Released on: There By the Grace of God (Single #30) Epic Records, 14 October 2002
Also on: Forever Delayed (Compilation) Epic Records, 28 October 2002
Peak UK Chart Position: #6
Band Ranking: #30
There are few, if any, songs in the Manics catalogue that can touch the surprising obscurity of ‘Happy Ending’. Yes, on one level the song is just another Manics B-side, a type of song well-known for their ability to fly under the radar. The difference is that this particular recording details a hugely significant and under-reported event in the band’s history; it documents a point at which they appear to have seriously considered breaking up.
2002 was a huge year in the Manics story. Ten years had passed since they released Generation Terrorists, and an enormous amount had changed in the outlook of the band. Edwards was long since gone but the band’s sound (and commercial fortunes) had changed almost immeasurably, and yet they had been severely bruised by the damning response to their 2001 show in Havana. It’s not all that hard to imagine the remaining trio considering ending things on a relative high; that, surely is the thinking behind ‘Happy Ending’ – an almost amazingly exposed, earnest song about a band contemplating the end.
Broadly speaking there are probably two main ways of receiving ‘Happy Ending’, eventually quietly released as a B-side after the band had presumably already decided to carry on. The first is to see it as a piece of glib musical cowardice, a routine B-side which only flirts with the idea of ending the band. The other, and more positive outlook is to see the song as a fascinating insight into the band’s perception of themselves and a reason to be relieved that they have continued to record, release and tour truly accomplished music. This is the ultimate “what might have been” moment in the whole discography – especially because as Wire has explained recently, it actually would have been more lucrative for them to break up around 2002 and then reform around now. That they contemplating ending it, released ‘Happy Ending’ and carried on – through the critically hard times of Lifeblood, no less – is a testament to the credibility and commitment of Manic Street Preachers.
Seen in that light, it is also a genuinely enjoyable and even emotional song. The tender piano work and particularly the instrumental section towards the end are very impressive, but it’s the huge historical significance which should make ‘Happy Ending’ far more well-known than it is.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“we’ve made more enemies than friends / maybe too many to count”