Thursday, November 23, 2006

MP3: Manic Street Preachers Discography - Part Seven: This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours (1998)

That's right, I finally got around to it. This Is My Truth was a difficult album for the Manics. They'd managed to gain a hell of a lot of success on the back of their very very good comeback, Everything Must Go, but Truth sees them in a more transitive, thoughtful mood. The politics of yesteryear are still obvious, and yet the force behind them doesn't seem so strong or dedicated. Maybe a combination of moving on from the Richey years and the fact that the band were getting older, but its definitely there throughout the album both in the more reflective musicianship and in the lyrics. This was the first time Nicky would handle a whole album himself lyrics-wise, and this results in a few real duffers.

This album was the first Manics album that was released when I was a fan, and of course I was at HMV at 3:30pm on the day of release (after school you see), and listened to it on the bus home on a cold autumns evening. A few weeks later, my first ever gig was the Manics supported by Catatonia at the Bournemouth International Centre. It was an amazing evening, a total eye-opener, and something i'll never forget. Anyway, on with the album!

Opener The Everlasting reveals one of the major lyrical themes of the album. Whereas Everything had washed over the Richey problem with lyrical themes of escape, Truth reflects its name in bringing the subject to the fore, and especially so on its opening track. A deceptically bright guitar intro leads into what is perhaps one of James' best vocal melodies. Some of Nicky's lyrics are really rather stunning in places, and yet in others they're rather troubling. For a band that seemingly had everything to live/fight for, lines like 'I dont believe in it anymore, pathetic acts for a worthless cause' and 'In the beginning, when we were winning' come close to the image of bored middle agers that some of the press were only too willing to start to label them with. A potentially wonderful song is also tarred by being far too long (6 minutes!) with too many chorus repeats. The guitar is nice and shimmery in a rather 80s way, but other than a few nice touches of organ, things are otherwise rather pedestrian. The guitar solo is perfunctory at best, and the production a semi-repeat of the chunky, solid sheen of Everything. The string sections had also by now become an indie cliche (let's not forget that this was the era of Urban Hymns and Embrace). In a word: workmanlike.

Next up is If You Tolerate This, You're Children Will Be Next, which was the albums first single, and the bands first number one single in the UK. A very very odd choice for a hit single, focussing lyrically on the Spanish Civil War, it can half be put down to a very loyal and now large fanbase, but probably also down to an affecting vocal and some rather nice production tricks. Perhaps the most bizarre chorus to hit number one in the singles chart? The organ on the chorus is what makes it work for me, nice and distorted. Also features one of the best commonly misheard Manics lyrics ever, with 'turns me into a gutless womble' being the only possible interpretation of James' mumbling. To be honest it's hard to describe how it stands out from some of the other tracks on the album, but there seems to be some sort of sparkle in there that makes it work.

Another single, You Stole The Sun From My Heart has always to me sounded like the Australia of the album, ie. lightweight, uninteresting single material. The chorus melody is one of the bands weakest ever, and the chorus is in fact just the title of the song repeated. This is seldom ever a good idea for a song. TRUE FACT. To be honest folks, I haven't got much to say about this song, because it doesn't inspire anything in me other than slight boredom. I feel that that's a worse criticism than calling it utter shite, because when I was listening to the bands first few albums I could have written pages and pages on how much I loved each and every word of the lyrics. The sad thing with the manics is that they didn't burn out, they're still just slowly fading away. Very slowly.

Okay then! TRYING NOT TO STRUGGLE HERE! With Ready For Drowning we have our third of four mid tempo slow burners. The fact that the fast song we had was a bore says a lot. Luckily, despite a mediocre verse, James puts enough effort into the chorus that I - shock horror - start to enjoy myself. Some of the lyrics are...not GOOD...but there are enough touches of the old Manics going on that it kind of works. It's funny actually, because the mysterious fifth manics, live keyboardist Nick Naysmith, is despised by most of the obsessive manics fans for keyboarding up too many of the old songs live, and yet on this album, left to his own devices he actually improves a lot of things (note: I have not checked that its actually Naysmith on the album! God this is turning into a Prindle review). Still thats not excuse for the live version of Faster that sounded like Lloyd Cole on downers. Another good point on this song: James vocals are LOVELY. Go him.

Tsunami was another single, and it's got a nice fake-sitar guitar thing going on that lifts it above most of the material around it. Nick's lyrics are both touching, and hey! there's a good bassline too! It's probably actually my favourite of the albums singles, and the string section during the chorus really does a good job rather than being something cliched. There's also a lovely little production trick used here that is used a couple of other times on the record, an effect on the strings or organ to make them sound weathered, as if they were taken from an old 78, and its super. I like it.

