Thursday, January 15, 2009

Number 20: 808 State

Lopez (ZTT ZANG87CD)

Chart Debut: 2nd Feb 1997

Writers: Bradfield/Wire/808 State

If the writing credit doesn't give it away, this is the second song out of three to feature the lead vocals of James Dean Bradfield; but as I'm writing this in a week when Beyonce has two singles in the Top 10 and eight other acts are in the Top 40 twice, I have no qualms. In fact the one thing that did put me off writing about this one was that I don't think I really know what it's about. The lyrics (by his bandmate Nicky Wire) are full of fascinating imagery: "Ultramarine, everything vanishes," "Joy gives me my last regret," and the one that makes it to the single cover "Every sun feels like the last"; but I certainly couldn't paraphrase them. Inevitably, it crosses my mind that the lyrics might be about Richey, and the armchair psychologist in me can imagine that he might have been more comfortable discussing the subject in a side-project than in the full glare of a Manics record that he knew would be examined in great detail. But I have no evidence at all of that.
Whether or not the lyrics are literally elegiac though, the music seems to have some of that quality about it, prefiguring the sound that the Manics would attempt (with varying degrees of success) on such albums as This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and Lifeblood. It's very swoopy, with judicious use of beats to create a somewhat cavernous atmosphere, that suits the despondency of the song. You can find the instrumental version at the bands's website if you so wish.It's different from most of the other 808 State material I'm familiar with ('Pacific State', 'In Yer Face', 'The Only Rhyme That Bites'). However, it did become their first Top 20 hit in a long time (helped no doubt by the newly-acquired starpower of the Manics, who'd had four Top 10 singles in 1996), even if it now seems almost entirely forgotten.
I have to admit, though, that none of this really meant much to me at the time. I have a vague idea that I heard the song on the chart rundown and failed to appreciate any of it. Only about four years later did I happen upon a copy of the CD single for £1 in one of those random cheap shops you see in towns - and I still might not have bought it had there not been a Propellerheads mix on the disc. With hindsight, one of the better pounds I've spent.

Official website:
YouTube if you want to: promo video.
Where to get it: As above, I bought this on single, but the Don Solaris album where the track first appeared has now been re-released in an expanded form. Alternatively, you can find it on the cumbersomely-titled retrospective 808:88:98