Songs In The Key Of Anger by Allen Miles

I wrote a blog some months ago when I was drunk about the sense of apathy in this country, particularly amongst our young people. It saddens me deeply that I am now too old to be part of any revolution, because as my fellow writers Mr Featherstone and Mr Ware will identify, my 32 year-old brain simply refuses to accept the world as it is. The idea of doing a Back To Mine-type article in which one would choose to write about ten songs on a certain topic is one I’ve had for a while, yet I could never think of an appropriate theme. I wrote a brief facebook blog about miserable songs a few years ago, but I realise that I am in danger of becoming a bit of a self-pitying caricature in some-people’s eyes, and given a recent spate of less than flattering reviews for my ultra-miserable book I’ve decided I’ll leave the navel-gazing for a bit. So as I read about the latest slaughters our repulsive Prime Minister intends to inflict on the country along with being in a generally bad mood with my ailing physical condition and the fact that Lily Allen is making a comeback, I give you a new series of articles entitled Songs In The Key Of…

Anyone is welcome to have a go, but I’m going first. Here are the ten ANGRIEST songs ever written.

10. Killing In The Name Of – Rage Against The Machine

The lyric to this song, despite sounding like a repetitive screamed dirge, is actually an eloquent diatribe regarding the republican party’s amazingly convenient policy of choosing members of the ethnic minorities to fight on the frontline in all the good ol’ US of A’s silly wars. The reason it sounds so incendiary is due to the hard funk soundtrack and the avalanche of “f” words, tailor made for twenty year-olds wearing baggy jeans to shove each other around on a dancefloor. Rage frontman Zach de la Rocha is an actual political activist, and allegedly one of only three musicians the FBI have ever kept a file on.

Angriest bit: Probably the bit where he shouts “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” sixteen times.

9. Where Did It All Go Wrong –  Oasis

Oasis weren’t an angry band. There were about love and happiness and good times. Until one day in 1998 when Noel Gallagher woke up from a four-year cocaine bender and realised he utterly loathed everyone who had managed to blag their way onto the way onto the Oasis funbus and he had come to the very brink of pissing away his status of best British rock and roll songwriter of all time. The anger here is not in the song itself but the performance. Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is his comedown album and this Wall-era Pink Floyd-sounding howl is the sound of a man looking in the mirror and saying to himself “What the fucking hell have you become?”

Angriest bit: All the choruses. A man whose trademark is lighters-aloft optimism, screaming utter self-loathing.

8. She Watch Channel Zero – Public Enemy

Remarkably prescient for a song written in 1988, one of Chuck D’s finest raps about finding nothing but shite on TV. This is what hip-hop could have been. It’s so fast, so precise, so violent. The main riff is a Slayer sample, and Chuck booms away with the utmost authority while Flav cackles around him like the weirdo who hangs on to the school bully. The percussion is relentless. They were essentially a black punk band. If they hated television this much in ’88, what the hell would they make of it today?

Angriest bit: The utter genius of this passage from the third verse. If I may quote:

“Her brains retrained
By a 24 inch remote
Revolution a solution
For all our children
But all her children
Don’t mean as much as the show”

7. Gimme Some Truth – John Lennon

Classic, Vietnam-era anti-government tirade from a man who was an absolute expert, in the same way that Bob Dylan and Lou Reed were, at using words and music to hurt people. I don’t just mean shock or offend, anyone can do that with a few swear words, but Lennon had that unique gift that so very few writers have of being able to personally insult people that he’d never met. His voice on this track is amazing, only Noddy Holder and Liam Gallagher have swallowed as much sandpaper as Lennon did. He really hated everything.

Angriest bit: 2:07, where he actually loses his breath.

6. Of Walking Abortion – Manic Street Preachers

The evacuating of the bile duct of an alcoholic intellectual at the end of his tether. This is the only song on this list that isn’t sung by the person who wrote it, which makes the performance of James Dean Bradfield here a mission of the most extreme voyeurism. The ugliest song on one of the ugliest albums of all time, a four minute vomiting-session during which Richey Edwards props himself up on his elbows and declares that he’s disgusted with every single thing he can see. The outro is so intense that it could make your grandmother’s neck veins bulge.

