Released on: Found That Soul (Single #26) Epic Records, 26 February 2001
Peak UK Chart Position: #9
Band Ranking: #13
Good grief – Nicky Wire’s first-ever released solo vocal spot on a Manics recording and it makes you both wonder why he was ever allowed near a microphone again and glad that he was, given his much more impressive (and listenable) later efforts.
‘The Ballad of the Bangkok Novotel’ covers very much the same ground as another then-recent B-side, [B116] ‘Valley Boy’, in that it deals with Wire’s unhappy relationship with touring. While that song was “set” in Amsterdam and was lyrically and musically resigned and languid, ‘Novotel’ is two and a bit minutes of undiluted despair and rage set against the band’s appearances in Bangkok, Thailand. Owing to the memorable line about “four sickly boys are losing resistance”, the song must be about the world tour to promote The Holy Bible in 1994. That being said, another line – “five years later I’m still shaking” – implies that the song was written in 1999, which would make it fairly old by the time it actually saw release on the Found That Soul single in February 2001.
The lyrics may smash some rock and roll illusions about the supposed glamour and debauchery of international tours and the band’s electro-inflected breakneck performance may be a thrill, but it’s Wire’s frankly horrid vocal effort that dominates and ultimately sinks ‘Novotel’. By his own admission Wire cannot sing (he says he “sighs”) and while there are a number of songs where his, shall we say, unique style of performance actually work best, this is not one of them. His tendency to extend the last syllable of words at the ends of lines (“pi-iss”, “do-or”) is probably the primary nail in this song’s coffin. It also doesn’t help that instead of having a chorus, the song makes do with just five long, tiresome verses.
A major landmark due to Wire’s lead vocal, ‘Novotel’ is for the same reason almost unlistenable and barely hints at the bassist/lyricist’s far stronger efforts to come.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“four sickly boys are losing resistance”