Entry #5 – Tsunami (a.k.a Coasting Along Nicely)

So here’s the thing. Normally, I would be posting a full-blown album review for this Friday followed by another single review next week. However, that album review isn’t quite clicking for me right now but I’m going to aim to have it done for next Wednesday at the latest. In the meantime, I’m going to do another review of a single and it’s one that I find underrated among the rich discography of the Manic Street Preachers.

The Manics are a band with a fascinating history in the 90s. They put themselves out there by saying that their debut album Generation Terrorists was going to be the rock album to end all rock albums (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, but good effort anyway), followed it up with the more commercial grunge of Gold Against The Soul, which I must admit I’m enjoying more than I thought I would, and then truly hit their stride with The Holy Bible. The latter has the distinction of being the ‘Richey’ album, being the magnum opus of the band’s songwriter and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. The man was one hell of a character with a myriad of issues both mental and physical which he channeled into the songs of the Manic Street Preachers. Unfortunately those issues also led to his disappearance before the band were to go to the US to promote the album. 25 years on, no one knows for certain what happened to him.

With their songwriter gone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Manics couldn’t continue without him. Then they released Everything Must Go. You better believe I’m gonna look at that one day on here and gush about it. Part of it still had Richey’s lyrics in, including Kevin Carter which is possibly my favourite Manics song, so it was up to the next album to prove they could truly survive without him.

This is My Truth Tell Me Yours is a mixed bag. On the one hand, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next is a song that for better or for worse refuses to age, and on the other there is You Stole the Sun From My Heart which I find a bit too poppy for my liking. Then we come to the final single released for this album in 1999, Tsunami.

Musically this is one of the least Manics-sounding songs they have produced, opening up with a sitar being plucked and creating an Asian flavour which stands out against the standard tunes from James’ guitar, Nicky’s bass and Sean’s drums. The chorus also brings us a wonderful little string arrangement which adds to the melancholy that surrounds the song. Considering the title of the song is Tsunami, the sitar kind of makes sense but not when you consider that the song centres around the Silent Twins, Jennifer and June Gibbons, who had a troubled life in the Manics’ home of Wales.

To cut a long story short, the two were inseparable and refused to speak to anyone except themselves, and had a career in crime that led to imprisonment in Broadmoor. Like the aforementioned Kevin Carter, it is a melancholic and downright sad piece about real life figures only this time it’s from the perspective from one of the sisters as opposed to being in the third person, which is a lot more effective. The narrator agonises over their inseparable nature (‘Holding on to me forever’), the futility of their lifestyle (‘Can’t work at this anymore/Can’t move, I want to stay at home’) and the titular tsunami of emotion over it all. The lyrics are easily the best part of this song, scratching the surface of the Twins’ tale and creating an emotional rollercoaster. Hell, you hear the line ‘Disco dancing with the rapists’ in the first verse, you know you’re going to be listening to a good one.

In a way, there’s a chance that the Manics found the two almost as enigmatic as they had Richey, especially the way their stories ended; in mystery. While Richey disappeared, never to be seen again, the twins had agreed that one of them had to die for the other to lead a normal life and start speaking again. Jennifer had offered herself as ‘sacrifice’ and sure enough she passed away from heart inflammation as the two were being transferred to Caswell Clinic. No explaination could be found as to why this happened. June went on to live a normal, ‘free’ life.

So like I say, the Manics were still testing the waters without Richey and This is My Truth… was a mixed bag. But Tsunami is proof that they can still make songs like Kevin Carter and Nicky Wire could easily fill his best friend’s shoes by writing them up. The different sound of the song is, to quote a certain Star Wars meme, a surprise to be sure but a welcome one, and I always like it when bands stretch out and experiment with other instruments like the Manics do here with the sitar and strings. The band’s 21st century output is a hotbed for debate but songs like this proved they had staying power, and achieving the first UK number one of the millennium with their next single solidified that.

One last thing. If I ever get to see the Manic Street Preachers live, I hope they play this one. The studio version is great, but the live versions from Top of the Pops (Yes, they actually played TOTP live with no miming) and the Leaving The 20th Century concert are superb. Check them out if you have time.

Published by midgbrit

Short bloke writing about music on A-Side Glance

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