Angriest bit: “WHO’S RESPONSIBLE? YOU FUCKIN ARE!!!”

5. Free Satpal Ram – Asian Dub Foundation

Asian Dub Foundation should have been massive. They were the first proper ethnic punk band in the UK, their songs were as good as anything The Specials ever did, and when I saw them in 2003 supporting Radiohead, the biggest band in the world, they blew them offstage. Satpal Ram was an Englishman of Asian descent who was attacked by six skinheads in a Birmingham restaurant in 1986 over an argument about music. He stabbed one of his assailants with a table knife in self defence after being  stabbed himself and glassed in his face. He served 16 years in prison for murder. The defense lawyer he was assigned didn’t meet him until half an hour before his case was up in court.

Angriest bit: The row of the guitar solo at 1:57

4. Common People – Pulp

Class war is a very English phenomenon. And other than Billy Bragg and a band you’ve never heard of called McCarthy, Pulp are England’s best musical exponents of it. This song will either hit you in the exact centre of your heart, or you will just think of it as a cool song to dance to. I remember my disastrous attempt at going to university; my schedule consisted of getting up at six to go to work, then getting on the bus from work at eleven to go for my lecture, then running for the bus back to work which pulled up six minutes after my lecture finished, then working till eight. Repeat to fade. Repeat to exhaustion.  Coupled with the fact that I had to pay £500 a term and received no sort of bursary or grant, I was living on the very edges of my nerves. One rainy Thursday morning I slumped down in my chair for my eleven o’clock lecture, having had about two hours sleep, full of red bull and my eyes rolling back in my head. Some kid from my group called Lee sat next to me and said, “I really don’t get on with these early lectures, brother.” It took me every calorie of strength I had to stop myself from biting his eyeballs out. And that is why I love this song. And it’s finest achievement is that it gets the very kids he’s slagging off dancing to it.

Angriest bit: “They will NEVER UNDERSTAND how it feels to live your life….” it’s not on the single version…

3. Streets Of Sorrow/Birmingham Six – The Pogues

Before Shane MacGowan became the shambling drunken mess we know him as today, he was one of the finest songwriters in the world, a master of the love song, and for this writer, one of the top five lyricists of all time. This song, about the sixteen year imprisonment of six innocent men on a charge of being IRA bombers, starts with Terry Woods’s fragile acoustic lament about the unbearable sadness of the Troubles, then MacGowan elbows his way in and starts snarling through his splintering, gritted teeth about the dangers of “Being Irish in the wrong place and at the wrong time.” Tory party lizard Douglas Hurd actually amended the Anti-Terrorism Act and had the song banned from the BBC in order that  “the British public should be prevented from hearing terrorist organisations and their supporters.” Hugh Callaghan, a member of the Birmingham Six, having been released in 1991 saw it differently: “The last thing the government wanted was people like MacGowan educating the public about the Birmingham Six.”

Angriest bit: “May the whores of the empire lie awake in their beds/And sweat as they count out the sins on their heads.” Political protest was never so poetic.

2. Mosh – Eminem

Eminem is at his best when he’s at his angriest, and I nearly picked The Way I Am, but while it’s a brilliant song, we can’t really relate to his anger about being rich and famous. This however, a call-to-arms in protest against a moronic war-mongerer who somehow came to be in charge of the most powerful country in the world, is an poundingly aggressive statement of disgust. It is a genuinely frightening piece of music. Every moving part functions; the military beat stamping all the way through, the thunderclaps and twisted synths, the parrot fashion Pledge of Allegiance from whiny school-kids at the start. The video is absolutely superb, and then of course there are the words and the voice; never has such unbridled rage been so articulate. And the best thing about this song, is that where the likes of NWA and Ice-T would be banging on about shooting cops and taking sawn-offs to the white house, Mr Mathers is simply trying to get people to vote. Eloquence in screaming, indeed.

