Manic Street Preachers – Forever Delayed DVD
I've been ill on the sofa and decided to watch this DVD all the way through with the aim of recalling the old days when I didn't have the flu. It's not really worth even attempting to read all this unless you love the Manics as much as I do, it's bloody long. I think I'm just in a Manics mood.
I'm not one for reviews mainly because they aren't really read by anyone and there are few reviewers in general (not just on blogs) who are any good. Most of the ones in the national newspapers and music press aren't hugely inspiring. Even my staple, the NME, shouldn't really be exposed to people until they've learned how to read it (a hyped band will never get less than 7 or the NME loses face, therefore avoid any hype band who gets 7 and, even, be careful of 8s; Limp Bizkit/Linkin Park/any uncool nu metallers will get 3 maximum; etc).
But I really want to write about this DVD and I felt this review format needs testing out. And by "really want to write about this DVD" I mean I really really really want to write about it.
I'm crap with DVDs like this. I buy them, and then dip in and out, which I guess is the idea. But this time I watched it all the way through and it was amazing. Basically it is the evolution of the band from 1990 to 2003. 13 years will change anyone just on a physical level, but this had the added dimensions of the ten periods (six albums, plus four stand alone singles) of their career. And what a career! Never will there be a band as wonderfully clever and contradictory. Perfectly designed to piss off everyone and everything.
Motown Junk The first track is a stand alone single and ridiculously cheap. It's basically a badly mimed live performance which is so 'of its time' that you almost can't take it seriously. There are feckin' Madchester pudding bowl haircuts on display for crying out loud. The band look about 12 and have those wonderfully naive spray painted motto teeshirts. It smacks of the balls of total conviction and in it can be seen the reason they made it. Motown Junk is an ok punk song, but it wouldn't have made stars of most people. The stardom is there in the people playing the music. Pouting, eyeliner wearing kids. When all was Shaun Ryder and the lads of the Manc scene you can understand why this band meant something to those who didn't subscribe to the prevailing mood.
Generation Terrorists Seven videos from the debut they claimed would sell seventeen million and be their last. Didn't work out that well but I don't really think they ever meant that. It was hyperbole from a band who knew the value of getting their faces in the press, and did so with brilliant (albeit at times horrifying) effectiveness. In truth Generation Terrorists is six tracks too long and way too self important in parts. But this is the best way to experience it, in small doses of the good songs (of the good tracks on the album only 'Spectators Of Suicide' isn't here).
Ok there are two videos for 'You Love Us'. The first one is ok, low budget and less early 1990s than 'Motown Junk', but it pales so much compared to it's update. 'You Love Us (Sony Music Version)' is quite simply one of the best videos ever made. Pretty much everything of their rhetoric is in there, from their own self belief through to their assertion that "all rock and roll is homosexual". It is wonderfully self parodying and satirical at the same time. In an attempt to piss off as many people as possible they play all the cards certain to annoy the musos of the world – self love, a big arsed guitar solo and heaps upon heaps of homo-eroticism.
Richie and Nicky playing up to the cries of"faggots" that they (both straight) got for being so flamboyant, is a sight to behold. It's something that's repeated in the 'Love's Sweet Exile' video which goes even further with its androgenous duo getting even more suggestive. Both videos manage to escape that early 1990s feel by being something more than their time. Think of those videos you've seen recently. The ones which seem most 'now' will be the ones you will cringe at in ten years time.
The other Generation Terrorists videos aren't as good as this pair. 'Stay Beautiful' Is nicely shot pratting around with paint and a bloody stupid visual metaphor. It, curiously, is the video which is most visually resonant of the late 1970s punks whom the Manic loved. 'Slash And Burn' is typical of the lazy concert footage videos they too often go for. It's not bad for a fan to watch their heros in action, but a video should intrigue the outsider as well. 'Motorcycle Emptiness' skirts close to the unimaginative but it's a jaw droppingly good song (essentially their second best, even people who disagree strongly on the best will name this as the second best) and this rescues the slightly slow moving video. It's easier to appreciate the shots and vignettes when the backing is so awesome.
