This Sullen Welsh Heart – An ode to R S Thomas; the torture of the mirror; delicate, sparse; our version of Welsh country music; cruel self-examination, an intense critique of the self, exposing one’s own fallibility; the battle of love and hate; heavily influenced by Leonard Cohen’s ’60s duets and Lloyd Cole’s ‘Are You Ready to be Heartbroken’; featuring a beautifully broken vocal from Lucy Rose.
Show Me The Wonder – Lyrically an existentialist’s celebration of doubt – referencing ‘This Is My Truth’ – perhaps it’s better that some things cannot be explained; science or religion constantly search for an answer that sometimes just doesn’t exist; musically ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’ Vegas Elvis / ‘Exile on Main Street’ brass. Most positive track, on the record, recorded Decca style (three mics, thirty minutes). Its optimistic sound may be slightly misleading.
Rewind The Film – Six and a half minutes of uplifting heartbreak featuring a stunning vocal from Richard Hawley; a mixture of David Axelrod, Love & Scott Walker. Made the album make sense; lyrically the core themes of mortality, responsibility and self-awareness.
Builder of Routines – One of two tracks recorded in Berlin; a first for the Manics – it was written by text message – Nick couldn’t make it to Germany due to family illness, James and Sean had a tune so the lyric was written and sent via text; the words are trying to convey building something out of chaos; tried to make it sound like Neil Young recording ‘Harves’t in Hansa; features a perfectly forlorn French horn solo by Sean; shortest track on the album
4 Lonely Roads – Influenced by A.E. Housman’s poetry; Jenny & Johnny, the Beatles’ Two of Us; features a lead vocal from Cate Le Bon which is warm, pure and complete.
(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline – The awe-inspiring wonder of Tokyo; the ancient and the modern; memories burnt into your skull that never leave; the joy of being lost, of feeling like an alien but also strangely very safe; a soundtrack to a short film; mesmerizing, beguiling like the city itself; also inspired by Max Richter. Musically like no other Manics track.
Anthem For A Lost Cause – Abba-esque version of R.E.M; Dexys horns; classic mid ’70s Rod Stewart; lyrically a song against itself, raging against the diminishing value attached to the power of song itself. Lyrics by James.
As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin) – Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt; the horn section of Van Morrison’s ‘It Stoned Me’; a song of deep and honest loss; the strangely uplifting power of acknowledged sadness. The slowness of Tom Waits, the lyrical tone of Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’.
3 Ways To See Despair – The controlled desperation of Elliot Smith; the ‘White Album’ produced by Steve Albini; only guitar solo on the album; the lyric came from staring at a beautiful photograph of the much missed Stuart Adamson.
Running Out Of Fantasy – Again recorded in Hansa hence the Germanic strings section; delicate tones reminiscent of Thurston Moore’s ’Demolished Thoughts’; echoes of ‘Everything Must Go’s’ ‘Small Black Flowers’; heavily influenced by Werner Herzog’s ‘Burden of Dreams’; fear of the constant flux, sometimes reality is too vivid to ignore; coming to terms with the delusion of rock’n’roll while still being in love with that delusion
Manorbier – The overwhelming mystery and breathtaking beauty of Manorbier Castle and it’s surroundings; the timeless prose of Jan Morris; the residual presence of Virginia Woolf writing in Manorbier Castle; genuinely odd, heavy use of theremin; follows a long line of Manics instrumentals
30 Year War – A critique of Thatcherism written six months before she died; ranging from the start of the Miner’s Strike through the Hillsborough cover-up to the end of society; the verse has the disconnect of Bowie’s ‘Lodge’r, the chorus something like our version of ‘Street Fighting Man’. Last track on the album, sonically a link to the next record.
If this record has a relation in the Manics back catalogue, it’s probably the sedate coming of age that was (the three million selling) ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’