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Top 10: Manics remixes

16/01/2013

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Remixes – the most derided of all b-side types. When you’re a rock band, anyway. For certain acts, genres and scenes remixes are vital, important part of the whole experience and they are beloved. For rock bands, they tend to be the item on the tracklist that fans disappointly cringe at. Unlike studio b-sides, they’re not more potential gold from the act you love and unlike demos, alternative versions and live cuts, they do not offer the chance of potentially highly interesting alternative versions of the songs you already know and enjoy. Most of the time, they’re simply filler that ranges from the remixer clearly not being bothered to put much focus on the matter to the remixer downright ignoring the original track in order to do something he actually enjoys, with rarely the artist themselves offering the remixers the chance to show their magic and more often the label executives going through a checklist of tunes-for-hire remixers because those things are hip right now. Or were, back in the mid-late 90s when the single format was living its glory days and after a few rock remixes had suddenly become huge hits that overshadowed the original song commercially.

Being a fairly prominent singles act in the latter half of the 90s and early 00s, Manic Street Preachers got the remix treatment several times. Most of the remixes that appeared on their singles were exactly the sort of thing that gives rock band remixes a bad name, especially when those were overshadowed by the plethora of brilliant original tracks the band released as b-sides those days. But it’s not all terrible and as a Manics-adoring singles nerd who’s taken his time collecting their b-sides and gone through it several times, there’s a prominent number of Manics remixes that are genuinely rather good. Up next in Rambling Fox, it’s time to go through ten of the best ones you could find lying around their singles.

10) LET ROBESON SING (IAN BROWN REMIX)

And the most awkward way to start a list like this is with a remix that veers more towards so-bad-it’s-good territory than genuine excellence. The remix in general is enjoyable, even if not massively inspired per se – it’s a more beat-driven, keyboard-layered version of the track that sticks fairly closely to the original. But then, out of nowhere, comes the rap. As a proof that social suicide and bad musical ideas had fun hanging around together before bad musicians on Youtube, you need to look nowhere further than Ian Brown believing that a song about a human rights activist really needed an interlude made out of lyrics like “pass the mic, believe the hype, JDB is flying the kite”. The rap section is fairly short but it’s the reason this remix is here: a moment so utterly absurd, ridiculous and hilariously bad that it’s become somewhat legendary. TEACHER TEACHER TURN OFF DA PREACHER.

9) KEVIN CARTER (STEALTH SONIC ORCHESTRA REMIX)

No other artist has left a bigger mark on the Manics remix scene than Apollo 440, under their Stealth Sonic Orchestra guise. Nearly all the singles from the Everything Must Go period got a SSO representation, they appeared once again on one of the singles from the next album and just as a cherry on top, as a bonus they decided to offer their take on the olden goldie Manics classic “Motorcycle Emptiness” as well. Add the fact that all these remixes came both as a normal and as an instrumental version, and the sheer number of SSO remixes hulk over all the other contributors. The best thing is that it couldn’t have happened with a better remixer: not only do the SSO remixes have a very distinct sound of their own (think of orchestral, classy takes on the original songs), but they varied that sound enough to make each remix stand out and they’re all fairly high quality. Their take on “Kevin Carter” is a James Bond theme without a film, all twangy guitars, intriguing atmosphere and classy agent sound cues. The original song’s trumpet solo appears throughout and sounds perfectly in tune with the rest of the song.

No audio link available. Bummer.

8) KEVIN CARTER (JON CARTER’S BUSTS LOOSE REMIX)

Jon Carter’s take on the same song couldn’t be any different. If the original song had a hint of groove and a lightly funky touch to it, Carter takes that hint and runs with it. It’s an airy, grooved-out dance remix that uses a didgeridoo, of all things, as its main instrument. The trumpet solo once again gets some good use. Most Manics remixes avoid the dancefloor but the Busts Loose remix shows that maybe it should have been tried more often.

7) A DESIGN FOR LIFE (STEALTH SONIC ORCHESTA REMIX)

Stealth Sonic Orchestra’s grand debut to the Manics world and the remix that’s probably closest to the core concept of their remixes: take a song, replace the rock with something classier and more suave, bring out the orchestras. The SSO remix of Manics’ signature song is like a high-class lounge cover of a song. The song’s put on its fanciest suit and tie and while it doesn’t have the barely hidden frustration of the original, it stays just as anthemic and singalongy. My favourite part: those small piano flourishes that appear from time to time.

6) OCEAN SPRAY (KINOBE REMIX)

The best Manics remixes seem to have an atmospheric edge to them (spoilers, etc) and the Kinobe take on “Ocean Spray” sounds like it hasn’t slept in days, stuck in a limbo between sleeping and waking, wading through life in a dreamy haze. Somewhat ironic (perhaps knowingly so) considering one of the song’s key chorus lines is “please stay awake”. It’s beautiful, dreamy and so atmospheric you could sink into it – a must play for all those insomniac nights.

5) THE EVERLASTING (STEALTH SONIC ORCHESTRA REMIX)

The final SSO item on this list, I promise. But what a remix. SSO ramp up the wistfulness of the original song and replace the rock elements with full-on orchestral bombast: swelling strings, delicate piano, grand build-ups. And theremin, lots and lots of sweet sweet theremin. The SSO take on The Everlasting sounds like a grand cinematic tearjerker.

