Released on: Everything Must Go (Album #4) Epic Records, 20 May 1996
The most subdued and quiet moment on Everything Must Go is a fairly simple acoustic piece for voice, acoustic guitar and harp. This very sparse, beautiful arrangement is mirrored in a couple of songs on the 2009 Journal For Plague Lovers album which was also, as with this track, written entirely by Edwards. Because of its lyrical origin and content, this particular song is often thought of as a commentary by Edwards on his own mental state prior to his disappearance.
Literally, however, ‘Small Black Flowers…’ is about the confinement of animals in zoos, and how this is a huge affront to their natural state which can cause them to become ill and/or cause them to essentially lose their minds. According to Andrew Male writing in Select in 1996, this was all inspired by Edwards’ viewing of a BBC documentary on the subject. Like so many of the songs on Everything Must Go, this one is focused around a single, simple idea expressed very well and probably with some kind of metaphorical reference built into it.
It is easy to imagine a connection between the zoo scenario and either Edwards’ own sense of alienation or the Nazi concentration camps, both of which have been suggested as secondary meanings for the song – but it is also easy to read too much into this, as ever with any lyric popularly thought of as being concerned with Edwards’ own life.
In any case, ‘Small Black Flowers…’ is a wonderfully recorded song, the best acoustic track that had then appeared on an actual Manics album (as opposed to a B-side), and very much a foundation of several subsequent acoustic efforts. The song became a regular feature of the solo acoustic appearances Bradfield often makes at Manics gigs, naturally minus harp. A particularly moving rendition can be seen on the Leaving the 20th Century film, made of the Manics historic “Manic Millennium” gig at Cardiff Millennium Stadium on December 31st, 1999.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“environment not yours / you see through it all”