Thursday, 17 August 2017

Manic Street Preachers - The Masses Against the Classes


The Masses Against the Classes was a beautiful anomaly. I got into the band properly when they released their fifth album, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, an objectively good album. The singles from it were excellent songs and, as with the four albums before it, sufficiently different from everything before it. However, it wasn't a heavy album. After hearing it I got Generation Terrorists, Everything Must Go, Gold Against the Soul and The Holy Bible (in that order, although I'd had a taped copy of The Holy Bible for a while, somehow with a few songs missing). I knew the band could be heavy; I wanted them to be again.

Then, at the start of January on the turn of the century, they released The Masses Against the Classes, the heaviest song they'd written in years and, it would turn out, the heaviest they'd be for a while. I loved it then and I love it now. The gradual build-up at the start, the arrogant spit of James' vocals and that huge chorus that stands ten times taller than the verses; what a combination. It's probably not always considered one of the best Manics songs, but I'd rate it very highly. They don't always play it live, but I get such a kick when they do. That said, it was a number 1 single in the UK charts, so maybe it's more loved than I realise. Of course, this was at the height of their national fame, so that probably helped. Close My Eyes is a suitably fuzzy b-side and also a pretty great song. Neither would have worked on any album they've ever released, but I'd love to hear an album they would work on (Know Your Enemy had some moments that came close, but these both would have stuck out). Loud and fuzzy works well for the band, it seems. Rock and Roll Music is a fine cover to round the single off, but struggles next to the songs that precede it.

Fearing it's status as "limited edition", I rushed out to buy a copy the day it came out. MVC didn't stock vinyl at the time, so I got the cd (for £3) rather than this 10". Over the following years I saw the 10" on eBay a bit but didn't by a copy until I found this one in Reading one day. At £7 it'd risen in price in two years, but seemed like a good price, especially given the near-mint condition. It's number 6272 out of, I assume, at least 10,000 - not a short run by any stretch, but they were very big at the time. (I had a jukebox 7" of the song that I'd found on eBay at some point in between the two purchases, which probably quenched my thirst for the song on vinyl for a bit too.)

17 years later, this is still an excellent single.

Format: 10", numbered (#6272)
Tracks: 3
Cost: £7 second hand
Bought: Reading
When: 27/12/02
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no



Monday, 14 August 2017

Pop Will Eat Itself - X Y and Zee


This record has come up in conversation a few times over the years, but not for the music but more for a reflection on how recent technology has made life simpler.

2003 was a collision of two things: my eBay addiction and my Pop Will Eat Itself collection. This record arrived whilst I was away for a couple of nights looking at universities. I returned to Winchester to find seven parcels waiting for me from eBay sellers. It was a good day (combined with a trip to Nottingham the day before and a surprisingly fruitful trip to Lancaster the day before meant I was swimming in new music). eBay was particularly great back then, as it was just people getting rid of things (rather than professional sellers) meaning there were great gems to be found for very little; one man's rubbish, etc. That was particularly true for bands like PWEI who most people didn't care too much about anymore (unrelatedly, it was also good Laserdiscs, another habit of mine in the early 2000's).

The downside, however, was this was era before PayPal, eBay's online transaction platform. This meant the only way to pay for your eBay purchases was to post a cheque (or cash). I've never used cheques as much as I did back then. For younger readers (ha), the reason why cheques are the worst are as follows: after winning the auction, you'd have to write a cheque then post it to the seller; you'd then wait for the seller to take the cheque to the bank (not always convenient to do - lord knows I'm terrible at remembering to cash cheques these days) and then wait up to 10 days for the cheque to clear and the seller to see that the money is in their account; only then would they post you the thing you'd bought. It would be weeks before you'd receive your purchases. How eBay survived that painful process as long as they did, I'll never know.

In the case of this record, I'd found a bargain, but evidently thought it was even more of a bargain than it was; the auction came to £3 (including postage!) but I'd somehow thought it was only £2 and duly wrote a cheque for that amount and put it in the post. On receiving this, the seller emailed to say that I was £1 short (!) so I had to write him another cheque and post that too. Eventually it all cleared and he sent the record. I can see it from his side, you shouldn't let people underpay you, but £1 when you're only getting £3 in total (minus postage) makes it all seem a bit pointless. On the other hand, as a percentage of what he was actually getting for item, it was quite a lot. I routinely bring up this story when complaining about the bad old days of slow-eBaying. PayPal has made life much easier in that case. You can't pay the wrong amount and you definitely don't have to post two cheques to get your dirt-cheap record.

The record itself is little to get excited about (after all that) - there are three surprisingly similar remixes of X Y and Zee from their Cure For Sanity album. It's a song I have a lot of time for, but already have in many much more distinct mixes in various places. The bright yellow record looks great, but is very thin and has knifed the sleeve over the years. Still, it looks nice.

