52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse

There was an article in The Observer yesterday about the 1994 release of the Manic Street Preacher's finest hour - The Holy Bible. The article portays the release as the unwelcome guest at the Britpop party of "a Britain clad in sportswear, drunk on premium lager", and talks about the forthcoming 10th anniversary edition of an album that only sold 35,000 copies on its release, but has apparently sold steadily at a rate of 15,000 copies a year since (reissue!repackage! re-evaluate the songs! double pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!) .

It is without a doubt one of my favourite albums ever. I saw the Manic Street Preachers at the Reading Festival in August 1994 - prophetically, they were forced to take to the stage without Richie Edwards, who had taken refuge in a clinic as his physical and mental state continued its inexorable descent towards his eventual disappearance on 1st February 1995. I've seen the Manics many times, but I think that this was to be the only time that I saw them perform the material from this album live, and the effect was electric. I've always been a lyrics man, and for the manics it has always been about the lyrics. I was gripped by lines like:

"I am an architect. They call me a butcher" (Faster)

"I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you / Puking - shaking - sinking I still stand for old ladies / Can't shout, can't scream, I hurt myself to get pain out" (Yes)

"A drained white body hangs from the gallows / Is more righteous than Hindley's crotchet lectures" (Archives of Pain)

"I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint" (4st 7 lbs)

"Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals " (Die in the Summertime)

Nicky Wire freely admits that 75% of the lyrics were written by Edwards. Many of them are hard to write down here, and some are definitely difficult to listen to - all that pain set to howling guitars, with the words squeezed into the music by a gabbering James Dean Bradfield. It's hardly surprising that these don't form a staple of the Manics live act.

On the way back from Reading, I stopped in Milton Keynes to buy the album, only to find that as it was a bank holiday, all the shops were shut (remember that?), so I had to wait until Tuesday.

I listened to the whole album again today, and the sheer visceral impact of it hasn't dimmed over the course of a decade. I'm still not going to buy "Lifeblood" though, I don't think. It's not that I don't like their later stuff, or that I'm one of those hardcore fans who felt let down when they didn't burn out in a blaze of glory after selling 16m copies of "Generation Terrorists".... it's just that I don't think I can face it anymore. I really liked "This Is My Truth...", but they somehow sound like their hearts aren't really in it anymore. I'm loathe to write them off, or say that they should call it a day - I did that a few years ago, and then reluctantly went to go and see them on their Greatest Hits tour and they were **AMAZING**. I'm sure the new stuff is perfectly good (and there is something so reassuringly Manics about the lyric "People forget China and your war on cancer ", isn't there?) and I know of at least two people who will probably vehemently disagree with me about this... (here and here)

Maybe it's my heart that isn't in it anymore. I'm tired. They somehow make me feel sad about what was, instead of uplifted by what is.

Whatever - the Holy Bible is an amazing statement from an amazing band, and this is how I want to remember them.


"Who's responsible....?"

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  • At 9:00 am, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    >>>They somehow make me feel sad about what was, instead of uplifted by what is.

    But isn't that in itself a very Manics feeling?

    I'm not going to argue with you. I agree that "The Holy Bible" was their best album. I agree that they definitely lost something when Richey vamoosed. I would like to state here and now that Nicky Wire's lyrics can quite often be excruciatingly bad (I think they improved a bit - not much, but a bit - on "Know Your Enemy", but have gone back to being sometimes rather dull and pedestrian on "Lifeblood", and occasionally absolutely cringeworthy - "Collapsing like the Twin Towers / Falling down like April showers", anybody?). But I would like to say that in my opinion "Lifeblood" is way better than "This Is My Truth", which is my least favourite Manics album by a mile.

    Anyway, of course they've changed. They couldn't stay that angry and primal and still be alive. But I can't think what they'd do if they gave up making albums. They've not got as much steam to let off as they used to, but they've still got some, and they've got to find vent somehow. Even if it's only a small vent.

    I'm just sorry Nicky doesn't wear frocks any more. He looked HOTT, dude.

  • At 10:02 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    I also listened to "This is my truth..." the other week and it a far poorer album than I had remembered it being. I still love songs like "The Everlasting" and "If You Tolerate This...", but "SYMM" anyone?

    "Know Your Enemy" I've hardly listened to, although I think "Ocean Spray" is a lovely song (A James Dean Bradfield lyric, of all things. Whatever next?)

    As I've said elsewhere, not very fashionably, I also have a big soft-spot for Gold Against the Soul.

    As for seeing them live - the pogoing doesn't look the same when you are wearing neoprene knee supports on both legs (although I suppose we are all getting older...)

  • At 3:31 pm, Blogger Mark said…

    I don't believe in it anymore, pathetic acts for a worthless cause.

    When I see the Manics a week on Saturday it will be my 35th Manics gig. First time I saw them was to about 200 people at 3quid a ticket. Someday I will blog about it. The new album is the best thing that they have done since 1996.

  • At 3:41 pm, Blogger Teresa Bowman said…

    >>>the pogoing doesn't look the same when you are wearing neoprene knee supports on both legs

    He's always had dodgy knees, though!

    One of the funniest quotes in "Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers)" by Simon Price - an excellent book, by the way - was about Nicky having "injured his knees by jumping over the Wildhearts' tour manager" back in the early nineteen-o-nineties. I'm sure there's also a lovely photo of him somewhere wearing a floral frock, a headscarf and a knee bandage.

    (What every well-dressed Welshman-about-town is wearing this season.)

  • At 7:39 pm, Blogger Damo said…

    I agree with Mark that the new album is the best since 1996. I also disagree that The Holy Bible is their best album - it's the sort of record that ends up being admired rather than adored. I mean, 'Yes' and 'Faster' are stunning... but how many times do most people get that album out and actually play it all the way through? For me, it hasn't been that often, and I love the Manics. I'll still be getting the anniversary edition though.

    I still believe in music as something life-affirming. I love the Manics and I love Radiohead etc. etc... but when I want to get myself going with the help of music, the watchword for me is 'uplifting'. I know that if a lot of people are down, they whip out their Cure records. Can't quite understand that.


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