“Maybe this is god just saying we’re responsible/For this monster/This coward/That we have empowered…. How could we allow something like this/Without pumping our fists.”  Whether you like him or not, he’s brilliant with words.

1. Tramp The Dirt Down – Elvis Costello

After the blazing torrents of bhangra, punk, hip-hop and rock on this list, it might seem somewhat odd to see a simple folk song featuring nothing more than a couple of acoustic guitars, a snare and a tin whistle sitting on the top of this unholiest of trees. But listen to it. Here is a song that was written at the arse-end of Margaret Thatcher’s despicable time in office by England’s greatest ever lyricist (yes Dunham, he’s better than Morrissey) at the age of thirty-four; old and wise enough to not have to try hard to rebel or shock. It is a song that states in the most languid and poetic manner that the writer wishes to see another human being dead. Now listen to it again, hear how he rasps and growls in such hushed tones, and how you can feel the spit hit the microphone as he lists the atrocities that she committed unto the people she was supposed to be representing. Listen to the bit at 3:24, where he gets choked up and sounds like he’s going to burst into tears of rage. Famously driven by “revenge and guilt” to write songs, Costello here bleeds over his guitar as he watches his own country get battered into submission by a group of back-slapping school-tie wearing bacteria who simply do not give a toss. He knows he’s defeated, and he can only take pleasure from the vision of standing by her grave laughing. This song was written in 1989. It could have been written yesterday.

Angriest bit: All of it. Every last snarled word.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 32 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

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Ten Songs by Shane Simmons

ABBA – S.O.S.
In the first ever piece I had published (a non-fiction story for Pure Slush) I detailed a moment in my teens where my older brother used my liking for ABBA as definitive proof that I was a ‘gay’. He may have been correct but he missed two crucial facts: 1) in his late teens he was a Madonna fan (pot, kettle, etc) and 2) no one crafted songs like ABBA did. The verses are amazingly maudlin (which will fit in nicely with so many of following selections it would seem…) but many of ABBA’s best songs have a bleak undertones to them. When the chorus kicks you get a much needed shot of pure power-pop to the veins. Gay? Nah, just genius.

Joan Armatrading – Love and Affection
I think one of my sisters introduced me to this song. As an awkward teen I often felt the one thing missing in my life was a bit of ‘love’. In my family and person life, *aww*. “If I can feel the sun in my eyes and the rain on my face, why I can’t I feel love?” That question hit me like a ton of bricks, and yet there’s nothing more brash in this than a slightly cheesy saxophone solo. Joan Armatrading’s meek voice still sends shivers down my spine when she repetitively demands “Give me love!” as chords descend one by one behind her. The whole thing is like chocolate for the ears.

Nirvana – About a Girl (Unplugged Version)
It’s 1993. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” clears the dance floor at my primary school leavers’ disco, save for our lovely, grungy teacher, Miss Nicola Phillips, and one boy from my class, holding hands and ‘dancing’ to it. I’m so jealous, I fancied Miss Phillips rotten (My mum got piss-farting drunk at this do, something she rarely did, and told her this… *cringe*) A few years later I see a clip of this straggly guy singing this song, surrounded by black candles, it looks like a musical wake, and I’m won over. Even my mum liked it. I got “Unplugged” out of the library (I didn’t have much pocket money to buy stuff, for years the local libraries were my musical godsend) and with that, I began to learn how to play guitar. It underestimates the statement when I say that discovering Nirvana changed my life, and it all started here.

