to go on by trashing other bands, the 'bald-fat-ugly-glutton-filth' Inspiral Carpets coming in for some pretty heavy criticism this time around (they make them vomit apparently, although I've always liked them).

Headed 'Manic on the Streets of London' I have the feature both in the NME Originals magazine and a 1997 reproduction under the banner of 'Rock of Ages - Classic NME Interviews' (which incidentally feature different photos).  The photos show the band looking less like rabbits caught in the headlights and with the music and written bravado now starting to converge the image wasn't far behind, Richey in particular stealing the photos with his spraypainted 'London Death Sentence Heritage' top complete with a page of the A to Z while stood in front of Buckingham Palace.

If nothing else this feature would have taken the feeling of love them or hate them to a wider audience.  If they happened to slag off one of your favourite bands you'd probably hate them, if you were put off by blokes in eye makeup and big girls' blouses you'd probably hate them, if you generally thought that four white Welsh boys poncing around outside Buckingham Palace talking about Public Enemy and Kylie was a bad thing you'd probably hate them.  If you managed to make it past those I imagine at this point the remaining hardy souls were curious at best.  If only they had some actual new material to release that could satisfy that curiosity.....

Live Review NME 19th January 1991

Saturday, 8 September 2012

New Art Riot

After the release of their first proper single the Manics were to develop their studio tans over the coming months, being in and out of the studio recording songs for various releases.

Even though they didn't see the light of day for about 18 months, on the 'Feminine is Beautiful' 7", the next songs to be recorded were credited on the invaluable bootleg 'Tortured Genius' as being recorded in Xmas 89.  As I mentioned in the last blog, 'Feminine is Beautiful' is one of the Manics releases that has eluded me, simply because of its rarity and ridiculous price tag.  Maybe I should have bought it before I had a mortgage, then I might have felt less guilty about the expense!

This is where bootlegs come in handy, as you can hear the songs for a fraction of the price!  The two songs featured, 'Repeat After Me' and 'New Art Riot', sound like they were recorded in a hurry as the sound quality and performance sounds like a slight step backwards.  The stop-start nature of the early version of 'Repeat' seems to cause havoc with them all failing to come in at the same time, so it all sounds a little shambolic.  Well, in the case of 'Repeat' that should be more shambolic given that it's practically falling apart even when played well!

'New Art Riot' sounds slightly fast compared to the more familiar version, in actual fact if someone told me this was recorded live it wouldn't surprise me as that's how it sounds.  Sean in particular shines on this one, holding everything together with precision, a big difference to the previous track!

Again, in the spirit of 'going in the studio, bashing out songs and then giving them away' comes 'UK Channel Boredom' from April 1990.  This was given away as half of a flexi disc, to quote the inside of the sleeve 'This flexi proberbly (sic) got to you with Hopelessly Devoted or Coldmining FANZINE'.  Also appearing on the disc are The Laurens with the song 'I Don't Know What the Trouble is' - me neither, I think I probably listened to the song once when I got it and erased it from my memory (I obviously couldn't even be bothered to listen to it as part of this blog).

Everyone of a certain age knows that flexi discs are absolutely hopeless - if you put them on as normal then they jump constantly and if you try and weigh the needle down to stop it happening it virtually grinds to a halt.  Thankfully 'Tortured Genius' comes up trumps again so I can listen to it without the trauma (although the version on here is cut off at the end).

B-side connoisseurs will also know this song as 'A Vision of Dead Desire' from the second 'You Love Us' single.  It's essentially the same song with a different chorus minus all the rock trimmings of the 'Generation Terrorists' era, however having said that it still has more of a rock 'n' roll feel to it than the Manics other material so far.

The cover of the flexi shows all four of them, the first sleeve to feature Richey who is trying to look cool with a cigarette in his mouth, while James nonchalantly turns away.  The rest of the artwork is typical cut and paste fanzine fare, with the lyrics printed and what appears to be Richey's address this time.  This would appear to be around the time where Richey takes over his role as master of propaganda and the lyrics are also taking on a more familiar format, lines like 'Underclass coma zone' and 'Mainline on a death fix' developing that classic Manics syntax.

