Right, holy shit, so am I actually doing this…?
The Manic Street Preachers are the greatest rock band ever. That’s not an opinion, it’s a conclusion that I’ve reached and am now saying it loudly and not listening to any dissenting voices, which in 2021 counts as a ‘fact’.
Their greatness is… complicated… and not easy to explain in a simple intro to a blog post… These 100 tracks aren’t necessarily the greatest songs ever. Even as a pathetically dedicated Manics stan*, even I would argue that they’ve only ever released one indisputable, stone cold classic record from front to back (see if you can guess which one after you read the list!). They may have supernatural control over melodies and how best to ensure a chorus hits just there, but at the end of the day they’re just a rock band. They have never really challenged the very boundaries of music, never pushed things forward or necessarily introduced anything new sonically. I would argue that only one of their albums is truly challenging and experimental, rather than just being a break from what the band usually produce (yeah, it’s the same album…). I mean, Jesus, they once shamelessly released a song including the lyric “The world is full of refugees/They’re just like you and just like me“. That’s unforgivably bad, isn’t it? They can’t come back from that, artistically.
(*I may occasionally use cool, groovy, young person lingo like ‘stan’ so you think I’m a hip young gunslinger. Not, y’know, old enough to be a Manics fan)
I’m not able to explain their magic here, but over the next one hundred (!) entries you’ll hopefully all have a better idea. It’s not as dominated by the 90’s as I was worried it might be, and every album is represented (apart from one. Because their tenth album is worse than Hitler). I’ve been wanting to find the time to do this for ages, partially inspired by the great What is Music podcast covering their entire discography and reminding me of how many big veiny stonkers this band had bulging out of their collective musical swimming trunks. They’re talking about Muse on that podcast now, a band for morons, so you only need to listen to the last season. My major blind spot is I don’t think they’ve done a decent b-side since 2001. Now, I’m sure I’m wrong, so please correct my ignorance in the comments. Tell me how wrong I am. Post your top tens. Your top hundreds. The Manic Street Preachers’ fan community is one of the greatest in the world, and no other band are as connected with their fanbase and feed off their adoration as much as The Manics. So let’s celebrate that by calling me a fat slut in the comments because I didn’t choose Little Baby Nothing.
And, er, you might wanna bookmark this page – motherfucker’s gonna be long. Your next 500 trips to the toilet are sorted.
OK, bit of a wildcard to start with, I accept that. Also, I’m not crazy enough to argue that Ghosts of Christmas is a great song. It’s not even a good song. It’s a really bad song. It contains the line “No X-Box and no computers/We just used our imagination” which, eugh, is the kind of boomer humour Facebook nonsense that lead to you unfriending Uncle Paul back in 2011. Yeah, there was the arson attack and the terrorism charges, but it was mostly because of the boomer humour.
The thing is though, The Manics decided to write a Christmas song and, fuck me silly, did they write a Christmas song?! They didn’t write a sad lament about melting snow or absent angels, they didn’t deconstruct the very idea of Christmas music to anxiously announce how ‘clever’ they are, like modern indie/rock bands are wont to. No, they record a Slade adjacent stomper featuring horns and sleigh bells and with lyrics about fucking Scalectrics. And it’s awful. Because all Christmas songs are awful. Listen, every indie artist in the world, there’s only one good Christmas song, and your acoustic ode to missing Christmas Day 1997 because you were too strung out on smack is never going to be considered its equal. Either don’t do a Christmas song, or leave your ego hanging on the tree as you bash out complete unpretentious nonsense like Ghosts of Christmas.
With Ashley Williams
We can win any fight
OK, this is a bit more legitimate, I promise. It seemed like we as a (British) nation had lost the knack for writing great football songs. Perhaps the inescapable, but undeniably brilliant, Three Lions in 1996 seemed like a natural pinnacle for the genre, both artistically and commercially, and soon FA Cup finals would no longer be contested between Shouting for the Gunners and If It’s Wednesday Must Be Wembley.
Football songs can be brilliant though (please disregard the previous examples), but it’s a difficult job to combine proper songcraft with the energy of the football terraces and the communal intensity of football chants (“You’re shit, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” doesn’t really translate into a three minute pop song). Honestly, The Manics did as good a job as anyone ever has, and artistically Together Stronger is easily one of the greatest football songs ever. It’s a legitimately great anthemic rock song, and has an infectious energy that you simply don’t get from Chris Kamara’s Sing for England. All their career, the sports loving band had promised that, should Wales ever get to a tournament, they would record the official theme tune. And here they are, fucking doing it, egos once again disregarded. It may be a great rock song, but it is unmistakably a football song, so the Welsh football anthem I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You is referenced, and every single member of the squad is given a shout out. James Dean Bradfield must have thought he’d seen the last of cramming overlong lines into a coherent melody after Richey disappeared, but then Hal Robson-Kanu turns up.
Also, the lyric “Lets not forget Gary Speed/He wore his heart upon his sleeve” is a lovely touch. The former Wales manager Gary Speed killed himself in 2011. Speed was massively responsible for the national team’s upturn in form, and no sensible thinker would suggest that Wales qualifying for Euro 2016* would have been possible without his great work. Making sure that an absent figure who was once a vital cog in the machine isn’t forgotten was obviously important to the band for some reason, and the tribute to Speed is a quintessential Manics move. Even when the band are having the most fun possible, they’ll always take the time out to remind you of the more serious stuff.
(*reaching the freaking semi final thanks to a goal by, that’s right, Hal Robson-Kanuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…)
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
I am just a patsy
The Oswald in Lee HarveySeriously, WTF?
OK, some hard truths about to be dropped here, so you might want to sit down. Richey Edwards, Manics’ unplugged ‘guitarist’ and Nicky Wire’s co-lyricist, disappeared in 1995 after three Manics albums. Nicky Wire has now, with some very rare exceptions, been the band’s sole lyricist for ten albums. And he’s a wonderful lyricist. One of the best. But, holy shit, he doesn’t mind dropping a stinker now and then, does he?
Richey Edward’s lyrics were always unbelievably layered and complex, obviously poured over late into the night to ensure every word referenced something larger and would stand up to close examination 25 years later. Nicky’s lyrics are sometimes like that… quite often… but sometimes they’re so obviously sketched out while he takes the first dump of the day because James Dean Bradfield had just written a banging guitar riff.
I’m Just a Patsy is obviously one of those occasions. The lyrics are nonsensical garbage, but the lines tend to rhyme so I guess they’re good to go. Its nadir is the chorus of “I’m just a patsy for your love/I need an angel from above/To a life depraved and lost/Inevitable like scars and dust/I’m just a patsy for your love”. What does that even mean, Nicholas?? A patsy for whose love? You were the Oswald in Lee Harvey just a minute ago. And, while we’re on the subject, what the hell does that mean? Oh, it’s because ‘Oswald’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘patsy’, isn’t it? Well, I hope you enjoyed listening to that as you sat back with your tonic and gin.
However, despite being one of the most articulate and lyric focussed bands ever, the other members can still craft a brilliant rock song even when their lyrics stink. I Am Just a Patsy is a pristine little rock song, with an electrifying quiet/loud dynamic that can’t help but stimulate your music holes. Hey, Nicky, it’s fine to bunk off every now and then.
Rewind the Film, 2013
It was only when listening to the back catalogue in preparation for this list that I realised how hard I’d been on ‘Rewind the Film’. I named it their second worse album in a list I did a couple of years ago, justifying placing it ahead of the artistic cancer that is ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ because it was ‘at least intentionally depressing’. I think I’ll always think back to how the album’s initial release – the album that followed the musical genocide of ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ – caused an overwhelming sadness to grip me as I realised the band were no longer a proper ongoing artistic concern. ‘RTF’ felt like a lazy album to me, I could never shake the feeling that this is the sort of low tempo, low excitement album that middle aged bands poop out and idiot fans like myself rub it all over our face every two years or so.
I still don’t think it’s a great album, I think there are only a few artists that can successfully pull off a morose mood piece like ‘Rewind the Film’, and to a band so centred around passion and congregation it can often sound like they’re castrating themselves to try and reach the high notes of a song nobody wants to hear. But I at least now understand the concept, I understand the links between it and the next year’s (seriously? A fucking million times better) ‘Futurology’, and I can appreciate how well constructed so much of the album is. If I did the list again, it would be higher than ‘Resistance is Futile’. But, like, still third bottom.
Builder of Routines? A flipping brilliant little tune, not even reaching two and a half minutes (very rare for The Manics to release such a short ‘proper’ song. Hey, no, Sculpture of Man, back in your box!) but tied to an enchanting melody and, by joves, a great Nicky Wire lyric! Including the line “I’m so sick and tired of being 4 real”, which is one of those wonderful little Easter eggs that The Manics like to scatter into their songs just for the inconsequential glee it sparks among fans. Shameless pandering. I love it.
Know Your Enemy, 2001
‘Know Your Enemy’ is a weird album that we’ll talk about in more depth soon. It’s an amazing album, don’t get me wrong. But it’s weird. It’s mostly amazing because it’s weird. And also amazing because it’s, technically, a bit crap. It’s complicated, but we’ll get to it, chill out.
His Last Painting is probably the most lowkey weird track on the album. On the surface it might just sound like an accomplished mid tempo rock song, but pull back the weird layers of this weird onion and the song starts to sound almost upsettingly off piste. Wait, where’s the chorus? Is it just repeating itself? Do the order of these lyrics mean anything? Haven’t I just heard that part? According to Genius, there are actually three separate choruses, and the structure of the song is Chorus 1 – Chorus 2- Chorus 3 – Chorus 2 – Verse – Chorus 2 – Chorus 3 – Chorus 2 – Outro. It’s just nice to have The Manics play with form and expectations this way, and considering it may well be their least subtle album such a subtle gem really stands out.
The Holy Bible, 1994
Lebensraum! Kulturkampf! Raus, raus! Fila, fila!
As I was making this list, Revol would keep sneaking on like a naughty boy escaping detention in an attempt to be included in the class photo, and I would keep slapping its hand and demanding it get back to the supply cupboard. No, Revol!, I would say, This isn’t for the likes of you! You just don’t… fit anywhere…
However if there was ever a band focused on giving home to life’s outsiders… I know, I know, Revol is a great song, I love it, you love it, we all love it. They’re simply aren’t enough anthemic rock songs that encourage you to sing along to lyics like “Mr Lenin – awaken the boy/Mr Stalin – bisexual epoch/Khrushchev – self love in his mirrors/Brezhnev – married into group sex”, are there?
It’s just that one of the most common criticisms of early Manics is that their lyrics were often barely comprehensible word salads, that Richey and Nicky were more interested in slogans than writing a proper coherent lyric. I’d argue that wasn’t the case, that even in their more, erm, manic early days their grand statements and one liners would always make sense in the context of the song. It was actually one of the major things that made The Manics stand out is how they could write exhilaratingly provocative lyrics where every line would sound like a slogan, but the subject of the song would always be represented.
Revol, though? Every line is outrageously wonderful, but what’s it actually about? That these major 20th century leaders were all a bit kinky? “Trotsky – honeymoon serenade the naked”? He was exiled to Brazil after his wedding… then had an affair with Frida Kahlo… Is that what it’ referencing…? Richey Edwards himself stated that:
All adolescent leaders of men FAILED. All love FAILS. If men of the calibre of Lenin and Trotsky failed, then how can anyone expect anything to change. Won’t get fooled again.
which is… OK doomer… But how does “Che Guevara you’re all target now” work? He failed because he was always an assassination target? The fact that people were always trying to shoot him made him a lousy boyfriend? And that “Lebensraum*! Kulturkampf**! Raus, raus***! Fila, fila****!” chorus? It’s amazing, obviously, but what does it have to do with anything?? Love is… as difficult as the Nazis…?
(*’living space’, what Hitler called the next stage of his racial program, meaning more ‘room’ for the Ayran race. The more I hear about that guy..)
(**’culture struggle’, another German phrase going back to Bismark’s attempts to repress Catholics, used again by, yes, Hitler, and still in use to this day after being renamed to ‘Culture Wars’)
(***’out, out!’ Another German word frequently used during WW2 on posters with predictable messages like ‘Jews Raus!’)
(****Italian this time! Nice for Mussolini to also get a shout out. It can be translated as ‘queue, queue!’ or ‘run away, run away!’)
It all sounds great though. But it’s a really dumb song. Now, one of The Manics’ strengths is to occasionally making big, brilliant and stoopid rock songs, and not forgetting to still sparkle it with social and historic references that, yes, make up great slogans. I have long rejected that, as a whole, Revol really means anything. I think they knew that, and I think Richey’s explanation of it was him trying to retcon an unusually concise but completely bonkers lyric he’d written. Every line is a potential t-shirt slogan, the band make it work, James Dean Bradfield makes it absolutely work, and it is an absolutely stomping rock song. But it’s bollocks. We all love it because, at their best, The Manics have always been a band that can make bollocks work if they need to (see #98).
Boooooooo, ‘Lifeblood’, ammi right?? The standard bent leg awkwardly propping up every table ranking Manic Street Preachers albums, the wooden spoon gracelessly sticking out of the black sheep’s anus as the elephant in the room hides its face in shame. Enough mixed metaphors for ya, huh?! TLDR: the universally accepted worse Manics album. Yes, even after the audio abortion that was ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ was released.
Of course, I’m not even sure if it counts as a hot take to state how ‘Lifeblood’ is by far and away the band’s most underrated (least… rated… less overrated…?) album*. It’s a cliché, and often bullshit, but I think in this case it might actually be appropriate to say that the fans just weren’t ready for the band’s seventh album. After the absolutely cuckoo bananas Jackson Pollack of ideas that was the previous album ‘Know Your Enemy’, I think us fans just assumed the band would spend the rest of their career screaming unhinged fuzz rock topped with socialist slogans with songs named Khymer Rouge Coca Roller. They instead returned with a reserved, melancholy collection of songs, centred around the luminous and glassy production of Tony Visconti rather than James screaming “Bomb the Chinese Embassy!/Laugh at the hammer and sickle!“. It also saw Nicky Wire write lyrics that, as he ages, he seems more and more comfortable doing. Not bad by any means, just far less concerned with the Spanish Civil War or the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, and more concerned with internal reflections and cutting out the outside world. Craving solitude rather than socialism. The fact that it was the first release from the band after their best-of in 2002 and b-sides/rarities collection in 2003 suggested that the band were drawing a line under the past and stating this is who we are now, a worry I would personally face again with ‘Rewind the Film’s 2013 release
(*unless you meet one of those sick weirdos who insist that ‘Gold Against the Soul‘ is a bad record. Stay away from these people, they are shameful and unclean)
But, holy glacier, is ‘Lifeblood’ an accomplished album?? It was a brave and laser focused step away from what was expected of them, a record completely different to anything they’d previously released and one they must have known would have upset a large part of their fanbase but were still confident enough in artistically to release. Because art should always be more about challenging rather than pandering. It was a huge fucking flop commercially, obviously, but they went there.
Oh yeah, the song: Yeah, really good…
The Ultra Vivid Lament, 2021
Hey, hey, hey! Orwellian ensures that every album is represented, even ones that haven’t been released yet. Apart from one album. Yes, that one.
Orwellian is a grand rock stomper with an absolutely belting chorus. The fact that it’s a fairly traditional verse/chorus/verse rock song means there’s a tiny fear that ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ might be a slightly more straightforward rock album that many fans will be expecting after the largely box ticking paint by numbers rock of ‘Resistance is Futile’. The Manics seem to have fallen into a habit since perhaps they followed ‘Lifeblood’ with ‘Send Away the Tigers’ of alternating between slightly experimental and challenging (and usually good) records and then big dumb, anthemic (and usually rubbish) straight rock records in an obvious attempt to reclaim that commercial success… just… one… more time… So, ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ is scheduled to be the ‘good/experimental’ album. Which is at least 50% not quite proposed by Orwellian. Come back after the 10th September*, we’ll talk…
Jesus, that chorus though…
[*EDIT: I’m writing this on the 11th September, an event which will no doubt make this date famous for years to come, the album came out yesterday, I’m not even into writing the top 20 right now and OH GOD THIS LIST IS TAKING FOREVER TO WRITE. The album? Pretty good, I think, but I’ll need to listen a lot more before landing on any proper opinion/hot take]
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
Easily the best song on this album whose name starts with ‘you’, ammi right?? Ammi right?? I’m right…
I wrote a lot about ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours‘ (before Spotify, artists were actually paid by the word count) when it was rereleased in 2018 and… Wow, eighty third best album of the year?? That was thee places below Lil Peep! I have a lot of unresolved trauma over this record…
I’m still not sure I can listen to it and rate it objectively. Back in 1998, this felt like such a betrayal to me. It felt like the album where The Manics officially stopped being The Manics, at least as us fans understood them. Sure, their dress code was already officially ‘fucking dull’ on their previous album ‘Everything Must Go’ (their first album after Richey’s disappearance that still contained roughly 50% of his lyrics*), but they were in mourning! And, the songs were so good that they finally became the biggest rock band in the country that they’d always promised they’d be! But this is what they do when they finally have the ears of millions of people?? A record that’s half the most shameless (and largely inoffensive) grasps at mainstream success, and half low tempo mood pieces heavily influenced by latter day Genesis?? That, incredibly, panders enough to Radio 2 and ITV to sell five freaking million copies?? That’s it, they’re not ours anymore! The norms have taken them!! And that’s what you’re wearing now?? That’s even more fucking dull than before!!
