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Manic Street Preachers

+ {James Dean Bradfield} + {Nicky Wire}

Welsh wizards or political punk progenitors, MANIC STREET PREACHERS divide many rock music journos – probably depending on one’s age group. Reprising rebellious rock and roll for a fresh generation of spotty-faced youths, the emerging Brit-pop scene of the 90s had yet another combo to worship and idolise. While one can’t dismiss their arena-friendly anthems (the memorable `If You Tolerate This You’re Children Will Be Next’ for one) garnering pole positions, their conspicuous lack of success in hard-shell America, has left one to question and almost disbelieve all the hype. They may be guilty of naivety, bombast and even double standards but few bands of the modern era write, play and perform with the emotional and political intensity, the dignity and the humbleness of the MANIC STREET PREACHERS. Bizarrely enough, the genuine disappearance of manic boy guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards on 1st February 1995 has baffled everyone from police investigators, the remaining members themselves and of course, their fans.
The Manics formed while at Oakdale Comprehensive in Blackwood, Gwent; 1988 being the year singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, guitarist-cum-bassist Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore abandoned the short-lived Betty Blue (bassist Miles Woodward – aka Flicker – bailed out) for their new punkier moniker. The talented rhythm guitarist and sleeve artwork designer Richey Edwards completed the quartet as they set about recording their self-financed debut single, `Suicide Alley’. On a musical par with The CLASH, The SKIDS and others of that ilk, the record was re-issued in August 1989, receiving NME Single Of The Week when it had been released several months prior.
Bradfield and Co began to attract attention in 1990 with the delivery of the `New Art Riot’, a derivative but impassioned neo-punk EP which drew interest more for the band’s defiant slurs on a range of targets (fellow musicians were shown no mercy) than its musical content. While the Manics looked the part (low-rent glamour chic) and name-checked all the right people (Rimbaud, The CLASH, etc.), their philosophy of kill your idols and then burn out, smacked of contrivance to say the least. When journalist Steve Lamacq said as much in an interview with Edwards in ‘91, the guitarist proceeded to carve “4 real” into his arm with a razor, upping the ante in the band’s already precarious relationship with the music press and causing furious debate between doubters and obsessive fans. The group proceeded to release a couple of raging singles on the newly-founded Heavenly Records; `Motown Junk’ and the stinging `You Love Us’ (aimed at the press/media), before signing to Columbia in 1991.
After a couple of minor hits, `Stay Beautiful’ and `Love’s Sweet Exile’, the Manics cracked the Top 20 with a re-released `You Love Us’, their much anticipated debut album GENERATION TERRORISTS {*8} following in February 1992. A sprawling double set, the record kicked convincingly against the pricks, lashing out at such deserving targets as high street banks (`Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’) and our beloved monarch (`Repeat’). The band also proved they had a way with melody and songwriting in the soaring melancholy of Top 30 singles `Slash ‘n’ Burn’, `Motorcycle Emptiness’ and `Little Baby Nothing’. Ironically, it was a cover of M*A*S*H-sourced theme `Suicide Is Painless’ that gave the band their Top 10 breakthrough; oddly enough a platter shared with the FATIMA MANSIONS.
Despite their original well intentioned claims to break up after the debut, the band rather predictably toured the album and began work on a new collection, GOLD AGAINST THE SOUL (1993) {*8}. Lacking the vicious kick of the debut, the record nevertheless contained some fine hit single moments in the likes of `From Despair To Where’, `La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)’, `Roses In The Hospital’ and `Life Becoming A Landslide’, while reaching Top 10 status. Meanwhile, the Manics continued to court controversy with Nicky Wire making derogatory comments about R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and New Age travellers at the 1993 Reading Festival and elsewhere.
The following year Richey’s depression, self-mutilation and anorexia reached a head, the guitarist eventually admitted to a clinic for several weeks. His trauma was detailed in the harrowing `4st 7lb’ from their third album THE HOLY BIBLE (1994) {*8}, a dark night of the soul which centred on such grim topics as Nazi genocide. Although at times harrowing and chillingly hostile, the double-header `Faster’ / `PCP’, plus `Revol’ and `She Is Suffering’ all became major hits, while politics as always was always on the agenda; `Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart’ one that hardly slips off the tongue with any degree of certainty or ease.
Then, on 1st February 1995, with Richey apparently recovered, he went AWOL from his London hotel. A fortnight later, his abandoned car was found at the Severn Bridge, and rumours of suicide abounded. Even after a protracted police search, there was no trace of the guitarist and nowadays he’s presumed to be diseased. Numerous sightings have since been reported, most notably in Goa, India, although the police have continued to draw a blank.
The remaining members eventually decided to carry on, contributing a poignant BACHARACH-DAVID song `Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ to the 1995 Warchild charity album, Help, and releasing their fourth album, EVERYTHING MUST GO (1996) {*8}. The group’s most accomplished work to date, the record was preceded by their biggest hit single (No.2), the bitter `A Design For Life’. Embellished with soaring strings and lavish arrangements, the band scored with a succession of brilliant Top 10 songs including `Kevin Carter’, `Australia’ and the title track, compositions that were almost transcendent in their emotive power, the memory of Richey never far away. It seemed that at last the MANIC STREET PREACHERS had lived up to their early boasts and in early 1997 their talent was recognised when the album won the coveted Mercury Music Award.
Atop of the singles chart was the only place the Manics hadn’t been. This was remedied late summer ‘98 when `If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ took pole position, a taster from their massive selling parent album, THIS IS THE TRUTH TELL ME YOURS (1998) {*8}. Classic anthems such as `The Everlasting’, `You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ and `Tsunami’ also became top sellers in the charts, although what was happening to their records in America? Not that the staunchly socialist Manics gave a fig for their Stateside oblivion, content to become the first western rock band to play in Communist Cuba, that long-time thorn in Uncle Sam’s bloated side.
No need to ask then, what `Baby Elian’ was all about given the Cuba vs USA tussle of summer 2000. The latter track was served up for KNOW YOUR ENEMY (2001) {*7}, the band’s sixth album and one of their most accomplished to date. The almost STOOGES-style savagery of `Found That Soul’ (a dual Top 10 single released simultaneously with `So Why So Sad’) set the tone, a blistering punk/garage track that put many of the so-called American nu-metal/punk groups to shame, and duly served as a timely reminder of how good angry rock music can be when it comes from the gut and not the marketing strategy. `Ocean Spray’, in contrast, was a poignant homage to James’ mum’s battle with cancer; Ocean Spray being a brand of cranberry juice used to combat the disease. Yet this album was primarily a politicised affair, again railing against the evils of the USA in the likes of `Free Speech Won’t Feed My Children’ and `Let Robeson Sing’, the latter a tribute to the forgotten entertainer/political activist.
In the absence of any new material, the inevitable greatest hits and B-sides collections were released in 2002 and 2003 respectively. The Caerphilly trio returned in late 2004, but not to the Top 10, their comeback album LIFEBLOOD {*5} attracting mixed reviews for its toned down maturity, even if its lyrics and song titles were as uncompromising as ever: `The Love Of Richard Nixon’ and `Empty Souls’ nevertheless both went to No.2.
In the group’s next hiatus, both JAMES DEAN BRADFIELD and NICKY WIRE took time off for “bad” behaviour, the former coming up with the rather AOR Top 30 set, THE GREAT WESTERN (2006) {*7} – featuring the hits `That’s No Way To Tell A Lie’ and `An English Gentleman’ – the latter almost rebellious in comparison via I KILLED THE ZEITGEIST (2006) {*6}.
Recharged and up and running for album number seven, SEND AWAY THE TIGERS (2007) {*7}, the Manics reclaimed their place high in the charts again, while singles `Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’, `Autumnsong’ and the equally toned-down `Indian Summer’, were perfect foil to the muscle of `Rendition’ and `I’m Just A Patsy’; listen out too for the hidden-track version of LENNON’s `Working Class Hero’.
