Manic Street Preachers

Manic Street Preachers

One of my favorite rock and roll bands is Manic Street Preachers. If you are reading this the odds are you’ve either heard of them or don’t really care. Despite recording for a huge multi-national (Sony) they don’t have distribution here in the states anymore.

Makes being a Manics fan a little more challenging.

Anyway, the Manics have always been a wildly politically progressive band. On their seminal album “The Holy Bible” they tore into American politics and Democracy. Going so far as to play Cuba in 2001, long before the doors were open and when Cuba was still the primary enemy to Democracy.

Manic Street Preachers have certainly paid for the success they have achieved: they lost 1/4 of their band, songwriter and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, who was officially declared “preseumed dead” in 2008 after having been missing for 12.5 years. But the remaining three persevered.

Since they don’t have a deal here in the states, they seldom tour here so periodically I check in on their web site. Today I ran across this,This November, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore (Manics singer and drummer) will take part in a challenging 6 day trek to Patagonia to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Centre.In conjunction with this, Manic’s bass player Nicky Wire has donated a bunch of art work to a Manic’s fanzine web site to be raffled off. 

I didn’t run across this on their site. I couldn’t find any note of it there. It was a retweet (I sincerely doubt Twitter is managed by them). 

My point? I guess I was just rather impressed that a couple of rock stars, from one of Britain’s larger rock bands, would donate one week of their life to do something like this. I don’t think you’d find any American rock band at their level doing something like that. Or if they did, it would be pimped out to and pumped up by some Public Relations agency. 

I dunno, maybe American bands do things like this but in my heart I don’t think that is true.  

Nonetheless, I thought I would re-post this Manics entry from 2014:

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If you live in America, Manic Street Preachers are one of the better rock bands you’ve probably never heard of.

I started writing this awhile ago, right around their September 2013 release, Rewind the Film. The bands 11th studio album. For a host of reasons, but mainly laziness, I stopped writing it. Late last week, while listening to Send Away The Tigers and thinking about the giant sink hole that is today’s rock landscape, I made a mental note to track down Rewind the Film and revisit this post.

Neither of which proved easy considering my inherent procrastinitive nature and the fact that the band apparently doesn’t have a distribution deal here in the states.

In the early 90’s, while most of America was in the flannel grasp of grunge, the UK was in the throes of its own ecstasy riddled revolution with the “Madchester” scene that begat Oasis and The Stone Roses and the Brit Pop sound of Blur and Suede.

However, it would be four friends from Wales, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and Richey Edwards, aka Manic Street Preachers, who would show the others up and prove the test of time. Like any young band they seemed to be armed with more hubris than talent but almost 25 years on, they’ve proven over and over to have the talent to match that initial hubris.

The Manic’s are the only band still together releasing new work and exploring their own creativity, as a band (the others have re-formed, broken up again, etc). However, even more than talent and longevity, they’ve offered up proof they have an almost unparalleled work ethic; excluding solo albums or singles, Manic Street Preachers have released, on average, an album every other year.

Way back when, Manic Street Preachers were just a bunch of Welsh punks who released a couple singles. They captured a little core audience with their brazen (and early 90’s) punk attitude, stylish look and guitar riffs. With Motown Junk they also garnered a fair amount of press which invariably led to major label’s taking note. Eventually signing to Columbia Records, they proclaimed that their debut album would be “the greatest rock album ever”.

That debut, Generation Terrorists, was not “the greatest rock album ever”. While it garnered mostly favorable reviews, it spawned a few singles, most notably “Motorcycle Emptiness” and “You Love Us” and maybe it didn’t quite live up to their promise of selling 16 million copies, it did sell well in the UK (eventually receiving a Classic Album Q Award in 2012).

Where Generation Terrorists was lyrically politically punk centric, their second album, Gold Against The Soul, saw principle lyricists Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards begin to move towards slightly more introspective lyrics.

In the process, they shed some of their fan base.

Nonetheless, they soldiered on and after the promotional duties to support Gold Against the Soul had finished,  the band reconvened to record what would become their third album, The Holy Bible. Given the lackluster sales of Gold Against the Soul, the pressure from the label to produce a hit album was intense.

Equally as intense was guitarist Richey Edwards increasingly shaky psychological state.

Like American bands Bon Jovi (who they oddly opened for) and Bruce Springsteen before them, they realized this third album was a make or break record for them.

And like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Guns n’ Roses Appetite For Destruction and Pearl Jam’s Ten before it, MSP’s The Holy Bible is one of the most fully realized visions of rock music of my generation. Musically and lyrically, The Holy Bible marks a clear demarcation point for the band. The sound is more focused, urgent and consistent than the previous two albums.

It’s also a nonstop assault on your senses. Unfortunately, it’s also the sound of a man slipping into madness.

The album was recorded after Edwards had spent some time in the hospital to treat his anorexia (and the band toured as a three-piece to pay for it). What becomes clearer after each listen is that it’s a great album…and it’s also the sound of a man slipping into his own personal hell. By all accounts, including the bands, most of the lyrics were Richey Edwards.

