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....

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