(*sorry, I might occasionally feel the need to point out obvious facts like that, so I can pretend that this article might be read by someone who isn’t already a rabid Manic Street Preachers fan)
Oh, and the album opens with a song that basically discards anything the band once stood for and contains the lyric ‘I don’t believe in it any more/Pathetic acts for a worthless cause’, which led to Manics fans worrying that, all together now, ‘a line was being drawn under the past and the band were stating that this is what they sounded like now’. Christ, we’ve been stressing over the exact same bullshit for well over twenty years now…
Even now, as a fat and dull old man, and as much as I try to quieten that ever banging drum in my head that’s forever me as a 90’s teenager. I still don’t think ‘TIMTTMY’ is a great album. I went to see the band tour the album for its 20th anniversary and, despite it often being the opposite case, the album might have gone down in my adult estimation seeing it performed live. One of The Manics’ most powerful weapons has always been there ability to pop a live crowd, to write songs that naturally appeal to their already established communal spirit. With a few exceptions, ‘TIMTTMY’ too often leans away from this talent and too often gives us… dirges… (you have never truly questioned your entire existence until you have stood up watching S.Y.M.M being performed live in its entirety. Could have sworn that song was 75 minutes long…) There are far too many weak songs, there are far too many deathly dull songs, and I still think the absolute kindest thing you can say about the album as a whole (apart from noting the handful of undeniable highpoints) is that it’s a failed experiment.
But, hey, at least it was kind of an experiment- though I’m still not sure the main risk taken was worth losing their fanbase rather than mainstream acceptance- and the high points are very high. You’re Tender and You’re Tired is one of the most successful attempts of writing to the record’s general themes of depression and despondence while not sacrificing the band’s natural way with a killer melody and a banging chorus. It’s also a pretty stunning presentation of James Dean Bradfield’s singing voice. Before ‘TIMTTMY’ we all already knew what a fantastic frontman he was, but with the added space allowed to him with Wire’s more ‘conventional’ lyrical pentameters and the musical sparseness, we really started to appreciate what an astonishing singer he was. The delivery of the lines “Rebuild the void with flowers/Sad-eyed destruction built around sand and sea/Yes you can build yourseeeelf around/Build yourself around me, yourself around me-ee-he-he!” is a legitimately spine tingling example of what magic can be achieved with a perfect Nicky Wire lyric and a spotless JDB vocal.
They hired a professional whistler though? I mean, really…?
We could have been heroes but failure’s more fun
As difficult as it is to accept, I do try and at least understand how some people don’t like the Manic Street Preachers. Human beings are fascinating and varied creatures, and you’ll sometimes encounter people who don’t like pizza or The Simpsons or being in love or Lego. I’m not here to judge, just to appreciate the kaleidoscope of human nature and to joyfully accept how some people are fucking dumb and don’t like good shit.
One criticism that I have never been able to accept for disliking The Manics though is that they are somehow far too grandiose and self-important in their ambitions to warrant much more than a snarky eyeroll, that they must have surgically removed their self-awareness and humour glands and replaced them with a Raoul Vaneigem quote. Firstly, this sort of disdain for any artist attempting to break out of any intellectual box that society has deemed them to exist within is exactly why The Manics realised they needed to exist in the first place, if you want to listen to music by bands who don’t think they’re important and properly know your place then just stick on ‘Enema of the State’ by Blink 182 again you low expectation having motherfucker.
Secondly, the band have always had a sense of humour! You don’t start your career dressed like Andy Pandy had been kidnapped by the Bhutan Tiger Force while opening songs by shouting “Christin me fuhrer Nazarene!” without being extremely aware of your own ridiculousness and being able to smirk at how irritated the actually self-important and pompous 90s indie scene was. Almost every track on their debut album is an absolute riot; their slightly more restrained second album still contains lines like “Nothing really makes me happy/Heroin is just too trendy”, we’ve already spoken of how their third album ‘The Holy Bible’, despite being one of art’s most striking and doom laden glimpses into the human psyche, still contains brilliantly camp nonsense like Revol… Sure, they might occasionally get a case of the boo-hoos and release albums like ‘TIMTTMY’ or ‘Lifeblood’ or ‘Rewind the Film’ where the mood lights might come on and there’s no longer time for partying, but one of the band’s greatest talents is to generally remember that the revolution always needs to be fun. And sometimes by ‘fun’ they mean ‘silly as shit rock songs’.
Sex, Power, Love and Money is, as previously stated, a silly as shit song. Even with a title (and chorus) that seems to at least suggest an obvious meaning, it’s quite hard to pin down what the song’s actually about. A lot of it sounds like an ironic lament to The Manics’ lost commercial success, and the line ‘Self esteem is self-indulged’ is maybe a callback to their famous ‘Self-disgust is self-obsession’ line from earlier in their career, but how that ties into sex, power, love or indeed money- not to mention the pre-chorus of “Obsession/Possession/Confession/Recession”- is anyone’s guess. But hey, file it next to Revol, the lyrics are wonderful nonsense and the song’s absolutely banging, stop taking everything so seriously, yeah?
Know Your Enemy, 2001
By 2001, the Manics were desperate to prove to their original fanbase (the ‘Legacy MSP Fans’, as I think we’re now supposed to call them) that the ‘Generation Terrorists’ fire still burned inside them and that if you cut them open their veins were full of feather boas. While the money and accolades earned from their previous album ‘TIMTTMY’ would have no doubt pleased them, the rejection of the album by so many of the fans that they’d always considered so integral to their success still ate away at them. A series of notable incidents occurred in 1999 and 2000 (which we’ll get to soon, don’t worry!) lead to a striking change of direction, an insanely great midlife crisis (they were five years younger than I am now) of a record in ‘Know Your Enemy’, and absolute career suicide that they would never fully recover from.
The amount of ideas and directions pursued on ‘Know Your Enemy’ is… dizzying… Some ideas are brilliant, some are bad but still brilliant, and one is having Nicky Wire fucking sing a song for the first time. Yes, ‘sing’ is indeed a rather generous way to put it, if you’d heard him shout “IN HATE!” near the end of Sorrow 16 then you’d probably heard the extent of his vocal ability. Wire would have a few more attempts at fronting Manics’ songs in the future- even releasing an extremely decent solo record– where he would learn to better hide his limitations as a ‘singer’, but there’s something wonderfully cheap and obnoxious about his delivery on Wattsville Blues that make it an irresistible scuzzy gem. Ends with the lyrics ‘Don’t want no friends/Don’t want useless fuckers knocking at my door/Poxy fucking assholes following me/Don’t you understand that I fucking despise/Every single living organism?/I’m dead’, which is, like, mood, ammi right??
A vintage ‘I do’
Old man gagging too much
Die in secrecy
James Dean Bradfield’s unique enunciation has always been a major thing to set him apart as a singular and truly extraordinary rock vocalist. But, erm, yeah, it can mean he’s not always the easiest vocalist to make out. To all those people who have long been convinced that they’ve been hearing JDB singing ‘Greens Father, won’t you come now?/Eat my spinach/For the fifteenth time‘ or ‘I’ve poisoned every woman I’ve housed‘ or ‘Bollocks for your brain to take‘ at different stages of The Manics’ career, then I have news for you:
The ‘New Art Riot’ EP came out all the way back in 1990, back before some of you were even bor… Who am I kidding? You’re reading a WordPress blog about the Manic Street Preachers, you’re at least 35. Good luck making out a single lyric. Those lyrics up there? Yeah, come on, I made them up based on what the first few lines sound like- the fuck’s a ‘digirama’?? The crucial singles that make #58 and #13 on this list would follow the next year as the band made great strides in working out exactly what their sound was and what music they wanted to make, but the ‘New Art Riot’ EP (honestly, it was difficult not just sticking all four songs on this list) is an exciting glimpse into an early era of the Manics when they could already write lyrics like “Hospital closure kills more than car bombs ever will/But it saves money because people are expendable/You cold shoulder insurgents yet love arms dealers” but couldn’t quite make their statements fully audible yet.
I considered putting their 1988 debut single Suicide Alley on this list for posterity’s sake but, come on, that song’s a bit of a stinker, isn’t it?
A motherfuckin’ instrumental, because these sons o’ bitches can do it all. This is the song that follows Sex, Power, Love and Money on ‘Futurology’, if you want an idea of how many bases that masterpiece of an album manages to cover. We’ll be coming back to it, don’t worry…
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Loose and guilty and whipped
Sterility persecutes and I have plenty
Bruised and nailed and quit
Merciful and mourned and meek
Jealousy sows rejection with a kiss
A few weeks before he disappeared in February 1995, Manics’ co-lyricist and ‘minister of propaganda‘ handed each of his bandmembers a folder full of pictures, collages, haikus and lyrics to “around 28” songs, many of which were written during his long stays at various mental hospitals in 1994/95 as he battled depression, self-harm, anorexia and body dysmorphia. Before his disappearance, he was part of the recording sessions rehearsing the album that would later become ‘Everything Must Go’, and the band were satisfied he was happy with how they translated his lyrics musically on three* and a half** of the songs, so felt comfortable including them on the 1996 album. The rest of the folder? It lay untouched for more than a decade, a morbid reminder of their central and most influential member being ‘now undercover‘ and his mental state when he made the decision to remove himself from the world. The Ryman’s folders he passed on to them, with a picture of Bugs Bunny drawn on the front with the word ‘opulence’ scrawled across him, must have for the longest time felt like haunted tombs that would release all sorts of ghosts when opened. Well, in October 2008 they decided it was time to face these ghosts, and started recording the only Manics’ album with lyrics 100% written by Richey to be released in May 2009.
(*Removables, Kevin Carter, Small Black Flowers that Grow in the Sky)
(**Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier, which Nicky had to complete. All of these songs are on this list, by the way. Christ, I’m such a pathetic fanboy…)
The links to ‘The Holy Bible’ were immediately played up by the media. ‘The Holy Bible’ was the final masterpiece that Richey gave the world while he as alive, an unmatched and searing hot knife across the human soul (including the lyric “Mr Stalin – bisexual epoch”), and ‘JFPL’ would finally complete the troubled writer’s descent into the heart of darkness. The band were guilty of playing up to this, with the record bearing the same quasi-Russian typeface as the 1994 classic and also having a painting by Jenny Saville on the cover (art which supermarkets, obviously, deemed ‘inappropriate’). The album was endlessly referred to as ‘The Holy Bible 2.0’ on release. Excuse my language, but this is complete bunkum and podsnappery. Musically, there are maybe two or three songs that wouldn’t stick out like a lacerated thumb on ‘THB’, but generally each song is simply well suited to the lyrics it contains- which are largely far, far more positive and even humorous than those of ‘THB’- the album stands apart from anything in the band’s catalogue. To the extent that a highly esteemed and immensely handsome critic said at the time “the kings of passionate anthem rock have accidentally made a post-punk masterpiece“.
This Joke Sport Severed is one such song that would sound ridiculous on ‘THB’. It’s a sparse, lovely little song with subtlety and space between both the music and the lyrics which you were never likely to get with either ‘THB’s lyrics or its claustrophobic and piercing production sound. And towards the end of the song you get strings! There are no freaking strings on ‘THB’ unless they’re being tied round the neck of Bosnian war criminals! Musically, songs like Severed… , with its lush sound and unashamed emotional beauty, sound like ‘Everything Must Go 1.5’ rather than ‘The Holy Bible 2.0’. Or would it be ‘Everything Must Go 0.5’? I’m not sure what direction we’re going in…
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
Oh thank God, a bit of light, blistering hair rock release. Sure, it’s a song named after comedian Tony Hancock’s phrase for when he tried to drink away his massive depression, and quotes his suicide note (“Things have gone wrong too many times”) in the third line, but holy shit listen to that riff! And the way the chorus just explodes into view! Nomnomnomnomnom!!
The album ‘Send Away the Tigers’ is often looked back upon today as a rather undercooked and basic attempt to pander to their core fanbase (again) after releasing an album (‘Lifeblood’) that was initially deemed a failure both commercially and amongst the ‘Legacy Fans’. But when you look at it with a more critical eye… No, you’re all right, that’s exactly what it is. But, fuck all y’all, sometimes it feels great to be pandered to! ‘SATT’ isn’t wall to wall bangers, but its highlights are among the band’s greatest and most freaking fun hair metal influenced nonsense cock rock paired with nakedly political lyrics since their debut album. The opening track, Send Away the Tigers, introduces the album perfectly, demonstrating the band’s ability to marry challenging and often uncomfortable lyrics (in this case, how drug use is so often used to battle depression) with a killer tune that’s still going to ensure crowds of fans will be singing these lyrics back at them across the country.
Everything Must Go, 1996
There are times when you feel hopeless
Just for once for no-one else we are blameless
We finally get to our first entry from ‘Everything Must Go’. The album initially started with Richey’s input but finished in his absence after a long period of wondering whether it was even right to continue as a band without their fourth member and best friend. It ended up being perhaps their most coherent and well constructed commercial rock album, ended up selling around six squillion copies, won them the Brit Awards for Best British Band and Best British Album, propelled them to being arguably the biggest rock band in Britain*, a title they would keep until the honourable career seppuku of ‘Know Your Enemy’. And ‘Everything Must Go’ isn’t a morose and regretful lament for a lost soldier, it’s (musically) a joyful, bombastic and optimistic anthemic rock record. The production is lush and the string arrangements- which would soon become a necessity for British rock after the album’s release- are gorgeous fits for the music and never overused or ever in danger or pushing the music into pomposity. And, for a while, both the mainstream and the legacy fans were happy! With songs like the exhilarating The Girl Who Wanted to be God showing that the band were still willing to combine notable lyrics (this latter day Wire/Edwards collaboration references a letter Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 17 years old) with absolutely infectious rock music. For a while, it seemed that everyone was happy…
(*initially in Oasis’s absence, then as Oasis’s replacement after ‘Be Here Now’ took a big, wet, stinky dump over everyone’s chest in 1997)
The way those strings kick in though?? Holy Moley, everything’s gonna be alright, isn’t it…?
Come on, people, why was this album every disliked? Just listen to that dang bassline! Sure, the lyrics are intentionally vague to fit in with the album’s wider themes of uncertainly and inconclusiveness that’s never easy to pin down, which is never going to go over well with the ‘Legacy Fans’, but… but… listen to that dang bassline!!
Two songs from ‘Lifeblood’ so far, hands up who expected that many?
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
He did not defend himself
He didn’t even raise his hand
I will not beg because
This is how I am
Another ‘JPPL’ song that wouldn’t be seen dead on ‘The Holy Bible’, and rather utilises a scuzz rock craziness that would fit far better on the wider scuzzy craziness of ‘Know Your Enemy’.
We have to assume that the song is talking about Marlon Brando and James Dean. The original James Dean, I mean, not his bandmate singing the song. Did you know he was almost called ‘Clint Eastwood Bradfield’?? Christ, that was a bullet dodged. Brando and Dean were both almost mirror images of each other during the 1950s – worshipped actors, Hollywood royalty, the two biggest male sex symbols of the early 1950s. In Richey’s eyes, Dean was lucky enough to be cut down in his prime, a car crash in 1955 aged 24. Brando, however, was forced to live the rest of his life, forced to age disgracefully before our very eyes, the cruelty of life taking away all your youthful beauty and turning you into a fat mess. Let’s just say: I relate. Apart from the youthful beauty part. One reading of the song is that Richey is extolling the classic rock and roll idea of living fast, dying young and leaving a good looking corpse. Which is… yeah, uncomfortable…
That’s simply one reading though, and if a Richey lyric didn’t have at least four layers to it then he was obviously feeling quite sick that day. There are also heavy references to the 1967 Brando movie Reflections in a Golden Eye, which deals with repressed sexuality, voyeurism and murder, and where Richey gets the lines about ‘living without clutter’ from. As with most of the lyrics on ‘JFPL’, nobody’s really sure (nobody can even confirm whether ‘JD’ stands for ‘James Dean’), but fuck it, that’s what makes them so fascinating. Now lets stick a drum machine under that and pump the motherfucker up!
