Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Lockdown posts: The WYCRA 200 articles #1

Most, if not all of my readers will remember a wonderful blog that once existed called When You Can't Remember Anything (WYCRA), hosted by the dynamic duo of South West Correspondent (SWC) and the late Tim Badger. How these two were so consistently funny and brilliant never ceased to amaze me. After WYCRA came to an unexpected end, they reformed a while later with the equally brilliant The Sound Of Being OK (TSOBO), this time joined by the wonderful Kay (KC/KT).

Devastatingly, as we know, Tim passed away suddenly last year and it knocked everyone for six. As such, TSOBO closed for good. However, I did have the enormous honour of writing a couple of pieces for the boys under the WYCRA banner as part of their series entitled The WYCRA 200, in which they listed their top 200 tracks and asked friends and contributors to write about some of them too. The list never reached its conclusion, but I did do a couple of articles for them which, for posterity's sake, I've decided to reproduce here. As they didn't pay me for my work (and I'm certainly not cheap), I've assumed the Copyright on the articles so publish and be damned, I figure!

I don't recall when they were originally published, but the date stamp on the Word documents I wrote them in show they were written in the summer of 2016. Here's the first one.

THE WYCRA 200 - #101
Spectators Of Suicide [Heavenly version] - Manic Street Preachers

Funny how things turn out, isn't it? When asked for a number by SWC and Badger, I plumped, totally randomly, for 101. And so it is that the writer of a 100-part series on Welsh music and a fan of the Manic Street Preachers ends up with a Manics tune to write about. Who'd've thunk it, eh?

SWC insists that the version of Spectators of Suicide to be critiqued here is the one that appeared on the b-side of the original release of You Love Us on the Heavenly label in 1991. Most people will be more familiar with the re-recorded take that turned up on the debut album 'Generation Terrorists' the following year. Both versions are radically different to each other, both in terms of the music, the vocals and the overall mood. Opinion is generally split amongst fans over which is the superior version.

There are several reasons why Spectators Of Suicide is such a notable moment in the Manics' history. It is, apparently, the track where label bosses at Heavenly decided the Manics were a proper band and should be taken seriously. It was also the first clear indication of the band's manifesto, a distillation of their core ideals and themes that would shape their future output. Spectators... is essentially an anti-capitalist song, though it reflects the tiredness and resignation of those who have tried, and failed, to fight the system. James' vocals on this version are weary and subdued, singing Richey's words with a sigh:

The only free choice is the refusal to pay / Life reduced to suicidal comforting

While held in high regard by many fans, there are various conflicting elements in this original that may lie behind the reasons for the song being redone for the album. For starters, the opening sample of Black Panthers founder Bobby Seale urging his audience to rise up against the government is at odds with the song's passivity. And while James' vocal does live up to the feelings expressed in the lyrics, it perhaps underplays the power of the words within. They kind of get lost among the guitars which at times just seem a little too edgy and bright.

The subsequent album version changed the dynamic. The acoustic guitars present in the original were much more prominent with the electrics tamed somewhat, not only set further back in the mix, but also predominantly swathed in effects. Sean's drums were more restrained and complimented with other percussion, while James employed his trademark higher-register voice to belt out the despair and anguish of the lyrics.

I could make the case for the album version being the better one, but this is SWC and Badger's list, not mine. Besides, the original should be judged on its own merits and it has long been heralded as one of the first signs of the Manics' true qualities as a band. It hinted that there might just be some substance behind the eyeliner.

Here's that original version, which later appeared on the b-sides compilation 'Lipstick Traces':

And here's the re-recorded version from the debut album:

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