My Little Empire is to my ears, the best thing on the album. The music is PERFECT, the lyrics are for Nicky very subtle, and James vocal is understated and even a mite menacing. Nicky sings too. It's in tune! The little guitar screeches after each line make me thing of Guided By Voices. These are all good good things. It's just such a shame that the lovely little touches and instrumental flourishes on this song didn't spread to the rest of the album. It's a song that goes to show that the band can still make something wonderful when inspiration hits them.

I'm Not Working is another odd one. It's like the band filled the first half of the album with the commercial stuff and then decided to let a few odd ones go near the end becausse, we assume, the average listener would have turned the album off by now. So we get some weird echoey piano notes that remind me of Prince, some dubby keyboard drones and altogether a song that is unlike much else on the record. To be honest the lyrics aren't up to a lot, but its at least a nice break after the slight boredom of the albums first group of songs. It even sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel's old and good stuff for a little bit near the end. Overall, goodish. Except for the 'delirium on helium' line, which just makes my mind thing of Kula Shaker's 'wizard in a blizzard, a mystical machine gun.' Badness.

With You're Tender And You're Tired we have our third individual and interesting track musically in a row. Big loud echoey piano, lovely Phil Spector vocals, and despite some dodgy lyrics, quite enjoyable. Not, I must add, as enjoyable as the bands old records, but at least listenable and interesting rather than predictable like some of the singles.

Born A Girl is an odd one. Musically its nothing to shout about, but lyrically it's a big big mess. Nicky wishes he was born a girl, because being a man is quite hard and stuff. In one way it can be interpreted as being an honest complaint about the power of gender boundaries, but in another it can be seen as viewing womens lives as easier than mens, which is why one female fan had a huge go at Nicky backstage soon after he'd written it. Personally I think if the song had more going for it musically, i'd be far more bothered about the politics. Overall: meh. A dirge. And not a good dirge. There are good dirges you know! Scott Walker, Nico, Velvets! GOOD DIRGE! This is bad, shitty dirge.

Be Natural is rather amusing in that its a bloody big Pearl Jam ripoff. I forget which song its ripping off, but that guitar riff at the start is a direct lift. It's a slowy, and by this point in the album I have to point out how disjointed it is as a listening experience. It starts with the run of singles, a few of which are quite upbeat, and then goes into a run of 7 or 8 songs, all of which are slowish, a tiny bit impenetrable, and not really that catchy. It's really a wonder that the band kept most of their fanbase with this one, but then I suppose they had enough great singles live to allow them to do festival shows for years to come. So overall, Be Natural is okaaay, with a good touch of melody as the chorus rises, but otherwise its kind of odd. The guitar solo sounds very OK Computer, and there are some pleasant bits, but overall its a bit unsatisfying.

Black Dog On My Shoulder has a good rhtyhththymthm to it (I swear i'm not drunk here, it's called feeling jaunty), and a nice Scott Walker-esque verse with a good bit of horn action. It's a song about depression that's surprisingly uplifting. The acoustic guitar is beautifully produced. Some bad lyrics though. Nicky's 'like Carlito's Way there are no exit signs' is very very messy, an example of him trying to keep the political/art/literary references thing going but failing to make it sound right as it did in the old days. He would do far worse in the future (bet you can't wait for the Know Your Enemy review venerable reader)!

Nobody Loved You isn't too great. It's a retread of The Everlasting; Richey themed lyrics, slow music with little to keep the interest. Bad lyrics about airmiles. Bad anthemic chorus that sounds completely out of place after the more experimental and thoughtful songs before it. This is the sort of semi-rock shite that turned a lot of people off of the band.

Last up is SYMM. Originally entitled South Yorkshire Mass Murderer, and based on the Hillsborough football disaster in which a large amount of fans were crushed to death following police inaction and incompetence (the fans were incorrectly blamed by the police and press), its title was soon changed and the lyrics made some of us wonder what the fuss was all about anyway. In years to come, will anyone listening to this album know what SYMM stands for? Will they care? The band decided to end the album with a political statement of some sort and came up with a stifled and confused outburst that signifies very little. I don't want to quote the lyrics because they'd really too shit for words. It made me quite angry at the time how the band could cheat themselves and the fans so much. It's basically a song about trying to write a song about something and not being able to. Fantastic. The chorus says 'South Yorkshire Mass Murdered/How can you sleep at night?', but unless you know what they're talking about already, you're none the wiser. It's a bad end to a confused album.