“The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalized, develop scabs, never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything because you always feel too much.”Marlon Brando, quoted on the single sleeve of #7
Unlike many of their contemporaries such as Blur, Suede and Oasis, The Manics never really hid their greatest songs on their B-Sides. They’ve generally always had a good idea which songs are good enough to be included on an album, and which songs didn’t quite fit the bill, so their b-sides can often just be songs that weren’t sufficient quality for the album.
Pedestal, though, where do you even place this on the ‘Know Your Enemy’ album? Where do you put it on any Manics’ album?? A creepy, rumbling song full of repressed but never less than present abuse. I can honestly say I can’t think of many Manics song that seem to be about an abusive and submissive master/sub relationship (‘Willing to be put in my place/willing to live in this space’). Though, yeah, like literally every Nicky Wire lyric written post 1996, it’s just as likely to be about Richey.
Sean’s drumming though? More proof that he is absolutely one of the greatest rock drummers of the past 30 years.
The Holy Bible, 1994
Damnit, you guys, I was honestly trying to limit the amount of ‘THB’ tracks I put on this list, swear to God, and Die in the Summertime was never going to make it. It’s perhaps one of the least layered lyrics on the record (Richey, as was often his wont, yearning to die in the prime of his life) and the opening line of “Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals” is a bit, I dunno, emo??
But, fuck, this song deserves its place simply because of how JDB launches into that “I… have… crawled so far sideways, I… recognise dim traces of crea…shon” chorus is just everything I’m here for. Also the line ‘My heart shrinks to barely a pulse/A tiny animal curled into a quarter circle’ is particularly beautiful.
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
Another stonking rocker from ‘SATT’ that, similarly to the album’s title track, manages to marry grim Iraq War referencing lyrics with a simply overjoyously great rock song. And, erm, like I’m Just A Patsy it kind of has to be a barnburner musically to allow you to overlook some of Mr Wires more clunky lyrics (‘Nothing’s finished it just fades away/Like a lover who has lost her faith’?? Eugh…).
Know Your Enemy, 2001
It all started, like so many monumental moments in musical history, with a portaloo.
The Manics have never been fans of Glastonbury, considering it a gross celebration of middle class decadence, where trustafarian future members of the Conservative party wax lyrical about the quality of the ‘ganja’ while listening to The Foo Fighters. Hey, not (necessarily) my opinion, don’t shoot the messenger. When they first played the festival in 1994, Nicky Wire suggested from the stage that they should “build a bypass over this shit-hole”, while Richey was asked by a music paper what his three favourite and least favourite things about the festival were:
So, ‘mixed feelings’ about the festival, it’s fair to say. Their antipathy would only be further justified in 1999, headlining the Pyramid Stage while still touring 1998’s ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’, the album that had brought unimaginable success but had so divided the fanbase. As a live act, the band were still struggling both to come to terms with that empty space that had suddenly opened up to the right of the stage, and to successfully translate the reduced thrills of much of their new music to the live arena. Their Glastonbury set was… fine… certainly nothing special, but it was backstage at the festival where something rather appropriate was going to hit the fan.
Veteran left-wing folk singer Billy Bragg sent a photo to the press of an offending portaloo backstage that included, nailed to its door like some Lutheran proclamation, the strongly worded reminder that “THESE FACILITIES ARE RESERVED EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS – PLEASE RESPECT THAT. THANK YOU”. Bragg jokingly mocked how poorly this meshed with their apparent socialist beliefs. The whole scandal blew up into ‘Toiletgate’, possibly one of the dumbest controversies in 90’s British music (and that’s saying a lot – just two years earlier Jarvis Cocker wiggling his bum at Michael Jackson was discussed in the UN), with people questioning if the band were truly embracing the egalitarian spirit of the festival, that the terrible toilets were “the essential shared trauma that unites the megastars with the fans in the mosh-pit”. Christ, did I really used to go to music festivals every summer? The fuck was I thinking…? Billy Bragg would challenge the band to a public debate, because, yeah, we were still two years away from 9/11 and we were all really stuck for things to do or talk about. Years later, Wire would claim the band were more concerned about other musicians snorting cocaine in there than anything else, and anyway, it was all a joke, yeah? Also, Tom Jones got his own private toilet in 2015 (which nobody cared about because, y’know, at that age…), so have we not considered that the Welsh are just really pristine users of ablution chambers and that all the rest of us are fucking disgusting?
So, yes, that was all very silly and overblown, and probably all deserved to be forgotten about in a few days. But it really did seem to rattle the band – they would never admit it, but their subsequent actions point to a band who honestly did start to question whether they were losing touch, whether they were in danger of losing their edge, whether they even deserved those private portaloos. They obviously spent a couple of weeks grappling with these questions before angrily realising “No, fuck all of y’all, we’re the Manic Street motherfucking Preachers, son!”. Their next festival appearance was headlining T in the Park 1999, where they delivered an aggressive and impassioned performance that firebombed the whole of Scotland and was the complete opposite of their slightly anaemic Glastonbury set. They seemed both hurt by the suggestion that they’d somehow abandoned their socialist principles but also enraged by the suggestion that the band don’t deserve better treatment than their worthless indie peers. It’s the great paradox that has always beat at the heart of the Manic Street Preachers- equality for all and fuck your dividing power structures, but also screw all of you, you’re all scum and we’re so much better! Nicky slagged off a different musician between each two songs, obviously going off on Billy Bragg (“I wouldn’t want your dick pissing in my toilet for all the money in the world!”) but also, curiously, The Beta Band, a strange one way feud that was never explained. Man, I loved The Beta Band…
The band were kicking against the pricks that ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ had turned them into, the safe and ultra mainstream band that would happily hoover up any Brit Awards that the ruling class would feed them. They would end the year central to an entire country’s Millennium celebrations, then start 2000 by releasing a shameless punk throwback that quoted both Noam Chomsky and Albert Camus (which, don’t worry, we’ll get to) and that ended up the first new number 1 single of the 21st century. For a small slither of time, The Manics rejecting their commercialisation ironically turned them into unarguably the biggest band in the country.
…then the album they released to capture this energy was complete commercial suicide and they were never even remotely as successful ever again.
‘Know Your Enemy’ was neither the hit single saturated commercial rock that the band’s mainstream fans might have wanted, but it was also definitely not the punk rock reawakening that the Legacy Fans might have expected after the fiery live performances and near performative Manicsness of Masses Against the Classes (we. Will talk about it. Later). It remains by far the weirdest album the band have ever released, 75 minutes (!) of impassioned and more than occasionally bewildering left wing sloganeering set to the backdrop of pretty much every musical genre you could imagine. Though the band’s post-Toiletgate focus may have suggested they knew exactly what direction they were going to take the band in next, ‘KYE’ revealed that they actually had no idea and simply wanted to enjoy the freedom of dong whatever the fuck they wanted without thoughts of commercial viability (but little gems like Ocean Spray and Let Robeson Sing still proved that the band are always geniuses at crafting pop songs, whether they’re trying to or not).
And the album is… kind of amazing… Absolutely bonkers, of course, but such a huge amount of bizarrely effective experiments that it’s moved from ‘fascinating failure’ into the ‘perplexing success’ category. My Guernica is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the album’s strange powers. It’s absolute controlled chaos, with electronic stabs and fuzz peddles cackling under a Nicky Wire lyric that compares his own inner turmoil to the freaking Spanish Civil War and also throws out the kind of literary references that are scattered all over the album (‘Alfred J Prufrock would be proud of me!!’). It’s insane, it’s exhausting, it’s utterly imperfect, it’s absolutely fucking brilliant.
Like the album, yeah? OK, you got that…
Hey, three ‘Lifeblood’ tracks! I bet you never etc etc… Listen, I’m going to stop doing this joke, there are more songs to come and it’s a freaking incredible album.
Three years after the commercial suicide of ‘Know Your Enemy’, The Manics decided to widen the self destruction by releasing an album that nobody would buy and even their fans would hate. On the gorgeous Glasnost they ask why they can’t be more open about our emotions and be honest about our personal troubles? Have our own personal Glasnost, if you will?
No, said the fans.
Fine, sighed the band, give us a couple of years and we promise we’ll pander to you as hard as we can…
(given the real life failure of Gorbachev’s Glasnost reforms of the Soviet Union, it’s likely that the band always knew what a doomed effort ‘Lifeblood’ was always likely to be).
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Overjoyed, me and Stephen Hawking, we laugh
We missed the sex revolution
When we failed the physical
That’s a joke, isn’t it?
Like, an intentionally humorous line designed to elicit laughter? Tell me again how ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ is just ‘The Holy Bible 2.0’? We also get wrestling references, which was previously, like, the one thing missing from The Manics’ arsenal.
Me and Steven Hawking is an absolute art punk marvel, another song that wouldn’t fit anywhere close to inclusion on ‘The Holy Bible’, but more proof of how the band didn’t just use the occasion of recording new Richey lyrics to slavishly deify their past but actually crafted a completely undervalued artistic statement.
Everything Must Go, 1996
The way it crashes in with perfect symmetry, the way it speeds up and breaks down, the effortlessly gorgeous melodies intertwining with each other… It’s The Manics making perfect stadium pop/rock on autopilot (referencing something like a Dutch-American abstract expressionist just comes naturally to them), and proof of how effortless it all was to them in the ‘Everything Must Go’ era.
The astonishing ‘Futurology’ really came out of nowhere. The two previous records had been the utter abortion of creativity ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ and the sad and solemn ‘Rewind the Film’, like the band offered proof that they had nothing else to offer and then doubled down by saying they didn’t care because, really, what’s the fucking point?
Somehow, about nine months later, they returned with their most energised, inspired and effective collection of work since the 90s. ‘Futurology’ sounds like if a slightly less clinically insane person rejigged ‘Know Your Enemy’. The same passion is there as the 2001 box of frogs, the same eagerness to experiment with different sounds, the same anger, pretty much the same craziness, only this time properly focused and with more devotion to actually crafting a coherent album. I know I’m not legally allowed to split up the accepted top two, but I’m really growing to accept that ‘Futurology’ is The Manics’ second best album. They’re twelfth record. Not quite as good as their third. That’s something, isn’t it…? Also, officially the greatest album of 2014, which nobody can ever take away from them.
The album’s laser focused coherence, despite the amount of times it takes left turns musically, is made all the more impressive considering the unusual amount of guest spots on the album. It’s another factor it shares with ‘Know Your Enemy’, but while on that album people like David Holmes and Kevin Shields were often buried under the album’s general noise assault, on ‘Futurology’ artists like Nina Hoss, Cian Ciaran and Georgia Ruth are given central parts and often lead vocals. Perhaps least expected was the 59 year old front man of Scritti Politti, Green Gartside, but it was another inspired choice and his nasal, laid back style suits not only the song but complements the album without once threatening the artistic integrity. Lyrically, it’s actually closer to the sort of self doubt and melancholy rife on sister album ‘Rewind the Film’ (‘Yes I’m as guilty as the rest/A man of little consequence/Unable of forgiving himself/Still building the bypass in my head’), but delivered with so much more essence and vitality, backed by a song with real inventiveness.
Oh, and did you notice that ‘bypass’ line? Remember what Nicky said about Glastonbury?
That’s my pet hippo, Razorblade Beast. She bloody loves a reference she does.
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
‘TIMTTMY’ can too often feel overwrought and overly intense, but Black Dog On My Shoulder manages to craft an explicit discussion of depression into a near whimsical joy.
Listen, you might have to sit down for this, as I’m about to deliver a hot take so sizzling that it’s going to make the floor lava and engulf your legs in flames if you’re not careful. The b-side to our #36 entry might be one of The Manics’ most overrated songs…
I know, I know, it’s an amazing song, there’s no denying that, it’s the freaking seventy third best song they’ve ever done! Wattsville Blues only got to number 90! It’s an astonishingly accomplished piece of work that really would have fit the general anguish that ended up enveloping ‘Gold Against the Soul’ more than nonsense like Symphony of Tourette, but I feel people need to chill out on it just a little bit. It’s always the automatic choice when people name the greatest ever Manics b-side, which is just… No. It’s not even the best b-side from the ‘Gold Against the Soul’ album (stay tuned, sports fans!). It’s an amazing, almost funky tune, but it doesn’t really go anywhere or incorporate much real excitement. I’m sorry, I’ll go to Manics Fan jail right now without passing Go etc…
However, I can definitely understand why the band themselves rate it so highly. Apart from maybe the lyrics, which are just… fine… the song Donkeys is perhaps the greatest recorded example of all the band’s musical talents. Firstly, the track hangs on an utterly filthy bassline by Nicky Wire, a man who would rarely pay much attention to such things. The drumming by Sean Moore is immaculate, staunch yet somehow as exhausted and defeated as the wider song. It’s probably one of The Manics’ songs where guitars play less of a central role, but when James Dean Bradfield is called in for his solo holy fuck does he nail it hard, and JBD’s screamed delivery of the line ‘Donkeys are only left with li-hi-hi-hi-hi-hies‘ is more proof of everyone bringing their A game. So, no, it’s far from their greatest song, or even their greatest b-side, but listen to these talented fuckers! If you got this demo tape, you’d sign this band, no??
Oh, and for those of you in the know who are curious: I’m sorry, but Patrick Bateman didn’t make the list…
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Empty arms and naked heart
Violence, a sad truth followed with a
Table for two, such a sweet delight
Whispers, “I love you my darling” tonight
Seriously, ignore the title, ignore the lyrical allusions to horrific domestic abuse, ignore the fact that this is obviously the band’s most blatant tribute to their longstanding Nirvana appreciation (Nicky will say Nobody Loved You, because… aye…? What…?) and just trust me that She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach is an absolute gig-destroying banger. It bops, it fucks, it grinds, it finishes after just over two minutes and leaves you breathless. Just like, yes, your mum.
Perhaps the darkest lyrical conceit on the ‘JFPL’ album- maybe even a little ridiculously so- but while ‘The Holy Bible’ was all about intensifying and nakedly representing the horror and darkness in the lyrics, this stadium rock bouncer is more evidence of how more concerned the band were on ‘JFPL’ in crafting interesting and unpredictable musical backings to the lyrics.
But blah blah blah, who cares? That fucking chorus, yeah? Coupled with Sean’s drumming? Lordy-loo, is it wrong to get an erection to this song? I mean… It’s apparently based on a true story of someone Richey met in his psychiatric hospital… so… yeah… probably not OK…
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
Rendition, rendition, blame it on the coalition
The CIA will stay invisible, oh good God I sound like a liberal
Rendition, rendition, I never knew the sky was a prison
It’s a long hard revolution, oh good God I feel like a liberal
Christ, looking back, the whole ‘Send Away the Tigers’ era was absolutely shameless. The previous album, 2004’s ‘Lifeblood’ was hated by the Legacy Fans and completely ignored by the mainstream*, so they decided to ignore any sonic and lyrical changes enacted on the previous album, basically officially declared it ‘non canon’, and released the most ridiculously Manics album they possibly could, pandering to their fanbase so hard that they probably had to pay fees to China**. The big, stadium destroying choruses were back; every song was at once political but also really about being in The Manics or being a Manics fan; the feather boas were once again centre stage; songs were called Imperial Bodybags and The Second Great Depression… Looking back nearly 15 years later, ‘SATT’ was an outrageous and blatant attempt to recapture old glories after one poorly received album had scared the band into thinking nobody loved them anymore. It’s, actually, pretty fucking pathetic.
(*well… not completely… It was weird, and we’ll get to it I promise)
(**that joke kinda works when said aloud, promise…)
But- fuck me and fuck all of you- God damnit it worked! I was one of the Legacy Fans originally put off and confused by the sheen and splendour of ‘Lifeblood’ (I’d eventually come round in, like, a decade or so) and it felt great to be pandered to so explicitly! Sonically, ‘SATT’ is the polar opposite of ‘LB’. On ‘LB’, the production and musical ingenuity crafted astonishing glacial subtle walls of sound. ‘SATT’, however, sounds like it was conceived, raised, produced and educated in one lazy 8 hour shift. Some songs (especially the dreadful Underdogs) are barely demo quality, and there’s a huge sense that ‘SATT’ is by far the album that the band spent the less time on.
Who cares though? Have you even heard Rendition? Have you even processed that explosive and varied tempo drum line?? Do you even understand how fucking amazing the melody and vocal performance is??? I don’t care, pander to me Daddies, give me what I want and I will never complain, feed me more!