Jeff Buckley – Nightmares by the Sea
Whilst tidying racks of CDs in Woolies, I noticed Jeff Buckley’s “Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk” at a bargain price, £3.97. I stuck my name on it so I could purchase it when my shift ended. As it was scanned through the till it came up at £15.97. Some arse had stickered it wrong, buggery! This girl (one of a manager’s daughter with many more years experience than me) said it would be fine to sell it at the price on the sticker. Hmm. She insisted. A few days later I was to be found in the office blubbing and being suspended so an investigation could take place. But in my time off I grew a pair and built up a defence that would’ve got a murderer off (maybe) before going in to fight my corner. It paid off, I wasn’t sacked. The next day I gleefully handed in my notice. I’d hated that place passionately anyway. Jeff Buckley helped me get out of my miserable job. It took me years to listen to that album again and this song is the highlight for me. Considering the circumstances surrounding Jeff’s death it’s eerily physic of his own demise, “Stay, with me, under these waves tonight.” There’s those shivers again…

Nick Drake – Things Behind The Sun
One summer, my choice of music on, driving from one campsite to another, I suddenly realised where we were and suggested a detour. I grabbed the giant road atlas (this is before smartphones with GPS and sat-navs) and guided us to Tamworth-in-Arden. It was a sunny Sunday, we arrived in a quiet, quaint village. In the centre of it all was the church with accompanying graveyard in the grounds. We wandered through, and eventually found a humble looking stone. Stood there for a while, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do or say. When faced with Nick Drake’s final resting place it once again hit me that we always seem to lose the best ones far too soon. I put this on as we quietly drove away.

Hope of the States – Don’t Go To Pieces

I don’t discover many new bands so it was thanks to my mate Stevie that Hope of the States came onto my radar. He dragged me to see them play the now defunct Glasgow Barfly. He’d won tickets courtesy of XFM, so if I hated them, it was a freebie. The six-piece crammed themselves onto the tiniest of states and began belting out, “Blood Meridian”. My jaw dropped, as per the Barfly the sound was awful, but I fell in love in instantly. I ran out, bought everything by them (I also bought a violin, which I never learned to play…) and realised that “The Lost Riots” is one of the few musical masterpieces of this millennia so far. Choosing one song, it had to be this because I always think of Stevie and his wonky circulatory system when I hear it. “There’s a million good hearts like you and like me.”

The Four Fifty’s – I’m All Wrong
I had to ask the Gill Hoffs (who’d suggested I give Sitting on the Swings a shot) if it would be a bit of a faux-pas to include a song by one of my own bands, albeit one that wasn’t written or sung by myself. Stevie McEwan, (previously mentioned mate as well as musical co-conspirator), was a much more prolific songwriter than myself, I was used to him bringing me new songs, but when he brought this to me it made complete sense first time around, and I knew it was going to be a special one, if even just for us. It ended up closing our last release as The Four Fifty’s (misplaced apostrophe intentional, so we said). Stevie had hellish problems with his heart and palpitations whenever we played live and overall we’d found ourselves weary of the rigmaroles of playing a ‘scene’ we didn’t sit well with.

“I’ve got nothing else
I’ve tried everything before
Is it worth the effort, I don’t think so

We can only pack our things and go.”

Soon afterwards Stevie and his then wife-to-be had a kid, we took a few years out, and nowadays we occasionally reconvene to strum out some tunes. But of everything we ever did, this one will be with me for an eternity.

Manic Street Preachers – Faster
Nirvana obsessed teen Shane did not understand “The Holy Bible” when he first took it out of Catford Library back in the day. Fast-forward a decade and for a reason I can’t remember, the album stormed back into my life. At one point I was listening to that it four, five times a day in its entirety. I was fucked up about, well, everything at that point. I was angrier than I’d ever been before, life seemed bleak and pointless. With that, it seems logical that “The Holy Bible” and Richey Edwards’ words finally made sense to me. So I went to the GP, took some pills, got a little better as well as fatter, stopped pills, but I never left this album behind. I’d put this song one on each and every time I had to walk out into the world, like a boxer climbing into the ring. It still hits the defiant side of me like a punch in the gut, and as long as I have functioning ears, I suspect it always will.

