Released on: You Love Us (Single #3) Heavenly Records, 7 May 1991
Peak UK Chart Position: #16
Band Ranking: #11
If ‘Motown Junk’ [A8] had been the best exposé yet of the band’s sheer punk fury, then ‘Spectators of Suicide’ represented its opposite number, its reverse face. Where the Manics’ first release on Heavenly spat out their anger and rage, this song was an outpouring of anguish and resignation. In an interesting clash, the opening quote (in which Black Panthers co-founder Robert George “Bobby” Seale exhorts his audience to tell the US government “stick ’em up, motherfucker, this is a hold up, we come for what’s ours”) conflicts with the the actual title, which implies passivity and powerlessness. However, like ‘Motown Junk’, the song was the purest distillation yet of one of Manic Street Preachers’ core themes and remains one of the most notable early recordings.
The fact that so significant a song was relegated to the position of first B-side on the You Love Us single is probably most easily explained by the song’s largely slow pace. When re-recorded for Generation Terrorists [T31] the song feels much less out of place, very much in keeping with the exhausted concluding phase of that LP. Although arguably wasted as a B-side, the original Heavenly incarnation of the song is very much a distinct recording in its own right, with more prominent acoustic guitar work and a more upbeat instrumental bridge.
Without taking away from the strengths of the original work, the reasons behind the later decision to re-record are quite clear. Bradfield’s sleepy, muted vocals undermine rather than enhance the effect of the powerful lyrics, while faster sections sabotage the defeated mood. Both of these aspects were dramatically improved upon in the 1992 version, although a significant faction of fans prefer the Heavenly original for its rawer feel and clearer production. For their part, Heavenly Records bosses were more impressed with ‘Spectators of Suicide’ than any other Manics song recorded for them; as Wire recalled in 2008, it was the song that made Heavenly feel the Manics were “a proper band”.
‘Spectators of Suicide’ was originally known as ‘Colt 45 Rusty James’ (a reference to S.E. Hinton’s 1975 novel Rumble Fish, which later inspired [A25] ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’) but changed little from that earlier version. The eventual title is a reference to the French anti-capitalist Situationist movement, which posited that capitalism reduced all social life to a crude spectacle.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“the only free choice is the refusal to pay”
Heroin – the term used for the illegal form of the opioid analgesic – or painkilling – drug known in medical settings as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine.