Release date: 15/04/1996 | Length: 3:13 | Release: A Design for Life
Following the river of death downstream
God this song’s depressing. Art Garfunkel and Mike Batt’s song from the late 70s was written for the 1978 film Watership Down, a grimly mortal tale about rabbits. It fits the brief perfectly, don’t get me wrong, but I never want to actually listen to this song.
Richard Adams’ book (which I highly recommend) and subsequent cinematic adaptation scarred children due to its graphic depiction of death, so it’s only natural that a pivotal song on the soundtrack confronts this in a raw and blunt fashion. There are moments of poetic beauty in the song, namely the chorus: “Bright eyes, how can you close and fail”, but any song that refers to a ‘river of death’ needs a serious talking to.
The song was slow and dreary, so of course it went on to spend six weeks at number one in the UK and sell over a million copies.
You may have noticed that I’ve yet to mention the Manic Street Preachers on this entry about a Manic Street Preachers song, and that’s because as with most Manics covers, little exciting happens. Recorded live at the Astoria at the end of 1994, it was thrown on as a b-side to jukebox and cassette versions of A Design for Life.
The Manics’ gigs at the Astoria are infamous in the band’s history for being the final time that Richey Edwards played on stage, and for the group totalling their equipment in spectacular fashion. This wasn’t just a rock ‘n’ roll explosion, it was a human explosion. It may have felt thrilling watching it in the crowd, but the frenzy at which the band obliterated their guitars (and in Richey’s case, himself) was an image of a burn-out, not a triumph.
James Dean Bradfield took on Bright Eyes himself, and whilst he does little to alter the song, its sheer sparseness is remarkable. I wouldn’t call this ‘great’, but it’s a uneasy calm before the storm when you consider the intensity of their performances over the three days, and the self-destruction that would happen one night later.