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Spellbound

When compiling some contenders for this list, I had to have something sporting John McGeoch on guitar. He was one of the most astoundingly original musicians I’ve ever heard, and certainly the best thing to ever come out of the hellhole that is Greenock, Scotland. When I listen to him play I’m awestruck, Japanese fan-girl down the front staring up and crying awestruck, but alas he’s no longer with us and that is one humongous shame. Recently I was trying to explain just how special his playing was to my better half, and I struggled to put it into logical words. So I slapped this on. McGeoch quietly chirps throughout the song, weaving in with these beautiful, unusual picking patterns and bursting into the chorus with frantically strummed acoustic chords. McGeoch had a knack of composing perfectly for the feel of a song, and I’m ‘entranced’ by his skill each and every time.

Elliott Smith – Independence Day
And so my ten songs end here. It had to end here because I reckon “Independence Day” is possibly my favourite song of all time. I could’ve filled this list with ten Elliott Smith songs but that would’ve been boring as anything. It’s the perfect mix of happy/mournful and often it replaces “Faster” as a my ‘going out into the world again’ song. It somehow appeals to the best and worst sides of me. When I’m down, considering disappearing for all eternity, this song simultaneously fits and lifts me out of that frame of mind. “Go to sleep, and make the change, I’ll meet you here tomorrow, independence day.”

shane picShane Simmons writes in between being a till monkey, stuffing his face and having brain frazzles in the middle of the night. He lives in miserable Glasgow, came from miserable London and is generally of a quiet yet angry nature. He is willing to listen to strangers talk about their lives if they buy him cakes. He doesn’t like Twitter as there is a word limit but he can be found blogging at http://scribblingsimmons.wordpress.com/ He is currently working on twelve short stories for publication through Pure Slush next year.

Generation Terrorists (A Glam Symphony In Two Parts) by Allen Miles

“You are pure, you are snow,
We are the useless sluts that they mould,
Rock n’ roll is our epiphany,
Culture, alienation, boredom and despair.”

Little Baby Nothing, Manic Street Preachers

Myself and Mr Potter occasionally get misty-eyed at work after talking with furrowed brows about how we are struggling to pay bills, and hark back to our youth, how we had the greatest job in the world and how life was so easy because our heads were full of magic, we had a decent amount of money to burn and we could do as we pleased. The only three things we spent our wages on were music, clothes and going out. We bought different clothes, listened to different music and went to different clubs, but Mike and I both acknowledge now that those were the glory days. Nothing has touched them since.

Ms McCartney has written her requiem to the glorious days of our late teens. And, in much the same way that Mr Taylor and his wife have given their separate takes on the same story, I’m now going give my take on the glorious year that was 1999.

She’s right. She knows she’s right because she was there. It was all about the music, all about the looks and all about the invincibilty. It was a time when independent shops still flourished on high streets, David Beckham was known for playing football and Johnny Vaughan was seen as the future of television. The 18 year-old Allen Miles? I wouldn’t like to meet him. He’s got an appalling attitude, treats women like shite and for some reason people call him Ally. He looks like a girl and doesn’t seem to get hangovers. He’s frightened of nothing and thinks he’s going to rule the world. What a dick. No, I wouldn’t like to meet him, but it was a hell of a lot of fun to be him.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

This photo was actually taken a year or so later but we still look pretty.

Unlike Lyndsay, I never rebelled at school. Although I was a gobby little sod I was quite bookish and nerdy and should have been a prime target for the tracksuit-clad, cider-drinking bullies of my year but I was a decent football player so I was sort-of in with their crowd at the same time. You can’t show the merest trace of flamboyance if you’re friends with those sort of people. The summer we left school would be remembered for the shambolic parties at Woody’s where women never turned up and the never-ending afternoons during which Martyn and I would come up with the name of this website. I spent most of my time listening to Oasis and The Stone Roses, brilliant bands but neither with any real image to get excited about, and my other two most played albums were Stanley Road by Paul Weller, and Everything Must Go by The Manic Street Preachers, which I loved, but didn’t know much about. The Manics were in the press a lot that summer, due to having had their first number one single, and a one night an BBC Up Close documentary about them was due to air. I’d watched the previous week’s episode about Creation Records and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I flicked over to channel 2 and my life was completely changed.

