New Project: Manic Street Preachers – A Critical Discography

Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head is probably one of the best books anyone has ever written on a musical subject. In it the late, great writer analyses every track The Beatles ever recorded in the studio, looking at the writing, recording, and many layers of context behind each of their 241 songs. When I got my copy, I followed MacDonald’s journey by reading along as I listened to the 200+ songs I had to hand in the order of their recording. The experience made the Beatles discography seem, if anything, more wonderful even as the book exposed the flaws and compromises – as well as the strengths and moments of true genius – behind the recordings.

Now, I’m no Ian MacDonald. But I am a huge Manic Street Preachers fan, and ever since I first read Revolution in the Head, I’ve felt that they are a band – perhaps the only band since the ’60s – to deserve the same kind of treatment. As with the Beatles, the Manics are a band who have attracted so much attention for their aesthetic, history and overall story that their actual music has been neglected; not just songs, but whole albums have collected dust while countless fly-by-night indie pretenders have column inches lavished upon them.

Without MacDonald’s huge experience and knowledge of musicology, my analysis cannot hope to be as deep and incisive as his. He also had the dubious advantage of being able to scour the recording archives to understand many intricate details of how the Fab Four actually put their songs to tape; that kind of information just isn’t available for the Manic Street Preachers. But with my new blog Manic Street Preachers: A Critical Discography, I’m working to do some degree of justice to the 259 songs they have recorded since 1988.

Right now I’m coming to the end of the tracklisting for Generation Terrorists, the Manics’ mammoth 18-song debut album released in 1992. For an explanation of the cataloguing system I’m using to make sense of the songs (heavily based on MacDonald’s) I’ve written a note on it; I’ll also be writing a special album essay to shed some light on the background behind each of the band’s ten full-length albums. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

New Feature: Five Dark Parallels Between NIN’s ‘The Downward Spiral’ and the Manics’ ‘The Holy Bible’

It’s been too long since I wrote a feature for PopMatters. Free of the vapid hype of most music sites, the broad-minded, serious site is my sole writing home for the time being. This piece is one that has been in the pipeline for a while, and explores five dark parallels between 1994’s darkest, bleakest albums. Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible has long been a huge favourite of mine; Nine Inch Nails’ similarly gruelling The Downward Spiral feels like its industrial, American, million-selling sister record.

Read the full article at PopMatters

2011’s Top Ten LPs (My Two Cents)

I read an amusing tweet earlier – Any Decent Music, the Scottish music review aggregator site, announced that “those laggards at TLOBF have finally completed their best albums list, so the Best Of The Best Ofs is now wrapped up”. That’s ADM’s epic undertaking which aggregates “best of 2011″ lists and has produced a top 50 from them. Of all the contributing publications TLOBF took the longest to get their list up, which I think says something about how seriously the editorial team took the exercise. Of course, the whole affair shows just how many publications want a look-in at the best albums game: to the music criticism world, they’re what this time of year is about.

At the same time, having an opinion is what us music writers do, and here’s my hat thrown into the ring. I make no claim that I’ve heard hundreds of records in 2011, and certainly I’ve heard a fraction of even the big ones – but this is my list of personal favourites, the records which have made the biggest impact on me and the ones which I’ll forever connect with the developments the year has brought into my own life. As usual, there’s not a lot of crossover with the lists ADM aggregated, but hopefully a few underheard gems which could do for you what they did for me. More

Unsung Heroes #2: Daughter

Unsung Heroes is the new semi-regular feature on Wordcore in which I extoll the virtues of an artist I just don’t think gets listened to or recognised enough. This time around I bend the rules to introduce a badly-kept secret: the bruised and powerful “folk” sounds of Daughter.

Some clever soul on Twitter the other week commented that next time they had the chance, they’d ask someone what it was like to be a man in a band. It’s a wry joke but one with a real point behind it – in 2011, the incredible emerging artists seem much more often to be women (or bands heavily involving women) than men. Without wanting to conscript Unsung Heroes into the sex war, that tweet is on my mind as I choose to highlight this particular artist. More

Farewell to Truck Store

Another phase in Oxford’s musical history is coming to a close. After eight months of operation as the city’s only indie record shop, Truck Store will soon close its doors, hopefully to relocate and re-open in a different guise. Run by the teams behind Witney record shop Rapture and and top local festival Truck, the store has been at the heart of the Cowley Road musical community – but probably owing to Truck’s disappointing ticket sales and financial meltdown this summer, the store will relocate to Gloucester Green and become a new branch of Rapture. More

PopMatters’ Top Summer Performances of 2011

The folks at PopMatters love their lists, so they do, and in that spirit they’ve put together a compendium of favourite live peformances that took place this summer across the US and Europe. Selections include Phish playing in Nevada and Colorado, Friendly Fires in New York and Beach House at London’s Alexandra Palace, but my selection was Bellowhead’s triumphant performance at Summer Sundae in Leicester this August. The list is here, and once more features the photography of Stevie Denyer.