For some reason I had ignored the existence of 'New Art Riot' until I finally bought the 12" around 1996.  Long free periods whilst at university wandering around Middlesbrough's record shops finally led to me picking up the record from Alan Fearnley's, a record shop known for its dance 12"s but also a good source of cheap indie and rock LPs or singles (it has since closed).  Many a time I would spend an hour browsing the whole shop and then wander up to the counter with a 50p CD single!  Even then the chaotic filing system behind the counter meant there was no guarantee they could actually find the record or CD to fit in the sleeve in your hand.

The 12" I actually bought was a little warped, so to this day I hear all 4 songs in my head swirling around even when I listen to them on CD (they are included on the 'Turning Rebellion into Money' bootleg)!  The last few chords of 'Teenage 20/20' were always particularly vulnerable to that.  My record is just a bog-standard version - blue cover, black vinyl with a green and silver label.  I can be a sucker for a bit of fancy packaging or a picture disc, but different coloured sleeves and labels don't really make me want to go hunting the different variations down.

Oh, the music?  Yes, there's some of that too.  I actually think that 'New Art Riot' itself was previously one of my most underrated Manics songs.  I have no idea why but for a while I didn't rate it particularly highly, now I think it would probably make it into my top 20.  Then again this is coming from me, the idiot who really wasn't keen on 'Design for Life' after a first listen (to this day I never trust my first listen to any song now).

After the dry run on 'Feminine is Beautiful', the sound quality is much better this time around, however on the whole EP the energy and the buzz of the early Manics that was evident on some of the live recordings at the time has been sucked out of them a bit in the sterile confines of the studio.  Maybe I'm being a bit harsh there because it still sounds great.  The song is unchanged from the earlier version in content, with the lyrics definitely continuing to take shape.  In fact, in terms of pure impact, I think 'New Art Riot' contains some of my favourite ever lines in the likes of the infamous 'Hospital closures kill more than car bombs ever will' and 'Revolution soon dies, sold out for a pay rise'.  It's a shame James still sounds a little on the polite side to fully do the lyrics justice.

'Strip it Down' is almost like a double A side, another strong song, punk with melodies with its clash (no pun intended) between punky and jangly guitar (almost as if James is trying to emulate Richey's onstage guitar sound!).  It's interesting to wonder about the thinking behind the track selection for this EP - of the songs included in the Horse and Groom gig from just under a year earlier did they feel that 'Suicide Alley', 'New Art Riot' and 'Strip it Down' were their strongest songs and should be the first to be released properly?  Or were they holding back what they thought were their better songs for future use, 'Faceless Sense of Void' or 'Sorrow 16' perhaps?

No matter what the intention the B-side definitely contained more appropriate B-side songs.  Not to say they're bad or even average, Manics B-sides very rarely are, but they don't quite reach the heights of the previous two songs.  'Last Exit on Yesterday' motors along with a shuffling beat, James showcasing his increasing grasp on his triple role of lead and rhythm guitar to go alongside his singing duties, while 'Teenage 20/20' and its Johnny B Goode style intro and unorthodox drumbeat completes the lineup.  For some reason the latter has always made me feel like I'm somehow hearing the verses wrong, like I'm hearing the beat backwards or something.  Incidentally has anyone got any idea what James is singing on the chorus?  I know a lyric sheet is required at the best of times but this one certainly beats me!

The quotes on the sleeve are both ones that would be taken either completely or in part and used in future lyrics - "I am nothing and should be everything" - Karl Marx (later used in 'Methadone Pretty' of course) and "You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too.  A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.  All Cokes are the same and all Cokes are good.  Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."  "NATIONALISM IS A CREATED PRODUCT" (shortened thankfully in 'Slash and Burn', although Madonna was obviously far more appealing to the Manics than Liz Taylor).

The cover itself seems fairly bland in comparison to the lyrical content, artwork was obviously not as high up in their agenda at this point in time as it was later on.  But onwards and upwards, another few releases under the belts and the press were now starting to sit up and take notice....