Lyndsay

Lyndsay

Richey

Richey

Having been used to seeing this band in kagouls and slack jeans, to see them in blouses and feathers and military gear and spray paint was jaw-dropping. I bought the rest of their back catalogue within a week; my perception of what music could be had completely changed. Music now had to have a bit of glamour, a band had to be more than just a band. Out went the Ocean Colour Scene, Weller and The Verve. In came The Clash, The Smiths, Placebo and Suede. I got my job at Castle Hill, which provided me with £50 a week and I was also running a racket at college selling pirated Playstation games so I had plenty of money to spend on CDs and clothes. I remember going to the Wyke Christmas Party at the age of 17, me in my Manics T-Shirt that I’d bought when I’d seen them the previous week, watching all the orange Jennifer Aniston wannabes boogying to Another Level and the Spice Girls, thinking, “I don’t want to be here, these aren’t my people.” Who were my people?

Unlike Ms McCartney, I never wanted a gang. I would quite happily be the outsider who everyone sees as a little bit strange and intense and not someone to talk to on a casual basis. I wasn’t one to desperately try and get in with the cool crowd who sat on the sofas in the common room at college when I could hang about in some far flung corner of the science wing with one or two of my grubby football mates instead. I’m not very good at making friends to this day, mainly because I’m a terrible inverted snob. But as it turned out, there were a few more terrible inverted snobs out there. At Spiders, and at Room.

My surrogate sister Sam Hopper had somehow seen some sort of potential in me, and wanted to drag me away from my grubby chav roots. And she had nagged and cajoled and, by the end, downright abused me into coming out with her crowd and I first went to Spiders in probably April 1999, I was 17 years old. I was wearing my Manics t-shirt, and a pair of jeans. I went down there with legendary Hull piss-artist Andrew “Beast” Hawkins, who is now a possibly-insane recluse and hasn’t been seen since 2008. I saw Sam and her crowd in the entrance and the first song I heard there was Kevin Carter. A vodka and coke was 55p. I wasn’t expected to drink lager and belch manfully. I’d be at home here.

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesnt it?

That bottle of wine just seems to always be there doesn’t it?

At first I’d go maybe once every three weeks. I enjoyed it but was pretty much hanging on for invites from other people. Also I’d taken to spending the odd Saturday night going on massive rambles around Hull with a charismatic and erudite gentleman I’d met at my new job who now calls himself Xavier Dwyer. He turned up on my doorstep one night, having only been introduced about a week earlier, and simply said “Fancy going for a walk?” These walks would become known as The Tours and are among the happiest times of my life. We would have utterly pointless debates such as “Which band were better The Who or The Clash?” or “Is Pablo Honey underrated?” He would furnish me with exotic items such as Radiohead bootlegs and a grainy video import of the then-still banned Clockwork Orange. We talked of one day forming our own band and taking over the world. We had a party at my house where we both smashed the guitars that we could barely play. We went to V99 to see the Manics, Suede and Placebo; I wore a Mecca shirt with the sleeves ripped off because I wanted to be Joe Strummer, Xavier wore a black balaclava because he wanted to be James Dean Bradfield. Glorious, ridiculous, unequivocally romantic memories.

As that monumental summer turned to autumn, I was going to Spiders every Saturday, and by this time I’d met Ms McCartney, Ms Spavin-Haigh, Arthur and unbeknownst to me then, the lanky ginger guy who would be my best man ten years later, Dr Dave Salmond. So this, along with my long-time birding and boozing partner Woody, was now my crowd. How unspeakably beautiful we looked! A year previously I had been a tracky-bottom-wearing grubboid who spent his weekends watching repeats of The Thin Blue Line on UK Gold, now I smeared my eyes in kohl, donned my shiny blue satin shirt and copped off with so many girls it was a disgrace. I had a playlist that by tradition I absolutely had to play before I left my bedroom at seven o’clock every Saturday night.