I know, I’m part of the problem, and the next time the band attempted a similar similar fan indulgence, on 2010’s genocide of inventiveness ‘Postcards From a Young Man’, they shit the bed so hard that they suffered a pelvic organ prolapse. That was partly my fault. I’m sorry.
Generation Terrorists, 1992
Prosperity, exports for Pol Pot
Prosperity, ‘Mein Kampf’ for beginners
Into the top seventy, and we finally come into contact with the band’s debut album, one of the most astonishingly contrarian rock records of the 1990s. And Nat West – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds is an almost laughably typical example of what this insane band of working class Welshmen dressed like Mötley Crüe in an Inspiral Carpets era were all about. The title is ridiculously overelaborate; the music could fit onto Poison’s ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In’ but the lyrics are hard left agitprop; the song’s about the immoral practices of the banking sector which nobody gave a shit about at the time but, I dunno, might become a big deal quite soon; and it’s hooks, hooks, hooks as the band prove they’re the only people brave/insane enough to marry a irresistible rock song with lyrics referencing both Pol Pot and ‘Main Kampf’.
Seriously, if you didn’t fall immediately in love with this band then that has to be a severe mental issue…
Right, OK, so it sounds a bit like New Year’s Day by U2, I accept that. Only, it’s much, much better, yeah? It’s not by fucking U2 for a start…
The brilliant, sparse and beautiful song represents the strange paradox of ‘Lifeblood’. Commercially, the album was an absolute failure, their lowest selling record and depressingly indicative of how far they’d fallen away from the national zeitgeist that they recently brushed against. It was so obviously a complete failure that the band/label quickly just abandoned any promotion – the record got its initial comeback single (which we’ll get to) and then this glacial beauty as the follow up, then the whole operation was called off. The band were even forced to release a limited edition EP (‘God Save the Manics‘, which is… fine) just for something to do with all the planned b-sides they were planning to back the singles with. Regardless of the album’s artistic quality, it’s fair to say that its release was an absolute dumpster fire.
However, both the comeback single and Empty Souls charted at number two in the UK singles chart, higher than any other Manics single save their two number ones. You might think I’m leading to a intelligent analysis of the situation, but… no, I don’t understand… Maybe it’s simply because they’re both such freaking bangers?
You know who’s number 2 in the UK singles chart at the moment? Olivia freaking Rodrigo! That’s how big these two singles were, somehow! Also: Good 4 U? Absolute fucking choon, but I don’t have time to discuss that right now.
We have to talk about the line ‘Collapsing like the Twin Towers’ though…
…that’s… That’s quite a line, isn’t it…? Changed to ‘Collapsing like dying flowers’ for the single release, which I get is better, but it’s also kind of worse, you know?
The Manics’ record of covers is… spotty… They will often just cover a rock song they remember from Top of the Pops in the 70s, or perhaps a track performed by a fictional band in an obscure 80s movie that they all liked, or some early punk/new wave novelty. Or, failing any other inspiration, they’ll just do another Clash cover. Again. And again… Generally, the band record covers as a simple excuse to karaoke their favourite songs and, with a few exceptions, rarely add to or modify the original.
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel is an absolutely worthy exercise though. In 2001 they released the lovely Let Robeson Sing as a single from ‘Know Your Enemy’, a tribute to the singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. In a relatively rare instance of the band’s thinking making complete sense, they included on its b-side a cover of one of the songs Robeson most famously recorded. It’s a gorgeous, stripped down James Dean Bradfield performance that actually ends up being far more moving and effective than the single its backing.
Generation Terrorists, 1991
We blur into images of state coercion
Classified machines die misunderstood
City reflections pour out misery
We don’t count ’cause we hate
Leave this country
Leave this country
Holy shit, people, this song, those lyrics, that video, this attitude, this vibe this freaking musical revolution!
Love’s Sweet Exile may not be the greatest song in the world on paper. It’s an extremely straightforward hair metal tribute that largely aims for football crowd chanting rather than an arresting melody, and of the bunch of singles they released to trail their spectacularly unorthodox debut record, it’s probably near the bottom, quality wise.
But, fuck me, this is what the Manics were in 1991! A brash and confrontational mix of basic and unfashionable 80s rock (Nirvana had released ‘Nevermind’ about a month before Love’s Sweet Exile came out, to absolutely kill off the relevance of all their musical influences) and captivating social commentary that you could only think was utterly ridiculous or absolute fucking genius! The video was a dangerous and alluring introduction into the cult that the band already knew would amass around them, a psycho-sexual minefield where gender norms are discarded and we’re promised entry into a gang where we can be angry and sexy!
I know, in 2021 this is hardly Earth shattering stuff, and let’s not pretend that, at the end of the day, the band weren’t just four cis white men with an occasionally (traditionally) feminine sense of style. But, in 1991, this really was a blistering shot through rock music’s inherent toxic masculinity. The band may have been boring old default characters in terms of identity, but his was no queerbaiting or virtue signalling. They were simply letting us know that, hey, this is our gang, and everyone’s invited. By the way, some of you will get a bit too obsessed, and still be writing about this dumb fucking song thirty years from now.
Hello it’s us again you thought you were our friends
Success is an ugly word especially in your tiny world
OK, let’s get this out of he way first: The Masses Against the Classes is an absolutely fucking ridiculous song. The Manics playing dress up as themselves, trying their hardest to ape the qualities that they possessed roughly a decade earlier. It starts with a recording of Noam Chomsky and ends with JDB shouting a quote from Albert Camus*. The single’s cover was the freaking Cuban flag**. No song in the band’s history was them trying quite so hard. It was released and then immediately deleted from supply on the same day in January 2000, like it was intended as a crazy little secret between the band and their Legacy Fans.
(*’A slave begins by demanding justice, and ends up wanting to wear a crown’. Alright, bro, cool. But what does that mean? Like, in the context of the song? Are the band the slaves that are now demanding to wear a crown? The new, ‘This is My Truth…’ fans? The Legacy Fans?? Who’s demanding to wear a crown, Manics?? Is it the band that are now tired of wanting to be treated on the same level as their peers and want to be recognised as fucking kings? When were they ‘slaves’ though?? I dunno, guys…)
(**without the star in the red triangle, which… means… something…?)
It still sold enough copies to become the first new number one of the 21st century. Because, despite its inherent nonsense, it still hits hard. It was the band angrily shouting fuck you to the new fans with no understanding of the band’s core beliefs, fuck you to the Legacy Fans who the band believe just felt left out by their success and, between the lines, fuck you Billy Bragg! The opening line ‘Hello, it’s us again’ was an explicit call to the Legacy Fans that the old Manics were back, here was the sloganeering, the hatred, the radical leftism, the songs about simply being the Manic Street Preachers, the nonsense, good God, the nonsense! And, by God, such naked pandering worked, just like it would years later with the ‘SATT’ album. After all the confusion and introspection of the ‘TIMTTMY’ era, it was a screamed reminder that The Manics were ‘The only thing left to believe in’.
To hit number one with such an aggressive and discordant piece of agitprop solidified the band as the biggest rock act in the country after Oasis’s sad ‘Be Here Now’ demise. If the next album was just more of this, then it would go supernova.
Ah, yeah, of course, I remember now…
Everything Must Go, 1996
Killed God blood soiled unclean again
Killed God blood soiled skin dead again
Yeah, it’s mainly here because of that pre-chorus couplet. I wonder if this was one of the songs on ‘EMG’ that Richey wrote the lyrics for…?
Know Your Enemy, 2001
Hey, you all loved Masses Against the Classes, right? Looking forward to an entire album of similar punk energy??
Cool. Well here’s a fucking disco song that ends with Nicky Wire repeating “Braindead motherfuckers”.
See the above picture.
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
I really don’t know what to do with this song. The final (listed) track on ‘JFPL’, the album where The Manics seemingly came to terms (as best as they possibly could) with Richey’s disappearance by recording music to the last lyrics that he wrote.
And… It’s a suicide note, isn’t it? It’s an obvious goodbye message to those close to the writer. How else could you read the lines ‘Goodnight my sweetheart/Until we leave tonight hold me in your arms/Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me/You’re the best friends I ever had’ or the the repeated statement that ‘I’ll be watching over you’? The resulting song is Nicky Wire reading his best friend’s suicide note, which is… powerful…
Is it legitimate though? The lyrics to William’s Last Words were actually cut from a much longer song closer to a short story that Richey had written. Hence the mysterious ‘William’, and a writing style that’s far more sentimental and simplistic than anything else Richey ever wrote, almost like he was writing in character. Pretty fucking simple character, if you ask me. Nicky Wire himself has insisted that the song doesn’t represent Richey’s final words. So… why present the song as if it were? The band edited out lines from a much bigger lyric, took them out of context and presented them at the album’s (official) finale, knowing exactly how they would be read. The song’s fucking gorgeous, and conceptually a perfect closer to the album. But… I can’t shake the horrible feeling that the band created a suicide note that was never intended to exist, just for an emotionally charged and effective album closer. I’m sorry, and I don’t want to intrude in on or make assumptions about people’s grief, but it can’t help but feel… exploitative…??
Eugh, great song, like I said, but we’ve gotta move on.
This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
Perhaps no other song sums of the general vibe of the band’s divisive but commercially mastodonian fifth album. The band were tired of being tired, bored of being bored, fucked with being fucked and, lyrically and sonically, happy being sad. Which is fine, it’s difficult to imagine what the mindset was of a band who had recently achieved all the success they’d always craved/promised, but only after their ‘minister of propaganda’ and chief creative influence (and the guy who made most of the promises) had disappeared. A certain ennui might creep in, I dunno.
The tone has never been my issue with ‘TIMTTMY’. The issue is that so many of the songs simply aren’t very good. Songs like I’m Not Working and- holy mother of God- S.Y.M.M dive far too deeply into the ennui and come out as slithering murmurs the other side. Why can’t you be more like your brother, My Little Empire?? You might have been part of a beautifully understated piece of art similar to ‘Lifeblood’ (eek! Is that a hot take too far?)! Empire… is absolutely incredible. One of JDB’s most brilliant guitar lines, like if Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’ featured Slash as a special guest, underpinning a gorgeously brooding masterpiece. Sequenced perfectly on the album at track six to signal the change in pace from the record’s early bangers to its more experimental (let’s face it, often unsuccessfully so) and morose second half.
Into my veins.
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
Not enuff, not enuff, not e-nu-hu-huff…
Hello, it’s us again…
Yep, it’s another big single designed to pop the Legacy Fans and ensure everyone that the band hadn’t forgotten how to plug in the big stadium guitars. After the experimental and sonically brave ‘Lifeblood’, Your Love… was basically the band running scared from that previous record’s ‘muted’ (read: ‘practically non-fucking-existent’) reception and nestling themselves back into the safe arms of commercially viable radio rock. But, yes, it was again so damn effective that nobody cared. Your Love… went on to be one of their most famous songs in the outside world, the inclusion of The Cardigans’ lead singer was another example of the band’s enduring ability to choose perfect collaborators, and it’s difficult to think of a Manics song so obviously designed for the stadium crowds that ‘SATT’s success would again propel them back to. It’s relatively low down on this list because- fuck me, come on- it’s a bit damn basic, isn’t it?? Yeah, we all love it, but sometimes that’s not enough.
Ohmagod! I just thought of that reference while I was writing the line!! I’m a freaking genius.
The Holy Bible, 1994
Arbeit macht frei
Transport of invalids
Hartheim Castle breathes us in
In block 5 we worship malaria
Lagerstrasse, poplar trees
Beauty lost, dignity gone
Rascher surveys us butcher bacteria
Ah, crap. That dumb joke I just made seems really inappropriate now…
Is there another band in history whose back catalogue contains both the dumb-as-dogs’-cock pop rock delirium of Your Love Alone is Not Enough and the devastatingly malicious art rock of The Intense Humming of Evil? Quite unlike any other song in the band’s back catalogue- honestly? Unlike anything in anyone’s back catalogue- I could have just have easily put this song towards the top of this list as I could have left it out completely. There’s an argument to be made that Intense… might be the band’s artistic high point. It’s not quite a rock song, not quite industrial despite it beginning underpinned by the slow and ominous metallic chimes of machinery, it certainly isn’t a mid-paced ballad… It’s kind of like a poem… with a melody… what would you call that…?
‘The Holy Bible’ is an infamously distressing and disturbing album, and Intense… serves as its particularly distressing and disturbing summit. A song about the Holocaust is never likely to work well. What? Are you going to argue that it was generally a bad vibe and that the Nazis were pretty uncool? Geez, so glad I came to your TED Talk. The Manics though, never actually pass judgement on possibly the worse ever crime against humanity, they simply present the horror. Seemingly told from the perspective of someone unfathomably ambivalent* toward the atrocities they describe enveloping them. The ‘chorus’ of ‘6 million screaming souls/Maybe misery – maybe nothing at all/Lives that wouldn’t have changed a thing/Never counted – never mattered – never be’ confronting the listener with the dispassionate retort to their inherent humanity (and chiming nicely with the album’s general nihilism). Do these people deserve to be treated with dignity? Do any of us??
(*in a rare example of internal dispute over lyrics, JDB sent the original draft back and deemed it not judgemental enough, saying later that “You can’t be ambivalent towards the Holocaust”. So, yeah, if the song makes you feel a bit queasy, blame James)
I’ve seen it argued that the way the song’s guitars kick in and the tempo rises ever so slightly with the line ‘Churchill no different/Wish the workers bled to a machine’ signifies that:
As we’re told of Churchill’s true desires though, something happens: we reject. The guitar comes to the forefront and begins to overpower the rhythm section. We can escape. We are the future train drivers and camp guards. We can escape. We are those poor souls entering the chambers. We can escape. The guitar swells and the impossibility of it all fades away.Will Murphy
…but I personally think this is looking too much for a passing whiff of momentary positivity in a song that actually contains none. I have always read the introduction of the guitar line as the song turning around and facing the listener, empathising how this is not just a Nazi problem, this is a problem that humanity itself has to reckon with. There are no good guys here, and all the Holocaust proved was that the intense humming of evil lies occasionally dormant in the very soul of all humans. Who’s responsible? You fucking are.
Sorry about that, Razorblade Beast was being a bit inappropriate given the context. But, like I said, she bloody loves a reference.
Then… at the songs end… we don’t get a clear conclusion… It simply grinds to a halt… slowly into silence… as the gas is released…
Fuck, can I do a fun one next?
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Oh for fuck’s…OK, they’re just fucking with us now.
‘JFPL’s hidden track, not available on Spotify, often not featured on subsequent/international prints of the album and not played live, screeches into view a few minutes after William’s Last Words had seemingly (and very intentionally) laid Richey to rest with an uncharacteristically heartfelt and emotive lyrical eulogy. It opens with the statement ‘I am not dead’. I’m not even touching this one. Now can I have some fun…?
Generation Terrorists, 1991
Until I see love in statues
Your lessons drill inherited sin
Parliament’s a fake life saver
You better wake up and smell the real flavour
You love us like a holocaust
Same P.R. problem as E.S.T.Again with the Holocaust…
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Maybe not The Manics’ most famous song, not their most successful, and certainly not their best, but perhaps their theme tune. Their call to arms, their manifesto, their giddy introduction to what wonder the crazy world of Manics fandom could contain. Alright, so actually the #13 song on this list is their real theme tune, but this is a close second! It’s more iconic than it is actually great (though it is great) but if you attended a Manics gig to this day and they didn’t play it you would ask for your money back.
Before you all ask, this place goes the album version rather than the Heavenly version. They’re both great, but I prefer the Guns n’ Roses-esque guitar breakdown at the end to the slightly garish Iggy Pop sample. Although, obviously, it’s a shame to lose the lyric ‘Hey passive electorate/Die! Die! Die!’.
Oh, and the line ‘Our voices are 4 real’?
Hey, don’t blame Razorblade Beast, The Manics reference themselves a lot.
Really, Alex, one place above You Love Us? Can you even sit down with all of these hot takes shooting out of your arse?
We’re back to The Masses Against the Classes, and a b-side that not only exceeds the main single artistically, but acts as a brilliant companion piece to it. While the a-side drips in so much BFE (‘Big FUCK-ALL-Y’ALL Energy’) that it’s astounding that it doesn’t spontaneously combust, Close My Eyes instead provides details of some of the sadness that triggered that anger. While Masses… was all about screaming to the fans that their recent success hadn’t seeped away all their passion, Close... is the other side of the coin, detailing how maybe this widespread adoption of the band by those dreaded casuals wasn’t a lot of fun for them either. ‘Shake some hands and then I feel ashamed… Back to reality back to fuck all/It’s not about us anymore’. The looped drums and the incessant piano combine with unusually not irritating ‘being famous sucks, man!’ lyrics combine to result in one of the band’s best b-sides.
