Released on: Gold Against the Soul (Album #2) Columbia Records, 14 June 1993
Also on: La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh) (Single #11) Columbia Records, 26 July 1993
Peak UK Chart Position: #22
Band Ranking: #12
The fact that the Manics rank ‘La Tristesse Durera’ at a relatively lofty #12 among their singles suggests that they hold this song in higher esteem than perhaps any of their work during the Gold Against the Soul era. The song has been an enduring live favourite ever since its early outings and has a strong reputation with fans also – everything points to this being some special, because it is: in fact, ‘La Tristesse Durera’ is among the most cohesive and accomplished songs the band had recorded up to this point.
It helps that there is an excellent core concept underpinning the track. Although the first part of the title refers to some of the last words of Dutch impressionist painter1 Vincent Van Gogh after he is believed to have shot himself in July 1890 (translating to any one of many variations on “the sadness endures”), most of the song actually depicts the twilight years of an ageing war veteran. His best years far behind him, he finds himself just a souvenir of a bygone time, his sacrifice reduced to the money he secures from selling his war medal in order to pay a bill. The lyrics represent not just a truly lifelike human story, but also consciously challenge the hollow annual celebrations of war commemorations and the much-vaunted “respect” paid to the UK’s conflict veterans. Set against this backdrop, Van Gogh’s famous phrase suggests that the the old soldier sees no better days ahead, as “the sadness will never go”.
In addition to featuring one of the most well-constructed and affecting lyrics yet, the song makes significant strides in musical composition also. In a display of restraint rarely seen outside the acoustic B-sides of this period, the song withholds its first big injection of energy until after the first chorus; the song builds patiently in a way the Manics almost never did in 1992, and crucially the effect is created by the efforts of all of the band members truly pulling together. Along with Edwards lyrical contribution, Bradfield and Moore are on top form and Wire – whose work as a bassist is almost always overwhelmed by his role as spokesperson and lyricist (not to mention being frequently described as amateurish) – turns in one of his first genuinely memorable performances.
The song is full of clever touches which add to the overall effect – the clicking woodblocks in the verses, the excellent double-tracking on the vocals, some very subtle organ work (by either Dave Eringa or Ian Kewley) and the attractive piano outro that caps off the song’s calculated but gripping climax.
The song’s video was somewhat more direct than was usual up to this point, in that it actually features a war veteran (and various other elderly people) in addition to footage of the band playing on top of a giant illuminated cross, for whatever reason. The director was Seattle-born Josh Taft, who also worked with the likes of Cypress Hill and Stone Temple Pilots before moving into work on adverts.
- Art and especially painting would eventually become a very common motif and inspiration in later Manics work. As well as referring to particular works or artists in titles and lyrics, the band would frequently use quotes from artists in album sleeves. See for example [T89] ‘Interiors (Song for Willem De Kooning)’ and [T134] ‘His Last Painting’.
“I am a relic / I am just a petrified cry”
“La tristesse durera” – in full, “la tristesse durera toujours”, or “the sadness will go on forever”. Supposedly among the last words of Vincent Van Gogh, before eventually succumbing to his self-inflicted gunshot wound in July 1890.
Cenotaph – generally, a monument erected in honour of people who are buried elsewhere. Likely a specific reference to the UK’s national war memorial, known simply as “The Cenotaph”, which is located in Whitehall, London and was unveiled in 1920.