What makes the album so complete is that threading the needle from song to song are audio samples from various sources.  Including an interview with author Hubert Selby Jr, the Nuremberg Trials, a clip from the documentary Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns, etc. Serving as a brief reprieve (inasmuch ANY of those audio clips could be considered a reprieve) from the sonic assault and schizophrenic lyrics about everything from abortion to the Holocaust to child prostitution, and almost every shitty topic in between.

The samples also serve as a narrative introduction to each song, providing some context to the song that follows. More crucially, they give the album a sense of continuity that might be lost without them. Like so many great pieces of art, I can’t tell you how it works or why it resonates with me, only that it does.

Frankly, The Holy Bible is a masterpiece.

And in what seems so typical of masterpieces when they are released, The Holy Bible was met with a deafening shrug.

It would take the disappearance of Richey Edwards for people to notice the album.

In February of 1995, the morning of a planned PR trip to the United States with James Dean Bradfield, Edwards checked out of his hotel at 7am without notice. Three days later his car was discovered near the Severn Bridge, which was known to be a suicide spot. A car park attendant reported it had been there for three days; a police search of the car revealed that it had been lived in for a few days.

Edwards was never seen again.

It’s the tragedy of Edwards illnesses and untimely disappearance that helped the Manic Street Preachers find their voice and audience. Doubling up on the tragedy was that even though The Holy Bible is a true blue rock and roll record, it went virtually unnoticed here.

Kurt Cobain had killed himself a few months before The Holy Bible came out and as a result American audiences were beginning to tire of grunge and introspectively angry music and, for a myriad of reasons, were beginning to lap up and embrace more benign and innocuous rock acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Hooty and the Blowfish.

With the Edwards family blessing, the band soldiered on.

Manic Street Preachers followed The Holy Bible with Everything Must Go which contained a nod to an acoustic, softer side, including “Small Black Flowers That Grow In the Sky” and contained a creative leap that few bands can even fathom. The album was a massive success in the UK and was even shortlisted for the coveted and much respected Mercury Prize.

11 studio albums later, three compilations, a host of singles, ep’s and covers later, the band has maintained, and even grown, their success in their homeland and Europe but still haven’t reached the kind of world-wide success their work warrants or the holy grail of rock music, the American audience.

Manic Street Preachers have produced the type of consistently excellent music that most bands would kill to have just one or two albums of.

However, consistently excellent doesn’t always beget artistic variance. But, AC/DC has built a 40 year career out of canvasing well traversed rock and roll tropes.

For me, an artistic pivot point for the band was 2007’s release Send Away The Tigers. Maintaining the distinctive Manic’s sound, lyrically there is maturity that replaces some of the angry idealism of their earlier work. “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”, a duet with Cardigans singer Nina Perrson, is a particular highlight (and should have been a massive worldwide hit).

Throughout Send Away The Tigers, the band shows growth while retaining its political ideology and distinctive sound. Songs like “The Second Great Depression” are particularly interesting; as is their vitriol for American policies (a consistent theme for the band), on songs like “Imperial Bodybags”. Nicky Wire said, “Imperial Bodybags is another view of America. We castigate Americans as thick, evangelical idiots and it’s unfair. So the song is just about the obvious – when an American soldier comes home from Iraq in a coffin, his people feel it just as bad as anyone else’s. Not everyone is an American Idiot.”

Something tells me this type of criticism of American politics and policies might play a role as to why the band hasn’t been able to get a foothold here in the United States. The fact they don’t tour here certainly doesn’t help, but at this stage in their career I am not sure breaking into America is that much of a priority for them.

Of course, die-hard American geek fans, like myself, might like to see them on this side of the pond more than once every ten years.

Eventually, I tracked down Rewind The Film and, despite it’s title, it is anything but a rewind for the band. The distinctive push and pull and pugnacious nature of the music and lyrics is present. This fight between music and lyrics is one of the things that makes Manic Street Preachers one of the more interesting and exciting rock and roll bands.

The album opens with a one two punch. The acoustic bleakness of “This Sullen Welsh Heart” is followed by the more joyous Spanish trumpets in “Show Me The Wonder”. The rest of the album shows a band growing up. Not a bad thing at all.

Rewind The Film has a slightly more mature Manics sound, without deviating from their own sonic template and still retaining the distinctive Manics attitude. No easy task after 25 years, just ask The Rolling Stones.

Is Rewind The Film the band standing firmly in middle age and reflecting back? That’s certainly my take on it. And aren’t we all doing that? You certainly don’t want to get stuck there and that’s not something the band could ever be accused of. I like to think good artists reflect backwards to move forward.

Great artists, like Manic Street Preachers, do it without thinking about it.

What can I say about the album? Nothing, really. If you like the band, you’ll like the album.

The best thing about Rewind The Film?
Manic Street Preachers aren’t re-inventing the wheel.

They also know they don’t need to.

In what I can only imagine is a lack of distribution in the United States the above Spotify playlist is, unfortunately, limited.

The Edwards family had Richey Edwards legally declared “presumed dead” in November of 2008. The band commented that they respect the family’s decision and continue to set aside his portion of royalties should he ever return. To this day, even though the band has a fourth touring member, they perform live leaving a space on the stage where Richey Edwards would stand.