Aw, man! I can’t wait for the next album! If i sounds like these two songs it’s going to be straight fire!
Ah, yeah, of course, I remember now…
56 This Is Yesterday
The Holy Bible, 1994
Phew-wee! Few things are needed as much as the sole tiny ray of sunshine This Is Yesterday is needed on ‘The Holy Bible’. It’s like that scene in A Serbian Film where the cast break off from all the rape and forced abortions to sing a full rendition of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. It’s just good to lighten the mood a bit sometime, y’know?
Of course, being the most genial track on ‘The Holy Bible’ is like being the most generous billionaire or the driest frog in the pond (they’re all pretty wet, right? Billionaires I mean)- it’s all very relative. Yesterday… is still a sad lament to a lost childhood that finds much of its beauty in its intense mournfulness. Significantly, it’s the only song on the album written entirely by Nicky Wire, and it’s slightly more morose and melancholic feel means it wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the band’s post-Richey albums.
Generation Terrorists, 1992
OK now, enough of that soft shit.
Another Invented Disease seems to split fan opinion, with some people (correctly) recognising that it’s one of the album’s greatest examples of straightforward but nonetheless euphoric cock rock, and some people (incorrectly) considering it one of the record’s least memorable cuts and one of the first to go if you were to consider trimming the albums 54’806 minute runtime.
Here’s the thing: I was a Guns N’ Roses fan before I was a Manics fan*. Maybe you’re only vaguely aware of G’N’F’n’R, maybe you would recognise Funko Pops of Axl Rose and Slash, and have more than once angrily told your aunty that she needs to go home soundtracked by Sweet Child of Mine at a family wedding, and you don’t really appreciate how fucking amazing they were. You might categorise them in your brain with the Aerosmiths, Bon Jovis and Def Leppards of this world- bands that you’re pretty sure were a big thing on the radio back in the 80s but are, in all seriousness, a bit shit. It might be difficult to appreciate more than 30 years later just what an absolute borderline heavy metal/punk/rock behemoth the band were, and what an electric shock to the entire world of music their 1987 debut (which actually did sell the Manics’ coveted 16 million copies) ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was.
(*I think… I’m pretty sure… Listen, young ‘uns, you will eventually get to an age where your brain no longer considers it top priority to remember in what order you liked musical artists. It’s the stage before forgetting which artists you like, then forgetting if you actually like art at all, then if you like anything, then you will forget all of your friends and family and all of the memories you’ve spent a lifetime accumulating. Then you die. Alone. Don’t forget to hit ‘subscribe’!)
Guns N’ Ross had the look, they had the talent, their transporting of punk ideals and anger to 80s hair metal tropes was revolutionary and, fuck me, they rocked hard. They were so similar to the Manics in so many ways that there’s a reason why the band based so many of their early ambitions on their success. Yes, in terms of the ‘dumb/profound’ dynamic that the Manics pushed especially hard on their debut album, G’N’F’n’R were far more centred towards the latter, and there was always a nasty ‘Turn around bitch I’ve got a use for you‘ underpinning to their music, but they were never at the Mötley Crüe level of piggish ignorance. Richey himself pointed pout how Paradise City may contain the dumb-as-a-dirty-dingo chorus of ‘Take me down to the Paradise City/Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty’, but also has the brilliant couplet ‘Captain America’s been torn apart/Now he’s a court jester with a broken heart’- the band always chose their moments to be profound alongside the profane. Oh, and there’s a referees’ whistle in that song. Richey didn’t mention that, but I felt it important to note.
So, yeah, I love Disease… because it sounds like Guns N’ Roses. If you’re a Manics fan, you are officially not allowed to ever make jokes about Guns N’ Roses. You don’t have to like the band, but respect that shit.
And, yeah, the lyrics on Disease… are standard early Manics ‘we live in a society’ fare, with the AIDS acronym of the song’s title perhaps lending far too much credence to the conspiracy theory that the disease was invented by the US government, but you know what? You can barely understand a fucking word JDB says in this song, so it really doesn’t matter! Especially when the few times he becomes legible are to deliver gorgeous lines like ‘Daylight forces sunshine out of me/I need to feel alone among the weeds’.
Gosh, wasn’t being a kid just great? Asks Nicky Wire, for about the 562nd time. Another rare Manics b-side that not only ranks among their best songs but is vastly superior to the single it’s backing, in this case ‘Know Your Enemy’s Ocean Spray. Ocean Spray didn’t make the list, by the way. I’m sorry. I know, I know it’s the first lyric that JDB wrote, and that it’s about his mother dying of cancer and… Shut up, alright? You’re making me feel cruel!
That’s me, that is…
Seriously, what did we all do to deserve a song as gorgeous and as life affirming as Divine Youth? Do I deserve this song? I’m still wearing the same socks as I did yesterday because they ‘smelled fine’ this morning- I’m really not sure I do. And you? You, the reader? In what conceivable reality could you ever deserve a song as delicately exquisite as this?? All you’ve done so far today is write lengthy posts on one social media app about how much you hate people who use a different social media app, then you uploaded a video of a 12 year old girl dancing on TikTok to r/cringetopia and acted like you were exposing the fucking Watergate scandal, you think you deserve to even think about how effervescent Georgia Ruth William’s guest vocal is? Take her name out of your sweaty, Doritos crumb infested mouth!!
So, yeah, really good song. Performs a not dissimilar task on ‘Futurology’ as ‘This Is Yesterday does on their other career highlight, ‘The Holy Bible’, providing a warm safe space from the surrounding record’s insanity/horror. When’s the last time you listened to ‘Futurology’? I bet you’ve forgotten how great this song is.
This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
Must have had him at my mercy
Drown that poor thing put it out of its misery
Condemn it to its future deny its history, deny its history
Listen, I might give Nicky Wire the occasional good natured shit for his lyrics- and the guy is always dangerously capable of dropping the odd absolute stinker of a line (did I ever mention that line about refugees? Yeah, that comes earlier on this album)- but it’s just banter! I don’t think it’s too controversial an opinion to believe Richey was the more talented lyricist, which Wire himself would admit, but Nicky is still one of the greatest rock lyricists of all time and is more than capable of multi-layered gorgeousness like Ready for Drowning.
Right, are you paying attention at the back? The lyric begins with referencing an apparent true story of Nicky Wire being asked in 1995 about the disappearance of some local rock star they’d read about in the news, not realising they were talking about Richey Edwards to his (former??) bandmate. So that’s it, right? Richey’s abandoned car was found near the Severn Bridge- a ‘popular’* suicide spot’ – after his disappearance. So Wire is trying to convince himself that diving into the cold water of the River Severn was not how the existence of his best friend ended, and maybe also that he shouldn’t take the option himself, no matter how tempting it might be.
(*’popular’ really doesn’t feel like the right word in this context…)
But wait! Lyrical affinity is also brought to the story of the Welsh town of Capel Celyn, which was forcibly abandoned and flooded in 1965 in order to create a reservoir to ensure a decent water supply to the city of Liverpool. So that’s it, yeah? It’s about Richey’s disappearance, and also of the Welsh often being treated as second class citizens only to prop up the ruling English?
But Wait! This is also tied into wider themes of Welsh identity (‘Condemn it to its future/Deny its history’) and the forcible suppression of it throughout history. So that’s it, yeah? It’s about Richey’s disappearance, linked with the suppression of Welsh identity and culture that has lead to them historically being treated as subordinates to the ruling class?
BUT WAIT!! You’ve also got to consider how all of this all relates to the band themselves in 1998 and…
You know what? There’s far too much going on here to cover all the topics, but it’s easily one of Wire’s greatest lyrics. Musically, it more than stands up, with a gorgeous organ line contributing to a wonderful sonic evocation of water. Also, I think the Richard Burton “I will bring the whole unholy edifice down on their unworthy heads” line might be my favourite ever Manics vocal sample, which is high praise indeed! I even named a blog post after it, in one of my usual references that nobody is going to get.
Ah, but Wire can also just write lyrics for a big, dumb, brilliant banger though, can’t he? Wire places Let’s Go to War in the same lineage as You Love Us and Masses Against the Classes– Manics theme songs that aren’t really about anything in particular other than how much they hate something and how much you fucking love them anyway.
- You Love Us
- ‘We’re still so in love with you’ (Masses Against the Classes)
- ‘Don’t forget we love you still’ (Let’s Go to War)
Lipstick Traces, 2003
Blessed be the blade
Blessed be the scythe
Dionysos against the crucified
Find your truth
Face your truth
Speak your truth
And be your truth
Clean your flesh and mock your fears
The brightest sun is the purest gun
Judge yourselfThey are the law
Wow, OK, so we’re opening up the top fifty with a banger of almost illegal quality, are we?
Up until the age of maybe 15, I was a freaking huge fan of the still ongoing British comic weekly 2000AD. I never bothered with the American nonsense like Marvel or DC, which I always saw as annoyingly optimistic and family friendly claptrap with brightly coloured heteronormative superheroes telling you to say your prayers and eat your vitamins. 2000AD though? It was all blood and tits and moral ambiguity!! Wire and Richey were also huge fans, which, I dunno, kind of validated me and made me feel almost cool? As kids, Nicky and Richey were such fans that they had a competition between themselves to see who could be the first to appear in the comic. Richey won and, trust me, £3 was a lot of money back then!
Later, when the band began announcing their existence, the comic confirmed that the admiration went both ways, and renowned comic book writer Grant Morrison included a character- Domino- in Zenith Phase III (the third part of his epic superhero saga) who was physically based on Nicky Wire back in 1991, before the band’s debut was released and back when they were little more than an a striking underground band with a handful of amazing singles under their belt.
Some joyless thrillkillers might whine about ‘coincidence’ and “what are you even doing? Is this really worth your time and attention?” and “When was the last time you spoke to your mother?”, but the fact that Domino later appears wearing a Manic Street Preachers shit, so… yeah… sometimes you’ve just gotta beat someone’s head with a reference.
And, yeah, this probably means that Nicky won that competition on points. In your face, Richey!
In a weird way, 2000AD were maybe the first major media outlet to properly throw their weight behind the Manics hype train, with the early 90s UK music press still mostly rolling their eyes at this obnoxious rabble of hair metalists taking valuable space away from Slowdive and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (see the below comic from Melody Maker), aside from super chad journalists like Steven Wells and Simon Price recognising the mindblowing wonder on show early on. And why wouldn’t 2000AD fall so rapidly in love?? The Manics came as readily packed comic book characters! They looked like how 200AD artists would draw the most dangerous street thugs in 2099 Mega City One! They shared the same desire to present themes of antifascism and occasionally left wing politics in as striking and as colourful a package as possible in order to convert the most possible people.
So of course the band were going to be asked to contribute a song to the 1995 Judge Dredd movie, and of course they would be honoured! Listen, nobody knew how much the movie would absolutely stink back then. However, after demoing the song, Richey disappeared and the band kinda didn’t feel like still contributing one of his last songs to a dumb Hollywood character evisceration of 2000AD’s biggest character. They kind of had other priorities at the time, so shelved it indefinitely.
Thankfully for appreciators of ‘Amazing Things’, they returned to finish the demo with Dave Eringa for the 2003 b-sides and rarities collection ‘Lipstick Traces’. And- wowsers! Hooba-hooba! Whargwhargwharg! Dibble, what?!?!- thank whatever Gods you have formed a codependent relationship with that this mini masterpiece was rescued from the Dredd Dump. The song slaps, it fucks, it gobbles, it swallows, it spits. That ‘diddle-diddle-ding, wha-uh-whah’ guitar line? That motherfucker gonna get you pregnant. Judge Yr’self exists as possibly the nearest thing to a recorded suggestion of where the band would have gone musically would Richey have stayed, with at least the ‘Pantera’ aspect of Edwards’s “Pantera meets Screamadelica and Lynton Kwesi Johnson” ambitions covered. It’s a wonderful consolidation of all their first three albums, with the glam rock 大胆子 of ‘Generation Terrorists’, the radio grunge low register of ‘Gold Against the Soul’, and the dark nihilism of ‘The Holy Bible’. Get Andrew Weatherall to produce, pepper it with Lynton Kwesi Johnson vocal samples- who doesn’t want to hear that album??
I threw out all my comics when I was about 16, because back then having a comic book collection was the surest way of never getting laid outside of trying to beckon girls to your bedroom using a trail of Pogs. And back then, getting to even perhaps touch a girl’s boob was all I cared about, and literally everything I ever did had to be in some way focused on achieving this goal. And so it remains to this day. With decreasing success. And, honestly, the bar was fucking low even when I started. Anyway, back in those days you just threw away shit like that, the wider culture hadn’t yet begun pandering to people my age by organising a whole world that constantly flashes people images of their childhood to make them care less about the wider socioeconomic fuckery and more about injecting hollow nostalgia into their eyeballs. Some people mourn the ankle injury that prevented them from going pro and winning the Super Bowl, I think about how much all of those mint condition comics would go for to a clinically depressed forty something in New Hampshire. Why didn’t my parents tell me that someday soon I’d be able to financially abuse the nostalgia of despaired middle aged men?
[Thanks to Jetsam for all of the pictures!]
My God, I just want to open up the carcass of this song and snuggle up within its ribcage to protect me from the cold outside. Jesus H Christ, we were such idiots to reject this album…
Know Your Enemy, 2001
Into a vein exhibit the derelict
A secular mosaic distracted at birth
A Cubist abstraction let it live forever
Narcissism so lonely so live by the sea
God, this song is so bananas that it could fill several full but not particularly varied fruit bowls. Lyrics by Wire that actually sound close to some of the surreal stream of consciousness that we would later learn that Richey was writing in before his disappearance, backed by absolutely insane and heavily sonically treated scum rock that sounds like it’s both having a mental breakdown but also waving a switchblade around and looking at your with fury in its eyes. ‘What a mess’ you say, Nicky? Yeah, gonna have to agree with you on that.
But, holy heavens, what a mess! Intravenous… might be the most laughably ‘Manics’ song title imaginable, but the song beneath it is truly one of their most experimental and ingenious rock songs in their catalogue. It’s fucking bonkers, yes, but beneath the near unintelligible (but still absolutely amazing) lyrics (‘We all pray for pluralist babies’???) is one of the band’s most successful examples of trying to add a bit of extra flair and panache to their standard rock style. The drumming awakens the dead, the guitar is like if Sonic Youth fucking cheered up a bit and the bass… yeah, the bass is fine, well done Nicky. It all adds up to a song that rocks harder than Dwayne Johnson’s amateur geology collection, and the band should have maybe focused on filling ‘KYE’ with more tracks like this.
Send Away the Tigers, 2007
Screw the lot of you, this song is an absolute beast! An all timer of a classic guitar lick, a killer chorus, melodies for days… What else do you want in a Manics’ song?? If you don’t like this song I will find you and I will cut you. Oh, what’s that, you only like shite music? The Foo Fighters are right there, you’re already well pandered for!
Speaking of pandering, this might be the worst offender on the the most pandery of albums (aside from maybe Indian Summer‘s pretty pathetic attempt to ape the #4 song on this list). But it’s lovely pandering! The lyrics give thinly veiled shout outs to the Legacy Fans, but also opening the gates to any new fans who might want to join, as long as they all ‘Wear your love like it was made of hate’. Yes, I know, it might be the corniest and cheesiest song they’ve ever done, but you’ve got to wear your heart on your sleeve sometimes when you’re telling all your community how blessed they are.
Fuck all y’all, it works, damnit!!
Were we the Kinnock factor
Am I talking private sector
Do I think I’m Shaun William Ryder
Or my former friend who’s now undercover
Yes, you read that right, this is a b-side. It backed the #8 song on this list, in perhaps one of the greatest A/B-side partnerships of all time (the other b-side, Montana/Autumn/78, is also a bit of a lowkey banger). It stood out and was particularly appreciated for how radically different it was from the a-side, and the whole ‘TIMTTMY’ sound. Shit, it’s radically different from pretty much anything the band has done up to this day. The namechecking of Shaun Ryder was obviously deliberate, as the song sounds like some sort of dangerously deranged situationist take on Step On. You’re twisting my Dyson, man. It is absolutely in the conversation regarding the band’s greatest b-sides (the seventh highest on this list, if you’re wondering) and is a very rare example of the band using b-sides in the correct way, i.e. to experiment with sounds and ideas that would sound ridiculously out of place on the surrounding album.