'Little Baby Nothing' finishes the Generation Terrorist era with a typically Manics move – the 'just the right side of bludgening obvious video'. It's a song about women being mistreated in porn so guess what? It's full of empowered women! Let's face it 90% of bands would make it heavy handed but it's not as bad as that by some distance. Ironically the only heavy handed gesture is a bloody unsubtle reference to the hammer and sickle which is lofted by the least convincing female communist I have ever seen (and you'd be surprised how many I've seen).
So they were young, they had something to say, and they damn well said it. The 'You Love Us' and 'Love's Sweet Exile' should be shown to everyone because I bet they'd still shock even today. And that was certainly the point.
Suicide Is Painless Another stand alone single and frankly a weak performance video. Performance videos have to be something special to be memorable and… well to be honest I've had to put the DVD on to remind myself what happens. Not a good sign.
Gold Against The Soul More mature, less controversy baiting. They look older, James Dean Bradfield actually looking like a rock star and not a hyperactive teenager like in the earliest videos. The first single 'From Despair To Where' tries to replicate the 'Motorcycle Emptiness' formula of visually well shot but not hugely narrative video but the, though good, the song just isn't 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. 'La Tristesse Durera' works better, it's brutal contrast of the old and young giving it something. The removal of the old from the frame of young people's music videos is so all encompassing that to witness their existance in the media is to cause to viewer to consciously step back and note the oddness of it. Now this is not the place for a debate on the way youth culture rejects the old so completely, but it does demonstrate the fact that so few bands are willing to drag it into view. Makes you wonder if maybe Johnny Cash's 'Hurt' video shouldn't be mandatory viewing…
Anyway, the other two videos from Gold Against The Soul again fail to ignite the imagination. 'Roses In The Hospital' is set in… a fucked up hospital. Whilst not as hideously embarassing as most pop videos (where a lyrical mention of, say, a phone, will elicit the appearance of a phone, or possiby some dancers dressed as phones) it's still no classic compared to what surrounds it. As for 'Life Becoming A Landslide', well you know it's the fourth single, you can practically guess before seeing it that it will be a performance montage. Again, something for fans, though it is the first time, in the choreograohed world of videos, that you can see that all is not well with Richie, he's slightly too skinny, slightly too worn.
The Holy Bible Just three videos, who knows what would have been in the video for the unreleased single 'Yes'. Personally I'd have liked to have seen that, the song is so viscerally brilliant that I honestly believe it could have matched 'You Love Us'. Plus the track uses the word cunt in the first few lines which is so daring as to be admired. With every rapper and his dog shouting as many fucks as they can, there are still some words which retain the (frankly ridiculous) power to offend in themselves, not their context. It takes some bravery to even consider a track containing it to be single worthy.
'Faster' is a simple video which combines two formats which should irritate – performance on white background and flashed messages. But it's shot in an almost painfully bright white studio, and shot so as to aid the music. Like a turbo charged 'Motorcycle Emptiness' video? Yes. By contrast 'Revol' is a mess, but it always was their worst single. It looks like it was shot on a disused Bond set then editted on my laptop which explains why it keeps stopping for no apparent reason. I hate my laptop. The CD player has stopped working.
'She Is Suffering' is weird. It looks like they've wandered onto a set designed for some OTT goth poppers (The Rasmus possibly) and decided to embue it with some genuine menace rather than hoody wearing 14 years olds with 'issues'. Everything is slightly wrong. The puppet is the scariest one I've ever seen, complete with scary kid manipulating it. This time the implied homo-eroticism is very very ambiguous (and doesn't involve the band themselves) and slightly disturbing. The only one of the two we can see doesn't look like she's necessarily enjoying the experience. But then no one does in this video. Richie looks really ill and not surprisingly. He disappeared within months.
