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New Manics b-sides (minus one): a verdict

26/02/2011

The new Manic Street Preachers single – “Postcards From a Young Man”, the 3rd single taken from the album of the same title, is out on Monday and pre-orderers got their physical single bundles today; it’s a bit sad how such things are becoming an increasing rarity and say what you say about the band, Manics are one of the rare acts these days who still find it worth to release such things instead of just throwing a single song on iTunes like a boring fart. The single itself is a great choice – it always screamed single to me (should’ve probably opened the campaign, to be honest) and it’s one of those songs where the band’s desire to resurrect their Everything Must Go -era selves has resulted in a genuinely damn good song, feeling wonderfully rock-anthemic. Not a breaker of new ground but highly enjoyable. It’s in all likelihood the last single of the Postcards era and thus its b-sides are of particular interest: the final b-sides of an era have always hinted at future endeavours, so perhaps these will as well.

Of course, the sods just had to release a vinyl edition of the single with an original song as the b-side and because here at Rambling Fox we scoff at such things (scoff! scoff!), “The Passing Show” is not included in this verdict. Hopefully it’ll make its way to a digital store at some point…

(and in the interest of common courtesy, please don’t fill the comments thread with “upload mp3 plz” if you stumbled on here via Google as you passionately searched for mediafire links)

Engage With Your Shadow

So, yeah. Bass-playing rough-voiced Wire goes all Failure Bound 2 on us, except instead of reversing another song to act as the background for his rambling poetry he’s created a hard-hitting electronic stutter to go with it, complete with noisy, violent electric guitar piercing the space whenever the man himself isn’t ranting about technology and whatnot. It’s… different. It’s already competing for the place of one of the most disliked tracks in the fandom (in record time!), but in all honesty, it’s not that terrible. Merely okay, moreso. Somewhat overlong considering what it is, which is a bit silly seeing as the track is only three and a half minutes long. It’s a bit “what the hell”, really. And this is coming from a guy who loves Failure Bound (shut up, I do. Seriously).

Inky Fingers

And if Shadow was overlong, this is underlong. Length has been a big issue with Manics in the recent years: Bradfield seems to have restricted himself under four minutes ever since their 2002 greatest hits had loads of length editing done and loads of b-sides these days finish under three minutes. This wouldn’t be an issue if there wouldn’t be so many songs where it feels like the end is completely abrupt, like half a song is missing: the band panicing as they notice the time ticker is closing near three minutes and quickly pulling the plug from the recording kit, resulting in a bunch of songs that sound great but end like on a brickwall, completely unnaturally. Like Inky Fingers. There’s been a lot of increased use of electronic programming in the latest b-side batches and Inky Fingers continues that path – it sounds like the most likely candidate to hint at future directions. It’s a nifty song too – it’s basically all about the strong bass part and the rhythm section that alternates between a calm drum machine and live drums, much like “Red Rubber” from the last single’s batch. It’s a calm song but has a sneakily tense atmosphere, prowling like a cat on a hunt. It also ends  completely abruptly after the second chorus in a way that feels like you’ve got half a song. As it is now, it sounds like a build-up without a release. A nice build-up though.

Kiss My Eyes for Eternity

This one is just lush. Gorgeously melodic, has some wonderfully pretty piano parts and overall carried by a really suave, wonderful little tilt. Just an adorable little pop song, really. Keyword on ‘little’ once again – another track that’s suffering from being way too short for its own good, but at least this time we not only get a proper ending but a middle eight and the whole lot as well, which means the sense of shortness is more akin to “I wish this loveliness would go on a bit longer cause it’s that good”. One of the best b-sides of the Postcards album era.

Midnight Sun

The largest curiosity of the bunch. Midnight Sun is a “lost track” from the 2001 Know Your Enemy sessions, a song that had been lying in the archives for ages until suddenly making a reappearance here. Even the recording itself is from 2001 according to the liner notes. As a massive fan of Know Your Enemy, I was equally massively excited for this song, hoping we’d hear another classic cut from an overall brilliantly (and insanely) creative era. And… it’s not. It probably got lost in the archives because it’s not that great. It has the seeds of a great, great song: the chorus has some power and the organ in it is especially fantastic. It lacks that something though. It sounds a bit like an unfinished demo rather than a fully finished song. Which, to be honest, it probably is – would have been weird for a band like this who releases pretty much everything they record to completely abandon something they had worked on for a fair time.

Overall an alright bunch. Probably the weakest lot of this era’s single bonus tracks but contains a lot of interesting stuff nonetheless. I continue to be of the opinion that Manics are the best b-sides band around, even if their peak regarding that matter is slightly in the past (98-05!). Hell, seeing as how things are going, they’re one of the few bands that even are doing b-sides in the first place these days.

And here’s the official bit-of-a-non-event-but-still-enjoyable-enough-for-a-fan music video for the actual main event song, for good measure:

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