Manikins – Bad Times

The Manikins
Bad Times
FDH Records, Secret Identity Records, No Front Teeth Records, and Resurrection Records
October 1, 2019

Eleven years ago I ordered a knock-off Rezillos t-shirt from a company called Full Breach. When my shirt arrived it came with a flyer and a badge for a band called The Manikins, who had a record out on their label.

I looked the band up online and found their single, I Want My Baby Dead. I hit play and was absolutely floored by what I heard – it had the roughness of garage punk, with all the melody of a 60s pop song. I instantly ordered their CD, listening to it constantly. Then I ordered the previous albums, Lie, Cheat & Steal and Epileptic, while hoping they would soon book a gig in London.

They ended up going on a US tour in 2009, and splitting up soon after; ultimately pissing all over my hopes of seeing them live.

Over the years I’ve ended up showing a lot of people this band, and when they heard them, they all said the same thing, “I can’t believe I’ve never heard these guys before”… Then watch the disappointment in their faces when I told them the band weren’t together anymore.

Out of the blue, I came across a Facebook post from the band saying they’re back after a near enough 10-year hiatus, and that they would be working on a new album!

Recorded in spring of 2019, The Manikins are back with their album, Bad Times. I wasn’t sure what to expect, it’s been a long time since the band had last released music. The world is a very different place than it was back then.

As I hit play I was hit with a dense wall of driven guitar and pulsing beats. The opening song, “Get Some”, is almost a warning for what’s to come. This song reminds me of the earlier albums in their back catalogue, more high-energy explosive minimalistic garage punk.

Up next is the title track, “Bad Times”, this sets the tone for the rest of the album, with lyrics like, “we lose fights against our shadows everyday, we know we’ve done wrong and now it’s time to pay”, it seems to reflect the general bleak state of the world right now. It sounds a bit like a hopeless scream into the void – something I feel myself relating to more and more lately.

A lot like the world right now, this album has a few ups and downs. “On the Hanger to Dry” is another manic high-energy song about heartbreak, which is followed by my favourite song on the album, “Make a Run for It”. “Make a Run for It” is probably the most similar to Crocodiles. There’s a bit of heartache poured into it, though there’s organ all over the whole album, it really shines on this track, tying it all together in a way that’s similar to The Attractions.

Filled with bright jangly-guitar, peppering the verses paired with big tremolo-laden chords, and a pulsing backbeat. All the things I’m a sucker for. I wasn’t surprised to see the band shot a music video for this one.

By the next song, you sort of start to piece a bit of a story together, “Everything is shit without you”, a very upbeat sounding song about a bitter subject. This one’s full of energy, call and response vocals, and a cranked guitar solo. It leads nicely into the hypnotic waltz of  “It’s a Drag (Isn’t It)”, which continues the gloomy theme of this record. There’s that organ haunting the track like a memory.

It picks up with the poppier “Worse Than I”, filled with handclaps and a cracking guitar solo, before going back into the gloom with “Always Watching”. “Always Watching” is my second favourite, and probably the song that seems to be the most reflective of the times we live in.

With a climate of fear and a nature of paranoia – whether it’s CCTV, camera phones, or just micro managing – there’s a really clever use of space and alternating speakers on the guitars, surrounding you and perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the lyrics and haunting organ sounds.

This is where the theme of the record seems to stay a bit darker with songs like, “Can’t Hold On”. It cracks open with a fuzzy lead guitar and a story about everything really falling apart for a guy. There’s another creeping fuzzy guitar throughout the track and a tangible feeling of building desperation, leading up to a big finish.

The first time I listened to “Can’t Hold On” I thought it was the final track. It has the quality of a closer, but the band has a great way of picking things back up.

“Keep on Waitin’” comes in with a huge sounding bass-line, then follows with some of that classic call and reply guitar, leading into a classic rock n’ roll chorus. This song is the closest to the sound the band had on Lie Cheat and Steal, however the theme is still very much in line with this record.

It stays bitter into the next song, “It’s Not Going to Be Okay”, one of the most upbeat songs I’ve ever heard about just accepting life continuously shitting on you.

At this point you start to wonder where the band are going with this, then the final song, “Bank Robbery”, seems to be the story’s conclusion. Once everything’s gone to shit and you have no money, why not rob a bank? Bad Times indeed.

I don’t know if it was intended for this album to play out like a story, having a beginning, middle and an end, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t. I personally love the pacing of this album the best. It really does feel like you’re being told someone’s life story in an old cowboy western film by the end.

Now if you we’re expecting another Crocodiles you may be disappointed, and I would be lying if I said I loved this album from the first listen, but no band should sound the same ten years later.

After the third listen I really started to appreciate this album for what it is, and I think it may well be my favourite record of theirs. The band sounds a bit more grown up, but not in a bad way. The energy of the band’s earlier releases is still there, it’s just a little bit more well put together.

I would definitely recommend buying a copy of this album, then going to see them play live, because The Manikins will be playing around Europe into 2020.

20 years hasn’t really made them any tamer, if anything they seem wilder now than ever before!

-Adrian Alfonso