And ridiculously out of place it did sound when the band decided to retcon the ‘TIMTTMY’ album on its recent issue by placing the track at number 11 instead of Nobody Loved You (which was demoted to a ‘hidden’ track at the end). Playing around with old albums’ tracklists when they’re reissued is something of a fetish for the band, they have previous in replacing Underdogs with b-side Welcome to the Dead Zone when they rereleased ‘SATT’. Now, here’s the thing, I have absolutely no issue with artists going back and fiddling with their previous works- I mean, fuck, please take the hideous Underdogs away from me! I don’t believe a piece of art being released commercially is necessarily the gates of creativity closing, it’s an artist’s work and why should we put some sort of barrier to that work improving? I wish more bands would take Car Seat Headrest‘s lead and strive to improve previous releases they never felt were quite perfect- they could win Necessary Evil album of the year for Christ’s sake!! We can all at least agree that we dream of Metallica going back and rerecording ‘…And Justice for All’ with production that doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a slop tank, yes? Yes. Yes we can. But part of the charm of Prologue… is how massively contrasting it was to the sound of the band at the time, so sticking it on the actual album runs its significance, it ruins the album by having the whole flow and style walk into a wall and then fall off a cliff, and it ruins me for having to write this shit!!
Like I said though, great song. ‘He’s gone/But I’m no deserter’? Is this the one time when Nicky’s lyrics reveal anger at what Richey has put the band through?
The Holy Bible, 1994
“I wanted to rub, uhm, the human face in its own vomit, and force it to look in the mirror”..
And life can be as important as death
But so mediocre when there’s no air, no light and no hope
Prejudice burns brighter when it’s all we have to burn
The world lances youth’s lamblike winter, winter
Aw, we’ve had some fun recently, haven’t we? We’ve had a nice chat about comics, pluralist babies and the pampering of Manics fans. But fun time is over now, as we return to the astonishing aural heart of darkness that is ‘The Holy Bible’. The bracing Mausoleum is the other song apparently inspired by the band’s visit to a couple of former concentration camps during 1993 (the other, obviously, being The Intense Humming of Evil), although unlike the far more graphic and literal Intense…, Mausoleum only really touches on the Holocaust in passing (chiefly with its ‘No birds’ chorus, referencing the lack of life the band said was their main takeaway from the visit- and also originally the track’s title). It instead builds on the themes of Intense…about the Earth being doomed because of humanity’s inherent cruelty, that the whole planet is simply a mausoleum of the human race’s worst impulses floating through space. Yeah, I know, but what do you expect after you spend your summer holiday in Dachau?
Musically, it might be one of the closest to a traditional hard rock song on the record, and wouldn’t sound that out of place on a Metallica album (apart from ‘…And Justice for All’, of course, where it would stand out due to the production not being complete balls)
But that’s all very relative, and Metallica wouldn’t have the ingenuity to sprinkle the song with heart stopping pace changes, JG Ballard samples and spine chilling guitar effects. Oh, and a chorus that seems to last about 42 minutes (in a good way).
Generation Terrorists, 1992
I am nothing and should be everything! Heart beats like a refuge machine! They want a piece of your skin, pump it safer than a suicide! I accuse ‘istory, y’I y’accuse!
Listen, I can’t really explain why I love this song so much, maybe because it again slides into ‘Best Song G N’R Never Did’ contention. Or maybe just because it’s the seventeenth track on their debut album, so you know that only the most dedicated fans will ever properly appreciate it. Pfff, look at these pathetic casuals, bet they dropped out around track 12, So Dead, didn’t they?
Resistance is Futile, 2018
Our final album to be represented, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about 2018’s ‘Resistance is Futile’. I don’t mean I’m constantly swinging between loving and hating the record, more that I haven’t yet decided whether it’s a ‘fine, I suppose’ album or just a ‘ugh, bad‘ album. It’s definitely the hardest Manics album to find things worth talking about; the hardest to find the energy to debate, defend or defile; and, if I’m being brutally honest, the one most likely to disappear from your memory five minutes after each time you listen, even if it’s your 100th time. It’s definitely not their worst album- I hope none of us never get to an age where we experience a record worse than ‘Postcards from a Young Man’- but it might simply be their most ‘meh’, their most forgettable. Yes, ‘PFAYM’ is a steaming dung encrusted skip full of bloodied aborted creative babies, but I could write 10’000 words on all the reasons it sucks. I tried my hardest to forcefeed ‘RIF’ when it came out in 2018, thinking that there must have been some hidden depths that hadn’t revealed themselves to me yet, they couldn’t go this basic following the career highlight of ‘Futurology’. But no. There’s little there, I’m sorry. There isn’t a bad song on the record, but the lyrics rarely announce themselves, and the general song quality is at ‘one of the lesser b-sides’ level. And they ain’t that great at b-sides. Even after all the time I spent sifting through ‘RIF’s dirt desperately looking for small flakes of gold, even after the obscene amounts of exposure I allowed upon myself, I could only hum you maybe two songs right now.
One of those songs though, ammi right? Umph! Ooooh! Right there, that’s it!
International Blue was the first single released from the album and- once you got over the initial slight disappointment that obviously no wheels were getting reinvented on the band’s thirteenth (!!) record and a definite regression from ‘Futurology’- it’s about as accomplished and entertaining a stadium rock song as you’re ever likely to hear. Obviously designed for radio rotation, but absolutely in the best way possible, we have the riff that slightly calls to mind the #7 song on this list, the pristine production, we have an extraordinarily snappy anthem that was typical of the rest of the album in style but, crucially, absolutely not in quality.
The homework from the song is further reading into the artist Yves Klein, one of the pioneers of modern art who, from what I can gather invented a colour! I mean, the colour he invented was basically a different shade of blue, so not one of the major ones, but still, hats off Yves!
This country pisses debris
Like ugly people made pretty
Underneath cheap make-up
Deformed, disguised mind decay
Not on Spotify so, I dunno, maybe the coolest song so far on this list…?
I have long adored this song, it not only sounds unlike anything close to the music the band were making at the time, but it is another rare example of the band using b-sides to show a different side of themselves and exhibit songs that absolutely wouldn’t fit anywhere else, this time as the backing track to the #39 song on this list. R.P. McMurphy (the protagonist of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but good luck finding many mentions of the character in a particularly dense lyric) is an acoustic ballad from the time when you’d assume even the suggestion of such a thing would make each band member’s head explode in a shower of Communist red glitter. The whole song is just JDB, his (poorly recorded, if we’re being honest) acoustic guitar, a tiny hint of electric guitars on the chorus, and a tambourine. It’s rare even to this day for the band to release such slight, naked music. It’s fucking extremely rare for their songs to feature a wordless chorus like R.P‘s ‘Na-na-na, na-na-na-na-na’! I can’t think of another wordless Manics’ chorus right now, but I’ll get back to you. R.P… is gorgeous, delicate, vulnerable and emotional, plus it’s lyrics are about capitalism driving alienation and despair, which is pretty much the entirety of my bag, frankly.
Recently on this list, we’ve seen the band pull off Happy Mondays if Shawn Ryder was filled with existentialist dread, a naked acoustic lament to how the UK ‘pisses pretty’, and the glue sniffing terrorised nonsense of Intravenous Agnostic. However, even when you take into consideration the sickening horror show of The Intense Humming of Evil, the band probably haven’t released a track less orthodoxically Manics and more endearingly odd than Europa Geht Dirch Mich. Especially as it was pushed as one of the lead in singles to their triumphant ‘Futurology’ album.
At least… it was kind of a single?? I don’t really understand how charts work now, then, and ever, but before the album was released they posted a full video of the song on to YouTube (and maybe Spotify, who knows?) but no ‘physical’ release and this was back in the days before Spotify and YouTube plays counted towards a song’s chart placing. If YouTube plays count these days. I’m not sure. Who’s number one while I’m writing this? Ed Sheeran?? Of course it’s fucking Ed fucking Sheeran. His album ‘X’ actually prevented ‘Futurology’ from reaching number one way back in 2014, fact fans, have we really failed to move on as culture to that degree?? Anyway, have you listened to Bad Habits on YouTube much? Hmmm, OK. Results inconclusive.
Anyway, it acted as both the trailer and unofficial theme tune of their new direction, letting everyone know that ‘Futurology’ was going to be a little bit weird, a little bit Teutonic, a little bit supported by outstanding choices of guest vocalists, and a lot freaking amazing. Europa… is an absolute and slightly unhinged delight. Centred around a repetitive and robotic krautrock (eugh, can we please think of a better name for it than that?) beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on Prince’s ‘Dirty Mind‘ album, occasionally punctuated by a ringing “UH-WEAH-UH!’ siren that, to be honest, would likely sound out of place on any album, topped with JDB barking his vocals in his best antsy military sergeant style and a rhythm section simply pounding at your already deceased corpse. Even the choice of guest vocalist is a pretty bananas decision that ends up being absolute genius. While other ‘Futurology’ tracks feature perfect additions from experienced and talented vocalists such as Georgia Ruth and Green Gartside, Europa… enlists the talents of Nina Hoss, a German actor and political activist with no real singing experience to speak of. And it fucking works! Hoss’s barked and aggressive delivery is an inspired addition to JDB’s voice, allowing the song to feel like you’re being roughly admonished on both sides, and half in a language you don’t even speak!! Inspired. Or, I dunno, the band just couldn’t think of a German singer and Fenster zum Sommer happened to be playing on the TV at the time. In another timeline, they enlisted Lou Bega. Whatever.
And, yes, ‘Futurology’ is a passionate and unashamed European album, of which Europa*… is the central calling card. Almost exactly two years after the album’s release, the UK voted to leave the European Union. Why don’t we listen to the Manics more?
(*which in German means
*contacts local sage*
*summons Cthulhu after reading the Necronomicon and worshipping the High Priest*
‘Europe’. It means ‘Europe’. The Germans like adding vowels to things)
The Hoy Bible, 1994
Images of perfection, suntan and napalm
Grenada – Haiti – Poland – Nicaragua
Who shall we choose for our morality
I’m thinking right now of Hollywood tragedy
Big mac: smack: phoenix r: please smile y’all
Cuba, Mexico can’t cauterize our discipline
Your idols speak so much of the abyss
Yet your morals only run as deep as the surface
Yeah, all one word.
Firstly, we have to address the elephant in the room here. The possessive form of ‘it’ is ‘its’. I honestly think I was in my thirties before I realised that. The Manics decided to put an apostrophe in a song title that otherwise didn’t respect the bourgeoisie rules of grammar to even include spaces between words. And that apostrophe is grammatically incorrect! Is there something I’m not getting here? The title of this song ruined my understanding of grammar for literally twenty years.
But is even that intended?? No song necessitates having the Genius explanation open on a separate tab than Whiteamerica… – this shit is dense! In three and a half minutes the song manages to reference the armed conflicts USA has been in since the second world war (at that point!); McDonald’s; the (spit) ‘War on Drugs’; River Phoenix; Tipper Gore; the hypocrisy behind America’s claims of democracy and equality; the Conservatives; the Republicans; the Democrats; the white supremacy underlying all of these parties; Compton; Harlem; the meaningless of black people being murdered and how little attention it receives (‘Vital stats, how white was their skin?’); white privilege; the Zapruder film…
And these are just the explicit references! Deeper reads reveal more references and commentary. Lyrically, it’s probably the one Manics’ song with the most going on, and you can return to it countless times and reveal little things and flashes of genius that still blow your mind on the 6’904’553rd listen. Apart from the line ‘Compton, Harlem, a pimp fucked a priest’, I challenge you to properly explain that line. Nicky Wire said at the time that the song was “not a completely anti-American song. It compares British imperialism to American consumerism”. Which… come on, Nicky, where is that read in the actual text? Show me the part that talks about British imperialism, OK? Nonsense. It’s a furiously anti-America song (at least white America) and when the band present their reasoning you even start to think… Yeah… maybe they have a point… Musically, the song isn’t quite as arresting and outrageous as its (see that?) lyrics, but it’s still an absolutely banging art-punk revulsion, with an ever changing tempo and ridiculous energy. Oh and the way JDB screams ‘I’m here to serve the moral MA-JOR-ITY!’ is just… [chef’skiss.jpg]
Then, the closing coda of ‘Fuck the Brady bill!/Fuck the Brady bill!/If God made man they say/Sam Colt made him equal’. The Brady Bill was a 1993 legislation that mandated background checks before issuing gun licenses and imposed a five day waiting period before you could buy a gun.
God, that country’s fucking weird. Anyway, the Brady Bill was a firearm legislation designed to make it harder o purchase weapons (in the most pathetically inconsequential way possible), us lefties love that shit, don’t we?
Well, a lot of ‘THB’ is an angry ‘fuck you’ to accepted leftist wisdom. To the Manics, the new gun laws would actually suppress the black communities and were designed to solidify white supremacy in the country: “It would disenfranchise the black community, who generally don’t have licences. The white rednecks in middle America do have licences, but statistics show they cause as much crime” (Nicky Wire to Melody Maker). The closing line of ‘God created man/Sam Colt made them equal’, aside from being an actual slogan of the firearms company Colts, even seems to argue that the black communities need easy access to guns in order to equal the playing field. I mean, shit, this ain’t the kind of stuff you’re likely to read in the Guardian’s opinion pages.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of the band spitting in the face of accepted left wing consensus, you are going to love #17!
Generation Terrorists, 1991
Find your faith in your security
All broken up at seventeen J
am your brain with broken heroes
Love your masks and adore your failure
We’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint
D.I.Y. destruction on Chanel chic
Deny your culture of consumption
This is a culture of destruction
Your school, your dole and your chequebook dreams
Your clothes, your suits and your pension schemes
Now you say you know how we feel
But don’t fall in love ‘cos we hate you still
Holy Jesus fucking Christ holy shit…
Listen, this top forty is pretty fucking stacked, and there’ll be a temptation to write chonker entries similar to the last two. I freaking love these songs, and looking at some of the killer tracks coming up on this list, I may spend 1’000+ words per entry gushing about how wonderful the song is and to what extent it’s (correct usage) improved my life.
But I can’t even express how much I love Stay Beautiful. The first single on the band’s new Colombia Records mega contract (the band sold out as soon as they could, and were never ashamed of trying to reach the most amount of people possible. 16 million records, remember?) is to this day just perfectly encapsulates the band’s ambitions, their mission statement and the cult they had already created around themselves. And to us fans it was an absolutely boisterous call to arms, and ended up being used as just as much a description of the Manics’ fandom. When they say ‘We’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint’, they’re not just referring to the band themselves, they’re talking about the whole community that was already in place and would soon become perhaps the biggest part of the band’s mythology. Every. Single. Fucking. Line in this song is not just an instant classic slogan, but has been adopted by the fans to almost foster solidarity between converts. The other people who were also denying the culture of consumption to celebrate the culture of destruction, aware that all they love is lonely wreckage. We were all broken up at seventeen, and here was this cult promising to make it all go away. When you write a message to another Manics fan, you should always end it by writing ‘Stay beautiful’. Confirm that you’re on their side. And the community did stay beautiful, remaining one of the most welcoming and least toxic fanbase imaginable. Stay Beautiful is the theme tune of that wonderful community and, aw shucks, this song gets me all emotional sometimes…
Yeah, so this entry is about as short as they get from now on.
39 Democracy Coma
Mother of the free! She says that we’d breathe! Mother of the free, but we just bleeeeeed!
OK, forget what I said about the band not releasing that many great b-sides, Democracy Coma blows the Loves Sweet Exile (#67)/Repeat a-sides out of the freaking water to a ridiculous extent. The song is also such a creative step up from so much of their debut album (including, let’s be honest, the two songs on the a-side) that it’s weird that it was left off. Perhaps the debut album was already done and dusted by the time they wrote this mini-masterpiece, in which case it’s evidence of how quickly the band developed artistically to quickly come up with this relatively complex piano led piece of genius.
Also… real drums…? All of ‘GT’ was a programmed drum machine (and JDB ended up playing all the bass parts), but Democracy… sounds… like actual drums…? I dunno, someone please confirm.
It was actually added to the US release of ‘GT’, so I’m sure the eight Americans who brought the album were very pleased.
Single?? What was this thing?? 2008
Shit, do you also remember when I said the band don’t usually do good covers? Well, there are exceptions. And their surprise cover of one of the greatest songs of the 21st century (fight me) is by far their greatest cover song ever. Unless there’s one that I’m forgetting about higher up.
It’s not some bullshit, macho, toxic Ryan Adams “oh, that’s a good song, but let a white guy with a guitar make it a little more legitimate, yeah?” effort. The band obviously adore the song, because they’ve all got two ears and a heart, and their wonderful version of it is meant to be heard alongside the world conquering original. They emphasise the darkness and the rock elements that were already present in the song, and JDB’s vocal performance is enthused with real passion and love for the source material (originally written for Britney Spears. This song’s had a weird journey).
