Released on: Know Your Enemy (Album #6) Epic Records, 19 March 2001
In a certain way, ‘The Convalescent’ and its partner [T138] ‘Epicentre’ are to Know Your Enemy what ‘The Everlasting’ was to the previous album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. While neither of these songs open the Manics’ 2001 album, they are each epics in their own right, just as ‘The Everlasting’ is. Also like that song, they represent the core theme of the album writ large; introspective melancholy in the case of ‘Everlasting’, and gritty, angry experimentation in this case. This is particularly true of ‘The Convalescent’.
Lyrically, the song takes the form of a long and chaotic trawl through the cluttered contents of Nicky Wire’s mind, which an early line explains are reflected in a “collage constructed and constantly fed” on his bedroom wall. This very much fits in with Wire’s well-known propensity to collect photographs, clippings, quotes and other ephemera which he uses for inspiration (and has presented to Manics fans directly by various means over the years, such as in album booklets and content on the official band website). What follows is an extremely wordy, stream-of-consciousness race through a huge variety of references delivered in fine style by Bradfield.
There are some superb lines sprinkled throughout – the first few do an excellent job of “setting the scene”, if you like. Later, the lines “Kleenex kitchen towels and teletext TV / my favourite inventions of the twentieth century” seem to have two wonderfully contradictory meanings at the same time. On the one hand, Wire has expressed a love of mundane things in the past, but on the other the line brings to mind the scathing line “the twentieth century achieved so much” from way back on 1993’s [A48] ‘Roses in the Hospital’. The implication is surely that the century was dominated by tawdry conveniences invented for their commercial impact more than by things which would actually improve people’s quality of life. Other lines are enjoyable just because of how maddeningly random they appear to be – especially “Brian Warner has a tasty little ass / scared of cash machines and the mardi gras”.
The fact that ‘The Convalescent’ has not been played live seems frankly tragic not so much because of the song’s many lyrical curios but because it is such a storming epic which contains next to nothing by way of an introduction before it hurtles into the first verse and then contains such an excellent, chaotic final section. One of the song’s cleverer tricks that is that it is the verses rather than the choruses which are the faster, heavier parts of the song – this means that the track launches out of rather than into its choruses, which is an intriguingly backwards way of going about things.
As for what it’s all about, well the title and chorus imply a theme of healing and recovery, but as one of Know Your Enemy’s most explosive and ambitious songs, there’s very little that is relaxing about ‘The Convalescent’. Nevertheless, it is a thrilling recording, one of the best on the album and cruelly denied the live outings it very much deserves.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“scream until the war is over”
Goya – Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828) Spanish painter.
Picasso – Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Spanish artist known mainly as a painter and for co-founding the Cubist art movement.
Bonnie and Clyde – Bonnie Parker (1910 – 1934) and Clyde Barrow (1909 – 1934), infamous American criminals and outlaws eventually shot dead in Louisiana in 1934.
Payne Stewart – (1957 – 1999) successful American golfer who died in a Learjet accident in South Dakota in 1999. The cabin depressurised and Stewart and everyone else on board died of hypoxia before the plane eventually crashed.
DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule that encodes genetic instructions in most living organisms.
Haile Gebreselassie – (1973 -) Ethiopian long-distance runner.
Jack Kevorkian – (1928 – 2011) American doctor who was a notable advocate of voluntary euthanasia for ill people and was eventually imprisoned for assisting suicide in 1999. He was commonly known as “Dr. Death”.
Brian Warner – (1969 -) American musician and actor better known as Marilyn Manson and for fronting the band of the same name.
Mardi Gras – French for “fat Tuesday”, carnival celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday.
Alberto Juanterina – (1950 -) Cuban track athlete known for his Olympic success in the 1970s in the 400m and 800m races.
Klaus Kinksi – (1926 – 1991) infamously volatile German actor known for his frequent collaborations and altercations with director Werner Herzog (1942 -).
Dante’s Inferno – “Inferno” is one part of the The Divine Comedy, an epic 14th century poem written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri, in which the poet descends through various levels of hell.