When I read Nicky Wire's reviews of 2007 songs in an NME a couple of months back, I felt a bit like crying. Now, I don't think The Wire was ever really the epitome of music taste; however, there was a time when he and the others in the Manics praised artists with more meaning and credibility (The Clash, C86 bands, Public Enemy, etc.). Lately, the Manics are promoting artists like Cherry Ghost, Babyshambles, and The Horrors. I was heartbroken enough when Nicky first gushed over Rihanna's utterly annoying and ubiquitous Umbrella in the NME, and now...last week I find out that the Manics are covering Umbrella. And the track will be available on the free CD with a future issue of NME. It's taken me several days to digest both this news and the track itself.
The decision to cover this song and be included on this NME compilation smacks of the publicity machine. All of the recent attention given to the Manics by the NME is completely forced - because the Manics are the winners of this year's Godlike Genius Award, NME has decided to give a sudden push to their coverage of them even though they've been dismissive of them for years. The NME may also have felt the negative energy of Manics fans and their emails about the NME's hypocrisy (I may have sent one myself, ahem.). The Manics have had more features in NME in the past couple of months than they have in the past eight years, including a bizarre, tenuous tie-in to the news that Castro is retiring. Now, to coincide with the big NME Awards celebration and the resulting Manics' performance, the Manics choose to release a cover of probably the most popular track of 2007. Admittedly, the Manics have always been notorious for playing the publicity game by doing or saying shocking things, but I'm just bewildered by this gesture. If the Manics are once again "sleeping with the NME," I have a feeling they're going to end up on the couch in a few months.
Judging by the amount of discussion it's generated on the forum on http://www.foreverdelayed.org.uk/ (relevant and otherwise - whether Nicky Wire should be in a video for the song wearing Kylie Minogue's gold hotpants and dancing about with an umbrella, isn't particularly relevant), this cover version has created a fervor of opinions. I wonder if it's merely because of the novelty and the shock factor of deciding to cover this specific song. It seems there are several opinions ranging from how Umbrella was such a great song to begin with and the Manics merely replicate that success to complete praise for their brilliance to outright dejection. However, most of the criticism I've read seems to be leaning towards the positive. I, myself, believe that at best, the Manics have made a song that I originally hated a little more palatable. The strange If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next background that pulses through the first half doesn't seem quite right and James Dean Bradfield's guitar solo seems uncharacteristically lacklustre, but James's voice during the bridge gives me chills (of course that could just be because James's voice always gives me chills). You can listen to the song in the YouTube clip below and judge for yourself.
I still love the Manics with all of my heart and will always stand by them, but I love them like that best friend who can be mouthy and reckless, capable of saying and doing absolutely genius things and equally capable of looking foolish after taking something too far.
Since I don't have the Manics' Umbrella as an MP3, I will include a couple of the standout B-Sides from their latest album Send Away the Tigers. You'll be better off with these anyhow.
The Vorticists - Manic Street Preachers
Welcome to the Deadzone - Manic Street Preachers