Uhrghgh! So there we are. Sorry if that was a bit of a struggle, but I was honestly expecting to enjoy the album more after having given it a bit of a break. It's an odd piece in all, the band seem confused about what their intentions are, the music is uninspired with occasionally tiny flashes of their past glories, and overall it's an unsatisfying listening experience. BUT MAYBE some of you disagree? If so i'd love to hear your comments. I will add in the albums semi-defence that a few of the best songs from the Truth sessions slipped onto the Tolerate single as bsides, but i'll talk about them once I get through reviewing the bands albums and do a few posts about all of their bsides. Watch out for those.

For now, here are some music videos and live performances:

The Everlasting (music video)
The Everlasting (live on TOTP)
The Everlasting (live on Later)
The Everlasting (live Madrid 1999)
If You Tolerate This... (music video)
If You Tolerate This... (live on TOTP)
If You Tolerate This... (live on Later)
If You Tolerate This... (live at Toppen '98)
If You Tolerate This... (live)
If You Tolerate This... (live Glasto '03)
If You Tolerate This... (live acoustic)
You Stole The Sun... (music video)
You Stole The Sun... (live on TOTP
You Stole The Sun... (live Brussels '02)
You Stole The Sun... (live Glasto '99)
You Stole The Sun... (live Glasto '03)
Ready For Drowning (soundcheck)
Tsunami (live on TOTP)
Tsunami (live on Later)
Tsunami (live on Glasto '99)
Tsunami (live Brussels '02)

And here are some songs from the album. Enjoy.

Download: Manic Street Preachers - Tsunami - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - My Little Empire - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - Black Dog On My Shoulder - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - Be Natural - MP3

Discography: (click to buy @

New Art Riot EP (1990)

Generation Terrorists (1992)

Gold Against The Soul (1993)

The Holy Bible - 2CD+DVD (1994)

Everything Must Go (1996)

This Is My Truth... (1998)

Know Your Enemy (2001)

Lifeblood (2004)

Forever Delayed - Hits (2002)

Lipstick Traces - Bsides (2003)

Great Western - JD Bradfield (2006)

Everything Live - VHS (1997)

Leaving The 20th Century - DVD (2001)

Louder Than War - DVD (2001)

Forever Delayed - DVD (2002)

Sweet Venom (Book)


Blogger Simon said...

You say:

In years to come, will anyone listening to this album know what SYMM stands for?

Well, I'd guess that once they listen to the song, they'll quickly work out that the line "South South Yorkshire mass murderer" is a bit of a clue.

And then you say:

unless you know what they're talking about already, you're none the wiser

Well, many Manics songs need a bit to research to uncover the theme. Research which is very very easy in the Google era.

Let's look at the lyrics. There's a name in there: Jimmy McGovern. What happens if we google it? Oh, he's a director. There's his imdb entry as the first result. What was he directing prior to 1998? The Lakes, Hillsborough, Cracker, etc etc. If we work through them backwards from 1998, the second one we'd research would be Hillsborough. In fact, the first hit is (drumroll please) The Hillsborough Justice Campaign. I don't think it's going to take a listener of average intelligence that long to twig is it?

I don't even like the song but that criticism is just nonsense. It's one of the least cryptic Manics songs ever written. If you want to criticise it, why not attack the pedestrian, uninspired lyrics:

The subtext of this song
I've thought about it for so long
But it's really not the sort of thing
That people want to hear us sing

And then we get on to you critising the manics for criticising the police over the disaster. Many of those fans you tar with one brush wouldn't have even got into the stadium if the unturnstiled gates had not been opened. And what was the police response to crushed fans scaling the steel fences and attempting to escape? They thought it was a pitch invasion and sent in reinforcements to keep fans off the pitch. They didn't even realise there was a crush!

The Taylor Report even blamed lack of police control for the disaster. "Mass murderer" might be rather over the top but, jesus, that's not exactly unusual for the manics either.

12:01 am, November 24, 2006  
Blogger Jamie Summers said...

hmm i think my wording was off. i wasn't blaming the fans at all. it would read better as 'the fans were blamed by the police and an incompetent, ignorant press'.

12:09 am, November 24, 2006  
Blogger Simon said...

Ah, ok. And I see you've changed the post too. Fair play. I do think that probably some of the fans acted irresponsibility but it's not really the focus of the post so I shan't harp on.

Was the comment I don't want to quote the lyrics because they'd really too shit for words also added in? If not, I missed it before suggesting the lyrics as the most obvious flaw of SYMM.

3:45 am, November 24, 2006  
Blogger Jamie Summers said...

Well it was a fair point. To be honest I didn't have time to read over the whole post again before posting it so no wonder it slipped through.

The bit about the lyrics was definitely there before, no way i could miss that out!

7:35 am, November 24, 2006  

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