Format: 12"
Tracks: 3
Cost: £3 second hand
Bought: eBay
When: 21/02/03
Colour: Yellow
Etching: Side A: "Ssshhh...don't wake Milky" Side B: "Take your pants off"
mp3s: no




Pop Will Eat Itself - Karmadrome / Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me, Kill Me


I bought this record in the same transaction as Fugazi's classic Repeater; I can't imagine many times in either band's history that Fugazi records and PWEI records were bought at the same time. There used to be a guy who'd sell records in the main square at university, a tradition I imagine no longer exists. I bought a handful of things from him over the years I was there - it was often a struggle to find anything good, but I usually found at least one thing kinda worth buying.

As singles go, this double a-side is pretty strong. Karmadrome was one of the first PWEI songs I was really into. It made it onto their Live At Weird's Bar and Grill album, which was a solid introduction to the classic years. The build-up the chorus is wonderful and I love the backing vocals, as well as the explosive outro. Eat Me, Drink Me, Love Me, Kill Me was also a huge song, appearing near the start of that same live album. More than any of the other songs pre-Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, that song hinted at the darker heavier direction their final album would go in. However, it retained a lot of what made them so likeable in the middle-era, which makes it quite a highlight in the back catalogue. PWEI-zation is another classic.

All three of those songs made it onto the Best Of albums I have, so the only new song was the subtly-named remix Eat Me, Drink Me, Dub Me, Kill Me (which suffers for the lack of guitars in the chorus - Clint's vocals sound a bit out of place without them rising up with him). One remix and the fact it was a picture disc that looked quite nice was enough to get me to spend £5 on it.

Needless to say, over the years, Repeater has had considerably more airtime, but that shouldn't come as a surprise; it's up there amongst the greatest albums of all time. But, if you wanted some PWEI highlights (and a remix) in a very concise form, you can't go wrong with this little collection.

Format: 12" picture disc, insert
Tracks: 4
Cost: £5 second hand
Bought: Lancaster University Square
When: 12/02/04
Colour: Picture disc
Etching: none
mp3s: no



Sunday, 6 August 2017

Manic Street Preachers - Ocean Spray


Know Your Enemy represented, among other things, the era of the dance-remix-for-b-sides for the Manics. I can see why - they had a wide fan base at the time, and it made sense to take as many in-roads to other genres as possible, at least from the record label's perspective. I guess the band listened to and approved all these remixes, but I imagine most of them they could take or leave. (That said, the band had been dabbling in remixes from the start and had seen a fairly wide range from Everything Must Go onwards, although I dare say the quality there was somewhat better than here.)

This is a one-sided promo of the Medicine remix of Ocean Spray, which I found in a second hand record shop in Bournemouth for £5. It was a lot to spend for one song, especially a remix that I knew would probably be shit, but I was buying everything I could find by the band back then. The remix here is terrible. I mean, really bad. If it wasn't for the fact it says it on the sleeve, I'd barely be able to tell you it was a remix of a Manics song, let alone Ocean Spray. They appear to have sampled about 10 seconds of the original song and dicked around with it for what feels like an eternity. Really nothing to enjoy here at all; basically just another record sleeve on the shelf.

Format: 12", one-sided promo
Tracks: 1
Cost: £5 second hand
Bought: Bournemouth
When: 30/10/01
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no



Manic Street Preachers - Verses from The Holy Bible


A fairly recent addition to my Manics collection is one that I've been putting off for a long time. I'd read about this flexidisc that was included free with a copy of NME many years ago. A few years later I found a copy at one of the record stalls they used to have at Reading Festival. It was during the peak of my Manics collecting days, but I remember it being in terrible condition and being over-priced. On top of that, it was the Friday and the record would have to survive three more days in my tent; I didn't fancy its chances.

Over the years that followed, I saw many copies on eBay but they often looked like they were in terrible condition. I guess it also just seemed too easy - if I really wanted a copy it wouldn't take much effort. A while ago I was in Sister Ray Records in London and found this copy. It was the first time I'd seen it in real life since that time at Reading Festival many years before. I was buying a few other records, it was in reasonably good condition (despite being over 20 years old) and most of all, it was a mere £3.50. I'm glad I finally bought it.

Of course, musically, there's little of interest to say - the four songs are just short snippets of songs from The Holy Bible. It would have been very exciting to have been a Manics fan back in the day, getting this flexi-7" and hearing bits of these songs that would go on to me legendary. One curious thing is that each snippet starts with the quote that the full song starts with, but isn't necessarily the beginning of the song - sometimes it goes from the quote straight into the middle of the song.

The record itself is one of only two flexidiscs in my collection (so far), although I remember my parents having one. The quality is, as you'd imagine from such thin vinyl, terrible. The sleeve is also pretty flimsy - made of the thinnest paper rather than card. It's no wonder that so many are in such bad condition - it'd be quite the challenge to look after it. I think it was selotaped to the magazine cover as most copies I've ever seen show signs of the tape. It's there on mine too, but not too badly.