This Charming Man – The Smiths
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Going Underground – The Jam
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me – U2
So Dead – Manic Street Preachers
White Riot, White Man In Hammersmith Palais, London’s Burning, I Fought The Law – The Clash

I never ever had a hangover, but I realise in hindsight that was because I didn’t drink very much. I could go out with thirty quid and come back with plenty of change. It wasn’t about the drinking, it was about the euphoria of being part of something, looking fantastic and feeling, as Lyndsay has already said, completely invincible. Fearless. We were in thrall to Richey and Brett and Brian Molko, and we all tried to impress each other by quoting Camus and Sartre, even though we wouldn’t read them for another five years. I would shamelessly plagarize any gimmick from whichever androgynous tortured genius I favoured that week; Brett’s single braid in his fringe from the Stay Together video, Johnny Marr’s polka-dot shirt, Nicky Wire’s white jeans… When a new lost photo from this era emerges myself and Mr Salmond more often than not find ourselves wincing at the pair of ponces that stood in our eighteen year old shoes. It was a different age though, and at the time we thought we were the cat’s pyjamas. And we were.

I do that, sometimes...

I do that, sometimes…

That December was the last month of it. I remember one day me and Xavier were both off work and we walked all the way into town from his house down Arram Grove to go record shopping. It was snowing and the grates down Beverly Road were spewing steam into the frozen air, a proper winter’s day. I bought a load of Suede vinyl and Manics memorabilia from Disc Discovery down Spring Bank and arranged to go to Room on the night. I walked round to Woody’s house with a Suede song called The Chemistry Between Us in my head, and I knew as I walked that these were the glory days. This was the peak of youth and these were the days that I would remember in years to come when I was old and bitter and sat typing at one in the morning. More than any other song, that one encapsulated what it was like to be young and pretty with a head full of colliding stars, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but as 1999 became 2000, something was lost. After we got back from Cardiff the make-up and glitter went in the bin, and the gang mentality seemed to dissipate. We still went every Saturday but something had changed, like it was an obligation rather than for fun. The silks and satins would be replaced by Mecca jeans and Converse work shirts; I somehow acquired my first long-term girlfriend, and twenty disastrous months later I would find the Manics and Suede replaced by Nick Cave and Scott Walker, alone in a flat I couldn’t afford, an eviction notice nailed to my door, having drunk myself half to death as I waited for the next angel to come and rescue me.

Lyndsay writes of how important it is for any young people to feel they belong to something. I never wanted that. My memories of that period are defined by the feeling that I didn’t want to belong to anything. I wouldn’t join any club that would have me, as Groucho Marx once said. But for those eight or nine months in 1999, I genuinely believe that on a level of sheer euphoria it was as good as my life ever got. The three chaps I have spoken of in this piece; Dave, Xavier and Woody, remain, fourteen years later, my three best friends, and occasionally, we speak of those times as we down our warm pints of mild in a “food pub” or a “cafe bar” and sneer disapprovingly as we watch the trendy teenagers of the day sleep walk their way down the streets as they play with their smart phones and listen to their mp3 players. Me and Woody, in particular, often kid ourselves that it isn’t we who have got old, rather it is the clubs that have gone downhill. (“Now, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) All four of us will have contretemps about how we dressed, whether we looked silly or looked cool, and whether it is ok to listen to Generation Terrorists when you’re thirty-one. One thing we always agree on though, and we’ve both used this word already; we were utterly invincible.

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 2 year-old daughter who is into Queens Of The Stone Age. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx

Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 23

No. 23. Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers (2009)

journal

The Manics were on dangerous ground in 2009. After hitting a seemingly irreparable artistic low with the turgid and faceless Lifeblood in 2004, they stumbled upon a career-saving single in Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, and salvaged their reputation with the up-tempo and up-beat Send Away The Tigers album. Given the wildly varying quality of the band’s recorded output, the obvious option would have been to play it safe and churn out another set of crowd-pleasing anthems. Of course, being the most contrary band of all time, The Manics instead elected to hire one of the most avowedly uncommercial record producers ever and craft an album based on the unused lyrics of their missing, presumed dead rhythm guitar player; a de facto sequel to The Holy Bible, their coruscatingly dark masterpiece of fifteen years earlier. Without doing any promotion, and without releasing a single.

