Released on: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (Album #5) Epic Records, 14 September 1998
With ‘I’m Not Working’, This Is My Truth enters a back-to-back run of six absolutely stellar songs which form the emotional core of the album and represent one of the greatest runs of sustained quality songwriting and recording the Manics have yet been able to deliver. Sadly, a sizeable core of the band’s fans have never fully appreciated the album and this run of recordings because they resent its lack of firebrand heavy rock and in Wire’s words, people “think the album becomes a bit mid-paced”. Mid-paced they may be, but what follows is Manic Street Preachers at their very best, albeit in a different way to their other “very bests”.
‘I’m Not Working’ is a great introduction to this series of songs in that it brings out their two primary themes; mainly personal lyrics about unease, depression and identity on the one hand and on the other, fairly radical studio experimentation designed to achieve a spacious, serious, atmospheric sound.
When it comes to space, there is no Manics recording that can compete with ‘I’m Not Working’. The whole song floats in absolutely masses of the stuff, after its fuzzily pendulous intro gives way. Bradfield’s guitar sounds distant as Moore’s huge-sounding and heavily echoed drums pound away steadily, like a heartbeat. Combined with Bradfield’s vocals and the brief but excellent lyrics, the effect is nothing short of wondrous. Also having a major impact on the sound is Nick Nasmyth, very much the “fourth Manic” in the studio during this period, who plays keyboards, Wurlitzer electric piano and what the liner notes call a “yang-ching”. This is actually a yangqing, a type of Chinese hammered dulcimer.
The lyrics in the verses seem to be about confusion and depression but it is the simple but enormously affecting lyrics and delivery of the chorus that really shine. The lines “I know what’s coming / I’m not working” could mean a number of things, but in this context it’s hard to imagine them being about anything except dying; while listening to Bradfield’s amazing delivery the image that comes to mind is of an old person lying in hospital waiting for bad news from their doctor. This seems to be underlined by the outro, during which the drums appear to slow down (although they probably don’t, in reality) and the intro is restated to a fadeout. It is shattering stuff – the moment at the end of the first verse where Bradfield sings “no parachutes, no dismal clouds / just this fucking space” is also absolutely incredible (and an apt description of the way the song sounds).
If ‘I’m Not Working’ was the only song of its calibre on the album it would be the standout moment; that it is the beginning of what feels like a kind of song cycle of similarly superb quality makes it seem even more impressive, if anything. This is the Manics on fantastic form, even as they experiment wildly outside their traditional comfort zone.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“no parachutes, no dismal clouds / just this fucking space”