Loses points for not including the ‘be-CAUSE‘ delivery before the final chorus. Maybe that’s the one moment that JDB knew he couldn’t rival Rihanna on.
Gold Against the Soul. 1993
Roses in the hospital
Nothing really makes me happy
Roses in the hospital
Heroin is just too trendy
All we wanted was a home
Now we’re so strung out, we wanna own
Like a leaf in the autumn breeze
Like a flood in January
We don’t want your fucking love
You want me to write about this song again? I have whole blog posts relating to how much I adore this song. I love it so much even though, essentially, it’s a bit fucking shit. That’s being a Manics fan. Love their mess. Adore their failures.
Ceremonial rape machine
Love won’t corrode you
Yeah, that’s the chorus, what’s your point? It was actually originally titled Ceremonial Rape Machine before the snowflakes at the record label decided to virtue signal by asking them to change it.
Hot damn! Another 1991 b-side (this time to our #12 entry), another angry anti-monarchy rant, another experimentation with piano backing and more complex song writing, another freaking classic that was left off the debut album for some reason!! No, of course not, we can’t lose Damn Dog or So Dead can we? Were the band (specifically JDB) playing down their abilities on their debut album in order to sound more ‘punk’ and ‘raw’? Our #7 entry certainly stands out in terms of technical ability.
These are good topics, let’s start a debate in the comments where you can all call the other side Nazis and/or paedophiles. Really great times we live in, no?
Gold Against the Soul, 1993
First of all, shut the fuck up. Nostalgic Pushead may be the worst song title in all of recorded human art, but it’s absolutely one of their greatest rock songs. Yeah, it’s dumb, sure, I’ll give you that, and that vocoder vocal ensuring us that’s this is ‘So cool the new sound of the decade’ is, I’ll concede, really fucking naff. But, my God, that drummed intro, the drive, the passion, the way JDB screams ‘Rebellion it always sells at a PRO-FIT!’ is tremendous enough to make milk seep from your nipples in anticipation*, the way the intro finally crashes in all around you and JDB roars in with ‘I am the raping sunglass gaze/Of sweating man and escort agencies’ is thrilling enough to make a potato pregnant**. The song’s a fucking riot, and stands out as one of the more ambitious and experimental tracks from their most unfairly maligned album. It might be the be the song on ‘GATS that most closely points to the barely contained rage and dangerous cadence that they’d explore more on ‘THB’. I’ve never seen it live, because they probably last played it in mid-1993. I want it. Give it to me.
[*PLEASE REMOVE THIS – ED]
[**PLEASE REMOVE THIS – ED]
Everything Must Go, 1996
Da, da, da-da! Da, da, da! Dabble-um-dum…
‘TIMTTMY’ may have sold more, and ‘THB’ and ‘F’ were arguably stronger artistically, but there’s little doubt that 1996’s triumphant comeback after Richey’s disappearance ‘Everything Must Go’ was the band’s most successful album overall. They manged to make the leap from cult favourites to legitimate superstars after losing the member whose own cult of personality was the main reason they had inspired such a devoted fanbase in the first place. They managed to make the most commercially viable music of their career while also not jettisoning off the central artistic and lyrical themes- their main Manicness– that had initially made them so special. Yeah, I know, the clothes became less ‘Slash and Burn’ and more ‘H&M’, but the Legacy Fans generally accepted that as a short term grieving process when the music was this good.
The lyrics to Kevin Carter even suggest that Richey also read which way the wind was blowing. One of his last lyrics he was present to witness (and approve of) the start of the band putting musical backing to, it’s actually a real step away from the Marxist amphetamine style of his writing on the earliest records, and the somehow devastatingly beautiful ‘The horror, the horror! Tito likes being pegged!’ lyrical style of ‘THB’. Kevin Carter’s lyrics are, relatively, rather simple to understand- at least with a little background information- and this might be the closest thing we ever got to Richey writing a lyric seemingly with wider commercial success in mind. Sure, the subject is still a little horrific: Keven Carter was a South African photographer who rose to prominence capturing slices of brutality in his country’s apartheid system before winning the Pulitzer Prize for his photo of a child being stalked by a vulture during Sudan’s appalling 1993 famine*. It lead to Carter receiving wide condemnation for not doing more to help the child or address the situation (that’s another debate entirely) and the guilt lead to him taking his own life. Make your own Richey analogies, I’m not here to spell everything out for you, come on. But it’s still a relatively concise and snappy lyric that didn’t sound at all out of place on either Radio 1’s or Radio 2’s playlist as it politely shifted its way into the top ten. As great as it is, it’s basically ‘My First Richey Lyric’ and one you could easily explain to your Mum. Despite all this though, JDB’s delivery of ‘Tribal scares in technico-co-lour-her-ah-her-er’ is further proof of Richet never quite getting the hang of writing to a song structure.
(*I’ve not included any of his photos in this piece because, holy shit, they definitely lean more towards the ‘massively traumatic’ end of important historical documents. Have this lovely photo of Kevin Carter himself instead, and delve further at completely your own risk)
Musically as well, it’s a complete banger, with stabbing horn instrumentation like if Motown were asked to score Psycho, and rumbling drums adding to the song’s slightly anxious mutli-tempoed structure. It’s a sign of just how hot the band were in 1996 that they could smuggle such heartrending unease straight onto the hit parade.
Resistance is Futile, 2018
I walk between the dividing lines
I dance around the exit signs
I hate the world more than I hate myself
I can’t pretend that it’s a cry for help
Tattered manifestos litter the mind
Diplomatic plans ravaged by time
Yeah, everyone hates this song. JDB didn’t like the cheesy ‘Whoah-uh-woah!’ additions to the chorus, Sean didn’t like how he never actually laid down any new drumming for the song and it was instead backed by looped recordings of tracks he’d added to different songs, Nicky probably hates it, because he must be sick of writing songs that are essentially just about being the Manic Street Preachers by now, surely??
Well, sod the lot of them, I don’t care, Hold Me… is an absolute banger, and the best song the band have released in the past five years (which basically just means it’s the best track on ‘RIF’) by some distance. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes, it’s unashamedly sentimental and, yes, it couldn’t be more geared towards mainstream success if it featured Logan and Jake Paul on backing vocals. But, fuck all y’all, it’s absolutely magic! Get out of my face and stick your hands in the motherfucking air!!
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Makes everything seem so fair
These perfect abattoirs
These perfect actors
These perfect abattoirs
Only a god can bruise
Only a god can soothe
Only a god reserves the right
To forgive those that revile him
Ouch, pretty dark lyrics, no? Richey looking at the heart of desolation’s dark hole and refusing to blink, know warra mean? Fucking abattoirs- abattoirs!- yeah? This will be one of those industrial, clanging screams of despair similar to ‘THB’s most antagonistic cuts, yeah?
However, the title track of ‘JFPL’ is an absolutely infectious stadium rock stomper. I know I’ve spent a good 43% of this entry arguing against the lazy ‘Holy Bible pt.2’ narrative of ‘JFPL’, but come on, people! Journal… would fit far more comfortably into the ‘EMG’ album’s presentation of snappy and concise, despairing lyrics tied to commercially accepted pop rock. Hell, if you’re willing to ignore the grim lyrical content, this absolute banger could have fit quite happily onto the previous album ‘SATT’s shameless rock pandering. And it would be one of the absolute best tracks on either of those albums.
The audio intro of someone scribbling notes (in some sort of journal, yeah??) is probably not needed, and the actual lyrics themselves aren’t easy to decipher. With all the God references, is this ‘journal for plague lovers’ the bible…?
You know what? Get out of my face and stick your hands in the motherfucking air!!
Everything Must Go, 1996
The Manics do great openers. Of the thirteen released albums that count, seven of the opening tracks make this list, which… yeah, though it was going to be a far higher number when I started this intro, but still! That’s pretty good, no?? Especially when you consider that one of their albums opens with the ferocious Found That Soul, which almost made the list, and another opens with the atrociously crap The Everlasting, which, eugh, absolutely did not almost make this list. Thinking back, I’m really not sure what those two examples prove, but the truth remains: the Manics know how to open an album and The Everlasting stinks.
It’s also one of the few Manics songs that the band admit to not really knowing what it’s about- Nicky finished Richey’s lyrics while conceding that he didn’t really know what his former bandmate was getting at. The references to dead American culture influencing near dead British towns is almost a Richey standard, and might be suggesting the hell he had previously outlined in ifwhiteamerica… (#40) is slowly crawling into his own country. I’d also be interested in finding out who wrote the ‘Overweight and out of date’ line, as it rather presciently references one of the accusations that would soon be levelled at the band themselves
Why is Richey’s disappearance still a mystery? Look at the other three, they obviously ate him. letter to Melody Maker in around 1998 that has always stuck with me and I promise I’ve never laughed at
Also, a semi-colon in the title! That’s worth something, isn’t it?
So the concept is this, basically
We’re gonna walk on this nation
We’re gonna walk on this racist power structure
And we’re gonna say to the whole damn government:
“Stick ’em up motherfucker
This is a hold up
We’ve come for what’s ours!Robert George “Bobby” Seale
And with that spoken introduction by the co-founder of the Black Panthers, so begins what I consider to be one of the all-time great ‘lost’ rock anthems. You Love Us (#58) was the band’s second release on the Heavenly Records label- a London based independent that is still going today- and according to Nicky Wire the label bosses were far more impressed with that single’s b-side than they were any other song, stating in 2008 that it was the first time the label accepted that this weird bunch of Welsh hellraisers might be “a proper band”.
Because the original Heavenly version of Spectators… is an absolute marvel. A wonderful radio rock effort, a political rock anthem that seemed to support all of the band’s manifesto and ambitions, an incredibly accomplished piece of work that looks to G’N’F’n’R’s ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums for influence rather than the usual ‘Appetite for Destruction’. As a piece of music, it absolutely soars, relying on the kind of piano and organ instrumentation that were very rare for the band at the time. The production isn’t great, but that only adds to the rawness and unfiltered emotion the band are presenting. The lyrics? The usual brilliance: ‘Obedience to the law is free desire/Under curfew from sharp neon barbed wire/Wasting away this country, wearing like born dead/Free heroin shots for those who will no longer beg’. It definitely supports my wild theory that the band played down their abilities for their debut album. This is where I usually complain about it not being included on the debut album, isn’t it? Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell…
We kind of did get Spectators… on the debut album. Kind of. The version we got on the album was… different. And, let’s be honest, a but shit. All of the passion and the hard rock breakdowns are removed, and instead we get wavy sub-prog nonsense. Why are you like this, Manics??
Gold Against the Soul
Ok, obviously we ain’t playing no more. Another absolutely devastatingly awesome opening track (there are at least two more to come), and the band’s meaty cock rock ambitions for their second album most perfectly realised.
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
“Anyone out there still mystified as to what exactly it is that marks The Manics out as more than your average beat combo could do worse than consider ‘Peeled Apples’, the opening track from the band’s ninth studio album- there might possibly be another band that would furnish their album’s curtain-raiser with a chorus of ‘Rudderless horses on Chomsky’s Camelot/ Bruises on my hands from tearing my nails out’, but The Manics are certainly the only band who would do so while cribbing the melody from Heaven 17’s ‘Temptation’.”
Yeah, I’m pretty sure I nailed it in my original 2009 review.
Know Your Enemy, 2001
We finally got there, the band had never taken longer than two years between albums before but we had waited a massive three years since the band had released ‘TIMTTMY’, the album that turned them into super duper megastars; two years since Billy Bragg’s questioning of the band’s toilet etiquette seemingly inspired a nuts and bolts reappraisal of what the band even meant anymore; eighteen months since they’d welcomed in the Millennium in front of nearly 75’000 fans at Cardiff’s appropriately named Millennium Stadium and then earned the first number one single of the 21st century with the none-more-punk call to arms Masses Against the Classes (#66). We would finally get to hear the next album, ‘Know Your Enemy’ and see exactly what kind of situationist punk manifesto the band had ended up scrawling in their own blood that the last few years of high drama* had inspired.
(*the highest drama- you don’t have another man question your weeing and pooing habits and not expect it to inexorably change your whole outlook on life)
To promote it, the band once again cocked a knowing glance at their G’N’F’n’R influence, releasing two singles on the same day. G’N’F’n’R had released both ‘Use Your Illusions’ I & II albums on the same day back in 1991, but releasing two singles to compete against each other was near unheard of, at least for mainstream bands. One single, Found That Soul, was pretty much what people were expecting – a simple but euphoric garage punk thrasher that bopped and crunched in all the right places, the sound of a band reconnecting with their earlier, rawer and rockier side. Yes, indeed. All is in order. The other single was… this…
Up there with the strangest songs the band have ever done, and certainly the weirdest and least conventionally Manics song that they’ve seen fit to release as a single. ‘KYE’ is already a ridiculously diverse and peculiar album, yet still So Why… stands out on it for being bizarrely out of place. To be fair, it’s difficult to think of many albums by any artist that So Why… would fit happily onto. It’s a doo whop shimmy-along fed through a sentient and screaming meat grinder. It, for reasons indecipherable to us mere mortals, gives a shout out to Sonic Youth with its ‘Burns an expressway to your skull‘ line, but Thurston Moore himself would laugh until he vomited blood if you suggested releasing a song as esoteric as So Why… as your hotly anticipated new album’s lead single. In furiously and desperately grasping at how best to explain exactly what the song sounds like, many professional and amateur journalists have settled on The Beach Boys, but you could only imagine The Beach Boys coming up with something as batshit as So Why if they happened to take loads of dru… erm… OK, if they took even more drugs. Or maybe no drugs at all? That’s be a cool little experiment.
And yet, the song is still an absolute majesty. Despite all the weirdness swirling in electric clouds all around the song, the band still stick to their principles and tie it to an absolutely pristine pop song. Heck, give this song Robyn to sing, give it to Britney, give it to freaking Rihanna! Corrupt the masses!! Of course, the band now hate the song, and there are large swathes of the Manics’ fanbase that detest the band travelling such miles outside their comfort zone. These people are wrong. And fucking idiots. This song’s amazing.
25 Comfort Comes
The difference between love and comfort
Is that comfort’s more reliable and true
Brittle and mocking but always there
A crutch for enmities saddest glare
Yeah, maybe they did do a lot of great b-sides…
Backing the #11 song on this list is one of the most fascinating and just dang savage songs in the MSP’s career. The a-side it was coupled with, as marvellous as it is, represented all the excesses of the ‘GATS’ era. It was a shiny and polished US rock homage, with expensive sounding production that made every acoustic strum and every individual string on every individual violin in every individual orchestra included on the track just slither in through your ears and start heavy petting your most responsive brain cells. Y’know, like Bon Jovi or summat? There’s no sane line to be drawn between the ultra lavish radio grunge of ‘GATTS’ and the claustrophobic and anxious repressed fury of ‘THB’, an album that sounds like it was recorded in the underground bunker of a group of Marxist extremist terrorists as the bombs from the (US backed) government’s military onslaught shake the stones from the wall to signify the long military struggle coming to its mortal end. That is, unless you’d heard the b-side of ‘GATS’s final single release.
It shares some DNA with ‘GATS’, such as it’s infectious and pumping chorus or it’s general toe-tapping radio rock bent, but Comfort… exists far more as an early heads up to where the band would soon take their sound. They strip away all the embellishments that they’d recently become a little too dependant on, until all you have left is a simple, clinical and altogether intense guitar and drum line stabbing itself into your ears rhythmically. Both the everchanging tempo and JDB’s barked delivery offer the first examples of the perversely militaristic stylings they’d often adopt on their next album, and the crippled and pained guitar solo could probably expect itself to be the subject of a future Richey lyric, so anguished and tragic its existence sounds.
And the line ‘A crutch for enmities saddest glare’?? Can you be any more ‘Holy Bible’??
Rewind the Film, 2013
Too high, you think? Too high?? Listen, maybe you’re too high mate, shut the fuck up with your musical opinion deficiencies and let the real experts speak, OK? Oh, and ketamine doesn’t cure COVID-19, you’ve really misunderstood some news headlines there.
Show Me the Wonder is an absolute… wonder (damnit, Alex, you have a thesaurus right there). There are few songs in the band’s repertoire so damn unashamedly positive and upbeat, and the way JDB delivers the chorus of ‘Show me the wonder/I…. have… seen… the birth. Place of the U-ni-veeeerse’ sends sparkles of pure joy crackling up your spine. Everything about the song is just lovely, from the 70s AOR influenced sound that was apparently the band going for Elvis in Vegas vibes*, to the music video living up to the gimmick of the era by featuring the band playing the song in a 1970s working man’s club, which you imagine has always been one of the band’s impossible dreams.