Unsung Heroes #1: Foreign Slippers

Unsung Heroes is going to be a new semi-regular feature on Wordcore in which I’ll extoll the virtues of an artist I just don’t think gets listened to or recognised enough. In each case, I’ll give an insight into their background and, where possible, provide some audio-visual stimuli to help bring new listeners up to speed.

To my mind, Farewell to the Old Ghosts is one of the finest debut albums of 2011. Although independently released in April and available to stream in full and to purchase on Bandcamp, the record by Foreign Slippers has gone almost completely unnoticed by even the indie music media. When this folk-pop project, built around Swedish songstress Gabi Frödén, has been written about it has almost exclusively been in reference to its live sets in support of the likes of Duke Special and Dag för Dag. That ought to change. More

New Troops of Mafeking EP Reviewed in The Sentinel

Alsager’s Troops of Mafeking completely eclipsed Japanese Voyeurs when they supported them at Stoke’s Sugarmill back in April, and it was on the basis of that performance that I jumped at the chance to review their latest EP Fake Glamour. Although accusations that the alt-rock four-piece are derivative aren’t exactly blown away by the songs, I’m of the opinion that these guys still have significant potential. Also on the very same page of today’s Sentinel is an interview with Cheshire rockers The Retrospective; when the pieces go online I’ll include links.

Playing God #1: Queen

Inactive since 2007 but still online, the wonderful music site Stylus used to have a series of features called “Playing God”. The loose idea was that writers chose an album and created an alternate tracklisting for it. This could mean compressing a double album down to a single LP, combining favourite tracks from consecutive records to make a hybrid, or swapping out weaker album tracks for superior B-sides and other rarities.

The 2003 to 2007 features spanned a whole range of artists, from Nine Inch Nails to Stevie Wonder, The Beatles to Jay-Z, but they were always fascinating in that they opened a window onto a completely new way of listening to a record, uniquely dreamed up by another avid music fan. For a while now, I’ve wanted to try it out for myself and to begin with, the band I choose is Queen. This is quite timely, as it happens, because not only are their classic albums being reissued this year on Island, but today would have been Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday. For my “Playing God”, I’ve decided to combine their 1975 album A Night at the Opera and its 1976 sequel A Day at the Races. Behold, below… More

Jookabox Is Dead, Long Live Jookabox

It’s no secret that Jookabox, formerly known as Grampall Jookabox, creators of one of the year’s best albums (The Eyes of the Fly), and Indianapolis purveyors of undead hip-rocktronica were/are one of my favourite bands. Although David “Moose” Adamson’s gloriously weird act called it a day this year, there are a few free downloads still doing the rounds for those who, like me, need another fix.

Firstly Dead Zone RMXS - a very intriguing compilation of remixes of songs from penultimate record Dead Zone Boys - is still available for free download from the Asthmatic Kitty site. Featuring the likes of Amtrak, Ligryo and Brad Dujmovic the set has ten tracks, mostly reinventing “Zombie Tear Drops” and “Phantom Don’t Go” but in a huge variety of different and very listenable ways. A couple of tracks even have rap verses…

I’ve no idea when it first appeared, but the band’s label also have a mixtape going by the name of 317 Ways. “A collection of remixes, inspirations, and irreverent curiosities”, the download is apparently “a portrait of Jookabox in transition” so it may be pre-Eyes of the Fly material. Again, it’s completely free.

Thirdly – and here’s an old one – there’s also the lone Daytrotter session which Adamson and co. recorded back in 2009. This features some on-the-spot versions of four songs from the two albums recorded under the Grampall Jookabox name, 2007’s Scientific Cricket and 2008’s Ropechain.

If all that wasn’t enough there’s one more thing – it looks as though Jookabox’s last breath will be Blood Root Mind Rot, a collection of outtakes, remixes and alternate versions of tracks from the final album. It’s streamable and purchasable for just $5 from Bandcamp. Now, that should be enough Jookabox madness to keep even me going for a little while…

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