4) SO WHY SO SAD (SEAN PENN MIX BY THE AVALANCHES)

“So Why So Sad” is a brilliant piece of Beach Boys -influenced pop, all summery melodies and big backing vocal harmonies. The Avalanches decided that wasn’t enough and created a straight-up beach anthem. Big smiles, jolly melodies, lots and lots of handclaps, sugar sweet backing vocals and a vibe that belongs onto a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, with crystal oceans and eternal sunshine. It’s both outrageous and absolutely fantastic. Bonus points for how the remix somehow ends up underlining the often rather un-jolly imagery in the song’s lyrics and yet doesn’t care in the slightest about the delicious juxtaposition between the words and the music. Ingenius, the whole thing.

3) WILLIAM’S LAST WORDS (UNDERWORLD REMIX)

After the early 00s, Manics remixes effectively died as an art form. The band had stopped being reliable hitmakers, the rock remix fad had finished and for the rest of the decade the band’s singles were so crammed with original songs that they had barely any room for anything else. In 2009 however they released Journal for Plague Lovers, an album that was such a personal pet project for them that they opted out from releasing any singles from it. Seemingly to make up for it, a remix version of the entire album was quietly pushed out soon after its release. While this time the remixers were personally chosen by the band and the whole project felt like they actually cared about the end result, the resulting album is as remix albums tend to be – a very hit and miss collection of various random things. Most of it is passable but forgettable, but right near the end there is one absolutely magnificent slice of remixing which alone ensures the project was worth being published. The original “William’s Last Words” is a heartfelt, incredibly personal farewell song that could at any given moment burst into something more epic but never does, retaining its composure out of respect for its personal importance. Underworld, however, have no such qualms about it and let the song freely explode into the giant, “Hey Jude”-esque stadium singalong moment it tried to avoid becoming. Choirs! Kitchen sink production! Seemingly endless singalong finale! It’s marvellous. Obviously it lacks the emotional intimacy of the original (and I still prefer the original because of it), but I am so glad that there was someone out there who decided that the world needed an alternate version like this.

2) THERE BY THE GRACE OF GOD (SAINT ETIENNE REMIX)

Another Manics remix that piles on the atmosphere, and this time you could call it downright beautiful. Driven by the original song’s eery synthesizers, now raised to the top rather than hidden in the background, Saint Etienne’s take on one of the band’s best and most underrated singles is a remix that continues to captivate. It’s a remix that understands that one of the best things about the original song is its enchanting soundscape and then chooses to focus on that, creating a gorgeous, atmospheric five minutes of bliss. The TBTGOG remixes were the last Manics remixes to appear until the Journal remix album, and this remix sounds exactly like a haunting swansong, a closure of a chapter (which admittedly makes the end of churned-out mediocre remixes sound more poetic than it really was).

1) IF YOU TOLERATE THIS YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE NEXT (DAVID HOLMES’ THE CLASS REUNION OF THE SUNSET MARQUIS MIX)

Jesus christ that title, although apt for the remix itself: at ten minutes, it’s the longest Manics-related song out there. Just as suitable is the fact that the best Manics song (fact) gets the best Manics remix. The David Holmes mix takes elements of the original and then repurposes them to its use, creating a mix which both never quite sounds like the original but constantly feels like it at the same time. The haunting atmosphere and the ever-building intensity and instrumentation never let down during the ten-minute runtime and each minute feels justified to be there. Unlike any other mix on this list, or in the Manics catalogue in general, it feels the least like someone else’s remake of a song and has none of the slight disjointedness that causes even among the best remixes: it sounds like an all-original track, which is incredibly rare with remixes, and it benefits immensely for it. It is, quite frankly, a bloody fantastic take on a fantastic song that proudly sits on the throne as the king of MSP remixes.

BONUS: MOTORCYCLE EMPTINESS (2002 MIX)

Finally-finally, a short bonus track to end the list. 2002/2003 was a period of retrospectives for the Manics with the release of both a hits collection and a b-sides collection. It was also a very messy period, with a lot of back and forth and indecision between releases, tracklists and promo singles that gives the two years an incredibly chaotic feel to anyone who decides to dig a little deeper. The 2003 remix of “Motorcycle Emptiness” is a perfect example. It was supposed to be a new b-side/double A-side to a promotional single for the Greatest Hits album. Then something happened and all of a sudden it wasn’t, and the whole promotional angle of the compilation went back to the drawing board with new songs and new ideas. A small number of promos had already gotten out there however and thus we know this exists. The idea was that it would update the original song into a form closer to how the band play it live these days (and in fact, sometime after its release the band began to start their live versions of ME with an intro taken straight from this mix) and generally update the production from the terrible original. It sounds great. The problem is that not only is it based on the radio edit of the song, meaning effectively half the song, but it’s a remix that only updates the sound – the vocals have been taken straight from the 1992 original which sound completely out of place among the updated, more refined sound. Had they ironed out those bits, we might even have the definitive take on Motorcycle Emptiness. Now, we just have an obscure but a really good remix of it, which didn’t really fit in this list due to being more of a straight-up remake than a remix (or something in-between).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 17/10/2013 12:16

    I totally respect your hate of the Chemical Brothers mixes, but I do really like their version of La Tristesse Durera. Also love the Stealth Sonic mixes, but the instrumental Everlasting is their finest hour for me – it’s oddly beautiful.

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