Format: 7" one-sided flexidisc
Tracks: 4
Cost: £3.50 second-hand
Bought: Sister Ray London
When: 11/03/16
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Pop Will Eat Itself - The Pop Will Eat Itself Cure For Sanity


The Pop Will Eat Itself Cure for Sanity is the PWEI album I know the least well. I've never owned a copy on cd and this picture disc, whilst lovely, sounds like shit. One of the (many) problems with picture discs is that they often come in very tight plastic sleeves, which leads to a lot of fat-handed tugging at the side of the record. The pops and clicks at the start of each side here are louder than I've ever heard, and I feel a bit bad for my record player for having to deal with them.

An early PWEI purchase was the live album At Weird's Bar and Grill - I'd actually been listening to it for a while before buying it, because a friend bought a copy that I saw in a record shop one day (I think just so I couldn't buy it) and I eventually bought it from him. That album features a lot of these songs, albeit in quite different live recordings - 88 Seconds and CountingAxe of Men and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet are all songs I'm very familiar with from their live versions. (Side note: I eventually ended up with a turquoise t-shirt from that very live show that another friend found in a second hand shop. My other PWEI t-shirts have all been given away in recent years, but I plan to keep that one for a long time yet).

Other songs are of course staples of best-of albums (of which I have two) and singles or EPs from that era - Dance of the Mad BastardsX, Y and Zee, 92F (in various mixes) and Touched By the Hand of Cicciolina (the latter was always one I enjoyed for how shamelessly upbeat the piano is). As it is, playing it now, it feels much more familiar than I expected; the songs well known but as different versions. There's a fair bit of dicking around that thankfully didn't make it onto the other albums - I can take or leave the intro or City Zen Radio 1990/2000 FM and Dr Nightmare's Medication Time. Psychosexual and Axe of Men have a level of darkness that hints at the style they'd find two albums later on the very industrial Dos Dedos Mis Amigos. In a lot of ways, it's the odd-one-out of that era, as the albums either side of it sound much more similar to each other than either does to this one.

The highlight of the album is probably 92F (The 3rd Degree) - there are many different versions of that song and I think this might be the finest. I don't know anything about the woman singing, but her voice is great - somehow strained and slightly raspy, but it works so well. Later in the album we get the Boilerhouse "The Birth" remix, which features Clint or Graham singing instead. It's still enjoyable, but I find myself longing for the female vocals instead.

I found this 12" picture disc on a very fruitful shopping trip to Reading, a city I can only assume was overflowing with Poppies records, as I got two other PWEI records that day, and left even more behind on the shelves. At £10 it's £4 more than it's ever sold for on Discogs, but I was very pleased to find it and add it to my PWEI collection. The picture disc is great and it's nice to have the legendary "Sample it, loop it, fuck it and eat it" in large letters on a record, even if it's been censored. I think I once saw the cd in a second hand shop (in Morecambe, a place I'm glad to have not thought about for many years) but it was in very poor condition, and I figured other chances would come around. They haven't, but I'm not sat here regretting not buying it - the Poppies were a great band at a very certain time, but I don't get as much out of them as I used to.

Format: 12" picture disc
Tracks: 19
Cost: £10 second hand
Bought: Reading
When: 27/12/02
Colour: Picture disc
Etching: none
mp3s: no



Monday, 31 July 2017

Grappler - Callow


I got this 7" for free, which is always nice. I ordered the Gnarwolves Fun Club double 7" and, if I remember correctly, this 7" was a freebie to sweeten the deal as the double 7" was taking longer to come together than planned. Sounds about right. Not sure if everyone got the same record though.

I think in it's fullest form, this record has a screen-printed b-side and a sleeve. Mine has neither - I guess they had an excess of the 7" and didn't screen-print them all. It's also incredibly warped - I've tried the normal approaches to smooth it out, but with little luck and, eventually, a lack of desire to bother.

Grappler have the sound of a lot of post-hardcore bands of the early 2010's. If I closed my eyes, I could equally believe this was a Goodtime Boys record. It's a fine example of the genre, but ultimately it's a genre that I don't need to spend a whole lot of time listening to; I certainly don't feel the need to expand my collection beyond the few bands I've already tried. The first song, which Discogs tells me is the title-track, Callow, builds up for quite a while but, disappointingly, goes nowhere. It's quite exciting whilst it's building up though. Neon and Trials are much the same, but shorter, which feels like a shame because it was the things they did when trying to make a song last a whole three-and-a-half-minutes that did the most for me.

Format: One-sided 7"
Tracks: 3
Cost: £0 new
Bought: Internet
When: 20/05/13
Colour: Transparent green
Etching: none
mp3s: no