While on the subject of tributes, the Manic Street Preachers have paid another to McCarthy, making good for the third time on Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield’s avowed affection for the eighties’ finest exponents of Brechtian technique and exquisite jangle. This time they have covered ‘Red sleeping beauty’ as a B side. A single from 1986, and one of McCarthy’s finest moments, Gary Baker’s pre-post rock drumming forms the backbone of a song which mourns political dreaming and apathy in equal if ambiguous measure. Previously the Manics have tackled ‘Charles Windsor’ and ‘We are all bourgeois now’, which shouldn’t leave you in much doubt about the concerns of a typical McCarthy song.
The McCarthy covers are unusual for the Manics, who have otherwise displayed their consummate refusal to obey the dictates of taste by covering Camper Van Beethoven’s ‘Take the skinheads bowling’, Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright eyes, Primal Scream’s ‘Velocity girl’ (from their pure as opposed to their rawk phase, if you’ll allow those snap judgements in passing) and Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’. Whatever this sounds like – and I’m in no hurry to find out – it will have to go some to beat the re-imagining that another Manics favourite, Big Flame, gave to ‘Wake me up before you go go’.
The Manics’ genuflections in McCarthy’s direction are touching, and their continuing affection for a group who helped form them politically is reasonably well known. But I trust Malcolm Eden and Tim Gane, the mind and heart of McCarthy, are getting paid, because it seems a strange oversight not to credit the songwriters on the sleeve of the single on which ‘Red sleeping beauty’ appears (‘Autumnsong’), allowing the purchaser less well-versed in eighties indie-communists to assume it’s a Manic original.
As for their version, well, it’s as faithful as Shep was to John Noakes. Save for the drumming, which doesn’t quite cut it.
The originals of all three McCarthy songs covered by the Manics are currently available on That’s All Very Well But…: the Best of McCarthy.