So all subsequent videos walk in the light of being the work of a three piece, not a four piece. Here they changed, stopped being the idealists who thought they could change the world and became three men trying to make sense of a world they couldn't change, one which they couldn't even affect in a small way, like keeping a friend. In such light, shines…
EVerything Must Go Ok, I think 'Design For Life' is the best song ever. No question. None. And the video is perfect. It is perfectly shot, beautifully dirty in its presentation of everything they stand for being attacked. False optimism in the form of 1950s images of happy families. The truth of the collapse of the leftist project in the 1980s. And the band looking so different yet so much the same. They don't wear the makeup and fur of their youth but they do wear the looks of determination. It's a truth we need to know. We do change as we age, outwardly in the main. But it doesn't have to change who we are and what we believe.
The other videos off this album get contrasting treatments. 'Australia' smacks of last single symdrome, it looks good but doesn't really do the band justice. 'Everything Must Go' and 'Kevin Carter' are both good though. 'Everything Must Go' looks beautiful, all billowing blossom and adventurous camerawork. It plays more cinematically than anything before or since. 'Kevin Carter' by contrast manages to make the song's theme more obvious without overdoing it (no phones when the lyrics mention phones… metaphorcally of course, no phones were mentioned in the course of this song). The tyranny of the photograph rarely looks so potent. It also marks the move towards more slick videos is almost complete. Not that they make it easy, the flashing lights could give some people handaches. Typical really, even when bordering on conventional they don't quite make it.
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours And so the cinematic thing continued. 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' is another advance on 'Everything Must Go'. The people with no faces, the blood all over the white scenery, the harshness of the white. This isn't the work of someone who wants you be comfortable with your viewing. It's up with the best I've ever seen just because it's so disconcerting and yet reassuring at the same time. There's nothing scary, only the unfamiliar. Why fear that?
'The Everlasting' isn't great, it's a nice shot (James bursting into flames in time with the music) which isn't really given much room to expand into somehting more exciting. 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' is rescued from being jsut another performance video by being well shot though th animated bluebirds are just fucking stupid. 'Tsunami' belongs to the 'Suicide Is Painless' school of not memorable despite being stylisticially very similar to 'Faster' (performance + slogans). It is a sign of just how much more vital a song 'Faster' actually is.
The Masses Against The Classes An impassioned live performance but I don't buy live DVDs for the simple reason that even films of gigs I've been to just don't engage me. You have to be there. Seriously.
Know Your Enemy The crap album but the videos do drag the notable songs (minus 'The Convalescent') into a better light. 'Found That Soul' makes more sense with its claustrophobic video, even if the reading list supplied halfway through is probably the most heavy handed thing they've ever done. It's not a bad thing (we should read more) but the shots of books thoughout the video show it can be done more subtley than focussing on a pile of books laid out to inform us of what book group manic will be discussing next week. Maybe I'm just annoyed because I feel that I've invested enough in a difficult band to be given some credit for my intelligence. God, I'm getting fussy.
'So Why So Sad' is darkly funny. Uber cinematic, the sight of a beach beauty waving sweetly as soldiers go flying in every direction behind her is pure genius. It's a message, and not a subtle one, but it's entertaining depicted and is probably more effective than Green Day's similar 'Wake Me When September Ends' because it has a sense of humour. The humour of this band has often been lost in everything else but they are clever enough to realise that sometimes the best way to get something across is to be funny.
By contrast 'Ocean Spray' is the opposite, perfectly acted by a man not acting, it rests entirely on James. Bringing out emotion over a backing track when you're not an actor is bloody hard. Any number of melodramatic videos featuring overemoting eyebrows and exaggerated lip movemnts can be found on every music channel. This is the real deal. He's singing about his mother dying and the simple direction, the contrast between internal pain and the rest of the world continuing as usual is almost painful to watch. It works better than the other honest-but-simple video for 'Let Robeson Sing' which fails to get a good visual hook to utilise in its, no doubt, depiction of young American blacks getting on in the arts.
There By The Grace Of God And then the last video. In a Manics-y move the people in the street here are doing their own thing and being ignored. No conversion a la Radiohead's 'Just'. Just people doing their thing regardless of the rest of the world. Remind anyone of any bands?