Song for the day

Song for the day 22/06/21: Manic Street Preachers, “Dead Trees and Traffic Islands”

Is that the bounciest, jauntiest flute solo you’ve ever heard in a Manics song? I think it is!

When I reminisce about all the CD singles I’ve ever bought, as I often do, one that sticks out clearly in my mind is the single for the Manics’ “A Design For Life”. Not only was it the much awaited return of the band following the disappearance of Richey – something that, throughout the bleak, windswept, Manics-free landscape of 1995, was by no means a certainty – and not only was it one of their most incredible singles to date, but most thrillingly for me, the single actually got a local release in Australia, and so I was able to pick it up at my local CD store and not traipse into town and pay three times the price for an import. It was the first time I’d been able to do this since “From Despair To Where” in October 1993, which was the song that made me a Manics fan in the first place. It felt like an important day.

“A Design For Life” will without doubt have an entry in my All The Songs Of My Life series, but “Dead Trees and Traffic Islands”, which was nestled as track 4 at the end of the CD single (oh, for the days of 4 track CD singles!) has always been one of my favourites. At the time, it seemed most symbolic of the changes that had been wrought unto the band over the previous year, and in my diary upon first listening to it, I wrote this:

‘It’s a weird little tune, like a 70s easy-listening song thrashing round a padded cell, the flute now deranged and sneering, and the most beautifully eerie sha-na-na ending. Oh yes the Manics are a new beast now. It might take time to get used to the changes, but I think they can only end up stronger than ever. Not to mention stranger than ever.’

Is this the strangest Manics song ever? For a band who would go on to release “The Love Of Richard Nixon” it’s hard to say, but – correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think they’ve ever wrapped a flute line around a punky acoustic guitar chord sequence quite so ingeniously, or infused such a spacey, laid back coda with a desperate, spiky sense of urgency.

Around the time I first heard “Dead Trees and Traffic Islands”, I started dabbling in making websites. Inspired by what I thought was a lyric in this song, I created a site called Syllables Have No Discipline. It was a kind of proto-Scruffy Storms, with many ramblings on my favourite bands and tunes of the moment as well as – briefly – a weekly chart commentary (UK chart, of course). In time I would learn that I had misheard the line – it is apparently “symbols have now disappeared” – but despite this, I still feel a connection to this song. It is indelibly woven into my early attempts in communicating my obsession for music to the world which, of course, carry on to this day. So long may the undisciplined arrangement of syllables continue. Even if it’s just a few rounds of ‘sha-na-na’.

Sometimes a lyric just speaks to you so much that you have to transcribe it in your diary and illustrate it with Sanrio stickers.

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