Released on: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (Album #5) Epic Records, 14 September 1998
On an album of lush arrangements, ‘Born a Girl’ stands out clearly due to its highly stripped-back, almost naked arrangement. In fact, only Bradfield (electric guitar and vocals) and Nick Nasmyth (accordion) actually play on the track. The two work together wonderfully well to create a uniquely unsettling but dreamy atmosphere on a piece which, once again is a highly under-recognised This Is My Truth album track.
Bradfield was reportedly more than slightly uncomfortable about singing the lyrics to this effort, although you wouldn’t know from his incredibly tender, deep vocal performance. The lyrics are straightforward – about a man wishing he had been “born a girl / and not this mess of a man” – but Bradfield felt uneasy due to their theme. The Manics frontman has always been the most unambiguously masculine of the bandmembers; Edwards and Wire had long made flamboyant androgyny a centrepiece of their appearances in photo shoots, videos and indeed everyday life, and less deliberately even Moore was frequently mistaken for a girl in the early years due to his then-long hair and diminutive stature. By contrast, Bradfield has long been an icon of definitively male cool, so his uneasiness around performing this particular lyric by Wire makes some sense.
Again, though, it takes nothing at all from his excellent performance which is actually one of the best Bradfield vocals of the ’90s, if not of the whole Manics career. Similarly, although Nasmyth’s presence on accordion keeps ‘Born a Girl’ from strictly fitting into the category of “solo Bradfield vocals + guitar” songs (as does the fact that he plays electric rather than acoustic in this case), it is a major improvement over many such similar songs which would garner a muted reception when they were released as B-sides in later years. With his wordless intonations at the end, Bradfield even channels a little of American cult singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, who had died the year before the album’s release.
A brilliant showcase for how well perfect a mouthpiece Bradfield is for Wire’s lyrics, ‘Born a Girl’ would surely be guaranteed a place on any hypothetical compilation of under-the-radar Manics album tracks.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“there’s no room in this world for a girl like me”