The fact is, based on music alone, there are several contenders for singles here. The second track has huge chiming riff and a lovely swelling chorus which you could easily imagine on the radio. It has been used in its instrumental form on Match Of The Day. The problem is it’s titled Jackie Collins Existential Question Time and features the opening verse “Tonight we beg the question: If a married man fucks a Catholic and his wife dies without knowing does it make him unfaithful, people?” Viking FM decided not to take up the option.

Richey’s blood is all over this album, but where horror and death and misery were branded onto the twisted grooves of The Holy Bible, here is to be found warmth and occasionally even levity (“We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical.”) It is far from a happy record, She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach describes a woman so controlled by her lover she will burn her skin to please him; Virginia State Epileptic Colony details a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest-style mental asylum; and the album as a whole is filled with astonishing imagery (Bruises on my hands from digging my nails out.) but where The Holy Bible was bleak, Journal For Plague Lovers is blank, tired and sad.

It is clear from the first track that James Dean Bradfield is playing out of his skin, elevating the staccato prose with riffs both muscular (Peeled Apples) and tuneful (Me and Steven Hawking) but, perhaps fittingly for such a sombre album, it is the acoustic tracks which provide the stand-outs. The stately This Joke Sport Severed is the closest the Manics have ever got to Achtung Baby-era U2, and Facing Page: Top Left is a gorgeous wistful Nick Drake-style lament for a world obsessed by appearance and flippancy. Then we have Doors Closing Slowly. When they previewed the album on MTV, rather than play the song, they simply had Bradfield read the words to camera, as if the audience wouldn’t be able to cope with the sheer gravitas of the music. A thudding march and the incredibly sensitive vocal deliver one of the greatest lyrics of modern times. The final battered snare drum coda and sampled outro fade into the sound of a ticking clock. It is one of the most utterly hopeless songs ever written.

Tucked away at the end of the album is William’s Last Words, and the question will forever remain, “Is it a suicide note?” It could be taken as such, but it is apparently a song based on the Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer, about a music hall performer who refuses to accept that no-one wants to see his show anymore. Nicky Wire sings it, his first vocal performance since the disastrous Wattsville Blues, and on this occasion it fits perfectly. He is clearly absolutely terrified at being in the vocal booth, as his voice shakes and tries desperately to lose its accent, but that gives this most human of songs its human touch. It is an unbelievably direct song and for all the Manics desire to shock and wind people up, if nothing else this album proves that they are at their best when conveying emotion, no matter how difficult to handle it may be.

One final aside that exemplifies why this album is so important; if you scroll back up to the top you will see the album’s sleeve. A Jenny Saville oil painting of a boy with a blood splattered face. When I wandered down to my local branch of Morrisons to buy the album, this image had been censored to the supermarket shoppers and the CD was encased in a plain blue sleeve with minimalist type on it. Next to it festered an album by something called The Pussycat Dolls. The sleeve to this record featured four or five surgically sculpted women with a post-watershed amount of flesh on show posing with fingers suggestively in mouths/on thighs having been painted orange by a computer programme. This was apparently acceptable. But that little boy, cover star of an album that explained so eloquently why the world doesn’t work anymore, had to be covered up.

Deary deary me.

Best Tracks: This Joke Sport Severed, Doors Closing Slowly, Marlon J.D.

Best Moment: From William’s Last Words: I’m really tired/ I’d love to go to sleep/And wake up happy/Wake up happy.
If you don’t get a lump in your throat, then you are probably Kim Jong-un.

Like this? Try: Candy Apple Grey by Husker Du, 1986

profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/8d2pysx