Re-treading in the pre-vanishing Richey days of “The Holy Bible” (the chosen artwork was also down to Jenny Saville), the Steve Albini-produced JOURNAL FOR PLAGUE LOVERS (2009) {*7} was just what the doctor ordered. Back in spirit and malevolent intensity, the barbed and spiky guitars and darkened room atmosphere was more than apparent on `Me And Stephen Hawking’, `She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ and `Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’. And for once, there were no singles spawned from an album.
Also reaching Top 3 in the charts, and with a fair share of hit download singles (or the usual formats), POSTCARDS FROM A YOUNG MAN (2010) {*7} also received positive reviews. Whether singles or not, `Some Kind Of Nothingness’ was the record’s most interesting dirge, featuring as it did Ian McCulloch (from ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN); fellow Welsh god JOHN CALE performed on `Auto-Intoxication’, while the invitation to former GUNS N’ ROSES axeman Duff McKagan to make an appearance on `A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun’, was also worth the admission price alone.
Fast-forward three years, 2013’s REWIND THE FILM {*7} affirmed the need for a free-flowing folk-ier appeal, while guest singers such as RICHARD HAWLEY (on the title track), Valleys girl CATE LE BON (on `4 Lonely Roads’) and LUCY ROSE (on `This Sullen Welsh Heart’), scanned an all-new melancholic/MOR MSP. But for the brassy `Show Me The Wonder’ and the orchestra-led `Anthem For A Lost Cause’, one might’ve thought you’d put on the wrong album. Still, the haunting `Manorbier’ and `30 Year War’ closing pieces, were commendable in taking the Top 5 act into a new phase.
Britpop two decades on (no matter how long ago one assumes it died), FUTUROLOGY (2014) {*7} carried the can for the genre – and indeed, the Manics. Although mighty in anthemic cred (`Let’s Go To War’ for one), the trio shifted toward a robotic electro-pop that was clear on `Europa Geht Durch Mich’ (with Nina Hoss), `Misguided Missile’ and the incendiary instrumental, `Mayakovsky’. Another relatively unknown starlet, Georgina Ruth Williams, found herself in the limelight on `Divine Youth’, while the capture of fellow Welshman, Green Gartside from SCRITTI POLITTI, brought a sense of 80s indie nostalgia to the collaborative, `Between The Clock And The Bed’.
Following on from a band documentary entitled, Escape From History, MANIC STREET PREACHERS returned to the pulpit for spring 2018’s Dave Eringa-produced RESISTANCE IS FUTILE {*7}. Despite gate-crashing the Top 3 and being cherished by defiant fans over the British Isles, somehow their alt-rock-by-numbers didn’t quite match the fire and furor of their self-proclaimed “National Treasures” (or greatest hits). Singles a-plenty in these download-dominated days, maybe in another time or another place – the 90s presumably – set highlights `International Blue’, `Distant Colours’, `Dylan & Caitlin’, `Liverpool Revisited’ and `Hold Me Like A Heaven’, would’ve stood a better chance to resonate with the, as yet, unaffiliated.
Over the years, the Manics have spun out the odd cover version or three; namely `It’s So Easy’ (GUNS N’ ROSES), `Under My Wheels’ (ALICE COOPER), `We Are Bourgeois Now’ + `Charles Windsor’ (McCARTHY), `The Drowners’ (SUEDE), `Stay With Me’ (FACES), `Wrote For Luck’ (HAPPY MONDAYS), `Velocity Girl’ (PRIMAL SCREAM), `Take The Skinheads Bowling’ (CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN), `Been A Son’ (NIRVANA), `Out Of Time’ (The ROLLING STONES), `Bright Eyes’ (MIKE BATT), `Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ (hit; Andy Williams), `Train In Vain’ + `What’s My Name’ (The CLASH), `Last Christmas’ (GEORGE MICHAEL), `Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel’ (traditional), `Rock And Roll Music’ (CHUCK BERRY) and `Time Ain’t Nothing’ (GREEN ON RED); there’s more than likely a few more.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2012-Apr2018

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