(*holy peanut butter and banana sandwich, Batman, I only found out about that apparent influence while researching this list, and they absolutely nail it! From now on, I promise to always sing the song in an Elvis Pressley voice going forward. It’s Sep 11th today as well so, I dunno, feels like a fitting tribute to the victims. Tomorrow, I’ll pay tribute to the 900’000+ people killed in the subsequent totally justified reaction of the War on Terror. Oh, I’m sorry, did you not expect this blog post on the Manic Street freaking Preachers to get a tiny bit political at any point??)
The video also contains a momentous moment in Manic Street Preachers history.
Sean has a moustache,
And it’s just adorable.
So long my fatal friends
I don’t mean this to end
I re-imagine the steps you took
Still blinded by your intellect
Go on, who do you think this song is about? Have a guess, come on now. Remember when I spoke about the Severn Bridge in my Ready for Drowning #52 entry, yeah? Y’know, the bridge that was likely the final destination of a Mr Richard Edwards? Someone who could viably be described as Nicky’s fatal friend, yeah? One whose intellect could almost be described as blinding, if you will? So go on, have another guess: who do you think the lead single of ‘Futurology’ was referring to?? Yeah?? You know, don’t you??
To which Nicky replies, no, dude, it’s about a completely different bridge, lolololololol
Yeah, according to Wire you may as well claim that the Prince song ‘All Severn and we watch them fall‘ is about Richey if you’re so desperate to find links you fucking idiot. The bridge referenced to in the song, you absolute plumb, is a long bridge in Norway that the band would often cross during European tours. Once, while crossing over it, Nicky had seriously considered calling it a day with the band, but by the time the tour bus reached the end he had renewed his optimism and commitment and found new optimism and inspiration in the future of the band. So there you go, you shameless ghouls, it has nothing to do with Richey! It’s actually about something really boring!! And Nicky is, like, still blinded by his own intellect, yeah?!
How much of The Norway Explanation™ is simply an exasperated troll of fans and journalists is unclear. Since around roughly the 1st February 1995, the lyrics of every Wire penned Manics lyric has been pored over to excess trying to work out how many of them are direct references to Richey’s life, death and the band’s reaction to each. Honestly? You could probably make an argument for roughly around 93.206% of the songs released between 1996 and 2021 (is that… 25 years??? Fuck, I’m so old. I’m gonna be dead soon. So will you) are at least partially concerned with such an integral and maybe even traumatic period in the band’s history, and personally I’d believe you’d only be maybe a couple of percentage points out in either direction. But still it must irritate to consistently be grilled on your own personal pain, no matter how honest your intentions. Like, almost all of my songs are about that time in PE when I tried to impress my classmates with a particularly stonking fart but ended up shitting my gym shorts and having to wear the basketball gym net for the remainder of the class. Obviously. It was a troubling incident that I don’t expect many of you to fully comprehend. But I don’t want to continuously discuss the event as I still attempt to poetically come to terms with it on my twelfth album! I’ll tell journalists that the song Stinky Britches is about the Armenian Genocide, and the album closer Basketball-on-Ball Action is about… I dunno… Donald Trump or something. The Manics releasing a song called Walk Me to the Bridge is only ever going to elicit one response from people in the know, and the band must know that. While I don’t completely reject The Norway Explanation™, Nicky must have at least seen the poetic symbolism in it. But, hey, it’s art, let’s all read into it how we want, even when the text is so freaking obviously in line with our interpretations.
The song though? DERNERNERNER! Yeah, it’s an absolute stonking hard on. DERNERNERNER! Perhaps the best utilisation of the quiet/loud dynamic in the band’s catalogue. DERNERNER-NER! Definitely the best song on ‘Futurology’, no? Can’t think of a better one…
Oh yeah! How could I forget?! What am I like, with my tired rhetorical devices?!
Black Square is astonishing. The gracious and yet aggressive beating and bloodied heart of the entire ‘Futurology’ album, referencing themes of failed strives for perfection and the apparent contradiction of the importance of that endeavour nonetheless. Shit, referencing themes that have been at the band’s core their whole career. ‘Let us wipe the slate clean let us dig our own graves/Let us choose our own wars and make our own mistakes’. And, this being the Manics, they do so by fully or partially quoting Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele, French philosopher Paul Valéry and the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich, whose collection of paintings of black squares on white canvases, in protest of the stifling restrictions on Russian artistic expression at the time is one of seminal works of abstract art and gives the song its title.
Black Square isn’t just setting homework and further reading though (even if that’s what the best Manics songs should always do!), it’s one of the album’s and the band’s most experimental and musically ingenious songs, yet still understands the simple power of a killer chorus. If you’ve never heard the song, you’re extremely lucky to just be introduced to it, and if you’ve heard it before I can guarantee that you’ve forgotten how fucking amazing it is.
Journal for Plague Lovers, 2009
Haven’t shaved for days
Keeps the appearance of delay
The luxury of one more dye
Pretend humility, the ugly lie
I would prefer no choice
One bread, one milk, one food, that’s all
I’m confused, I only want one truth
I really don’t mind being lied to
I’ve probably just about milked all of the lols possible out of the ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ album already, a record not previously noted for being a particular lolcow. All is Vanity is the album’s highlight, an absolute rock stomper musically, but probably most ingenious because of the lyric, which manages to combine mental frailty and support for Communism in a truly challenging and uncomfortable way. Now I’m a fan of Communism as much as the next right thinking person (well, not right thinking, but you get what I mean), but All is Vanity makes me question the reasoning behind that, and if yearning for such a system is really a desire to have full autonomy taken away from me. Maybe frustration with the consumerism inherent in Capitalism isn’t merely about the paradox of choice, or the illusion of choice, it’s about having any choice at all. Perhaps a yearning for this sort of system of social organisation comes from a desire for the responsibility of a locus of control to be exported. Which I… kinda… see… Maybe there are choices that I simply don’t want to make. Just give me one bread, one milk, one food. Let me concentrate on the important things in my life. Like finishing this freaking blog post.
Given the ridiculous schisms widening up between the correct left and the absolutely dumb right in 2021, is it more important to have your side ‘win’, or that we just all agree to accept one ‘truth’? There are plenty of people already (come on, let’s not mess about, definitely one one side rather than the other) that don’t mind being lied to as long as it solidifies their already held views. Wouldn’t we be happier if we weren’t so divided? Is free speech overrated, actually just a tool for creating division?
Fuck, this song only has 16 lines. And three of those are ‘It’s a fact of life, sunshine’.
Hey, did you enjoy that little bit of questioning accepted Leftist beliefs?? Well do I have the song for you!
Musically, The Love of Ricard Nixon is absolutely stunning. Restrained yet infectious synths tie in into the wider sound of ‘Lifeblood’, but it’s a far darker beast than anything else on the album, gorgeously malevolent and, as is often the case with the Manics, a complete red herring of a lead single. It absolutely oozes with malicious melody though, with the tunefulness and delivery of the ‘Love build around the sandy beaches/Love rains down like Vietnam’s leeches’ lines in particular being worthy of a thousand ‘ChefsKiss.gif’ responses. If the song was called The Love of Lyndon B Johnson and the lyrics were exclusively about the former US president’s penis, this gorgeous song would still open our top 20.
They’re not though. The lyrics are instead a call for the former US president Richard Nixon- him of the insane paranoia and Watergate scandal- to be afforded a little more respect (‘People forget China and your war on cancer’). Which… yeah… alright… It’s an interesting position to take. The song makes a lot more sense to me if you look at it calling for more nuance in evaluating people in history rather than following the tired zero sum ‘Great/Sucky Men’ narrative. Nixon was arguably a more left wing president than many of the Democratic ones who followed him, especially considering how nobody else seriously considered the introduction of a Universal Basic Income… but then he also started the absolutely evil War on Dugs while members of his staff explicitly confirmed how it was designed to target black communities then he also declined to end the Vietnam War (which at the time was the USA’s most catastrophic conflict and still remains in the top five to this day) because he thought it would help him get re-elected… So, yeah, maybe the song should have been called ‘The Complications of Richard Nixon’. Good song though, and how often do musical acts so frequently give you ‘talking points’??
Everything Must Go,1996
What’s the point in always looking back
When all you see is more and more junk?
The band’s greatest ever album closer, and a simply perfect conclusion to the emotional yet triumphant stadium rock roller coaster that was 1996’s comeback ‘Everything Must Go’. Also, apparently, the song’s outro contains one of the only ever recorded instances of Richey Edward playing the guitar he always pretended to be able to do onstage. You did good, Ricky-Boy, you did good.
Gold Against the Soul, 1993
In this country people die emotionally at 21, maybe younger. My responsibility as an artist is to help them get past 21Quote by John Cassavetes on the single cover
Most of the band turned 24 in 1993. Yeah, they were in a moderately successful rock band. Yeah, they’d achieved their teenage dreams of combining the licks of G’N’F’n’R with the politics of McCarthy. Yeah, their unique stylings had inspired a dedicated fan following. Yeah, they’d played on Top of the Pops. But the fact that they even needed to record a second album was an admission of failure. 16 million albums, remember? The very existence of ‘GATS’ was the band lowering their heads in shame and morosely stepping back onto the meat grinder. Bollocks. We have to make an actual career out of this…
The sad admission that they were likely in for the long haul (twenty. Nine. Years ago) lead to them writing one of the greatest rock songs of the modern era.
Yeah, I said it. You come here for cold takes?? Move along, sister, the big girls are talking.
The band’s co-manager – to this day thank you very much – Martin Hall was convinced that the song would be number one all over the world, likening it to, erm, Maggie May by Rod Stewart because, well… I guess because he was really old. But why wouldn’t it?? Despair… is the sound of the band making a Faustian pact with popular culture, recording a track they believed would best align the band’s ambitions with commercial rock radio. And they fucking nailed it so hard that they made similar attempts made recently by Metallica on their 1991 self-titled album look amateur by comparison. That Metallica album eventually sold, wait for it, sixteen million copies (seriously), and Despair… was the song that was going to indisputably offer the band seats at that same table. An absolute rock beast, that sees Sean Moore making up for lost time (all his drum parts were done by a machine on the first album) by absolutely stealing the show with a performance that sees him hitting those drums and snares like he fucking hates them. Containing an ounce of subtlety- which marks it out on the same album that contains Nostalgic Pushead and Symphony of Tourettes– with the quiet/loud dynamic, which the band have always utilised better than any band not called Pixies, making the song one of the most thrilling three minutes and thirty four seconds anyone’s likely to experience outside entering a particularly euphoric subspace after a particularly draining session with, that’s right, your Mum. As part of the pact, the band toned down the politics and the sloganeering of the first album and instead wrote an introspective classic that even Fred in accounts would be able to relate to. Then there’s strings. Strings! Despair… is the band grasping that brass ring so hard that their palms bleed, and at last finally being considered proper rock royalty.
The song reached #25 in the UK charts. Fuck these noise, thought the band, let’s make an album about anorexia and the Holocaust. Oh, and supporting the death penalty! Then we’ll get the respect we deserve!
The Holy Bible, 1994
Let killers view themselves like they view the world
They pick at the holes
Not punish less, rise the pain, sterilise rapists
All I preach is extinction
Kill Yeltsin, who’s saying?
Zhirinovsky, Le Pen
Hindley and Brady, Ireland, Allit, Sutcliffe
Dahmer, Nielson, Yoshinori, Ueda
Blanche and Pickles, Amin, Manic Street Preachers
Give them the respect they deserve
Listen, this post is already over 27’000 words. If I wrote 100’000 words on the astonishing Archives of Pain I would likely not even be able to adequately crack the surface of one of the most complex and widely debated songs in the band’s back catalogue. Sorry, I’m underplaying this: the most complex and widely debated song. And the most controversial. And the most… Unsettling? Disturbing? Challenging? Mate, there’s a lot going on here, it even stands out as dark and worrying on The Holy freaking Bible.
So, is it a celebration of corporal punishment? Yes. Yes it is. That’s really not up for debate here. This pretty much entirely Richey penned lyric is absolutely and fervently in favour of retributive punishment and brutal forfeiture. That’s the text. The only question is the intentions of the writer. Some fans have attempted to argue – shocked at the possible perversion of an accepted leftist position – that Richey is actually writing in the character and from the perspective of the band’s ideological opponents. Which is fine, read whatever you want to in a piece of art, that’s your prerogative*, and anyone’s reading is as legitimate as anyone else’s, including the band themselves. I would just argue that your reading is absolutely not evident in the text. You could perhaps argue that it simply presents another person’s opinion and leaves the moral interpretation up to the listener, similar to the, erm, ‘problematic’ views on anorexia extolled by the protagonist of our #9 song. The difference though is that #9 song is explicitly in character, while Archives… is completely in the author’s own voice. Even Nicky has attempted to dampen the hysteria around the track, claiming that it was actually an argument against the fascination and glorification of serial killers in the media and wider culture (and this was decades before the true crime documentary boom). This is a widely held belief, and one with slightly more merit than the ‘character’ defence, but I would still argue that – aside from the ‘Give them the respect they deserve’ refrain – it’s not completely evident in the text. I’ve said ‘text’ a lot, haven’t I? Because this is a proper review.
(*everybody talking all this stuff about you, why can’t they just let you live?)
Jesus, I didn’t want to write to much about this song, but it’s just so damn deep! My two cents is that the song is absolutely in favour of the death penalty, it’s far too considerate of the speaker’s point of view to be understood as supporting the opposite view. Also, the line ‘Nail it to the House of Lords/You will be buried in the same box as a killer’ suggest that Richey knew that this was a controversial belief and was questioning why that was the case. Fuck, man, maybe it’s just an eristic troll, Richey writing a deliberately provocative affront to liberal values, like he was the mid-90s version of Kanye West. Or maybe it’s just a conversation starter, designed to inspire useless debate such as this. Maybe Richey was just in favour of the death penalty. All we ever talk about is shit like ‘author’s intentions’, but we never actually attempt to argue with the statements made in the song. Is that because we… can’t…
Anyway, fuck all this pseudo-intellectual bullshit, let’s just go through the people Richey wants to execute! Fun!
Introduced neoliberalism to post Soviet Russia, selling off important assets and resources for pennies and created all the oligarchs who own those lovely houses you pass on your long commute to work
An absolute ‘gift of an insanely nationalistic Russian politician who is still up to his nonsense to very day! Once suggested building huge fans on the Russian borders to blow all radioactive waste into the Balkan states. Frequently breaks out into fist fight during debates, ensuring viral internet immortality. Once said that America was full of “cocksuckers, handjobbers, and faggots” and, Jesus Christ, called Condoleezza Rice “a black whore who needs a good cock. Send her here, one of our divisions will make her happy in the barracks one night. She will choke on Russian sperm as it will be leaking out of her ears… until she crawls to the US embassy in Moscow on her knees”. Seriously, this guy is a lot.
Standard immigrant hating far right prick. Just saying, if we did execute Jean-Marie sometime in late 1968, we’d be saved a lot of bullshit, and also be spared the conceiving of the equally odious Marine. Why didn’t we ever listen to the Manics? They tried to save us! Hmmm. Might be coming around to this song…
Myra Hindley and Ian Brady
Needs little introduction or explanation. In the UK, they’re pretty much as popular and as gossiped about as the Kardashians. Hmmm. Might be coming around to this song…
Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh… British serial killer who managed to brutally kill five homosexual men in three months in 1993 and was hence known as the – Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh!! – ‘Gay Slayer’. Fuck you, Richey, for forcing me to read up on all these people.
Jesus H Christ, this is how I’m spending my Sunday? Beverley was a nurse who attempted to kill thirteen children by giving them overdoses of insulin over a 59 day period in 1991. Four died. Sorry, I was underselling it with ‘children’. They were babies. She killed four babies and attempted to kill nine more. She’s up for parole in 2023.
He really was truly very sorry. Yorkshire Ripper, murdered 13 women and attempted to kill seven more. Archives… opens with a recording of the mother of one of his victims:
I wonder who you think you are
You damn well think you’re God or something?
God give life, God taketh it away, not you
I think you are the Devil itselfIrene MacDonald, the mother of Jayne MacDonald, 16 years old when she was murdered
Wow, this guy did it all! Rape, cannibalism, dismemberment, necrophilia… If you’re playing ‘Gross Murderers Top Trumps’, then Dahmer is the card that you’ll really want to hold onto. Was apparently also known as the ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’, but that was obviously a failed attempt at branding as I don’t think it really took off.
Sigh… Yeah, another serial killer. Killed at least twelve young men by strangulation and/or drowning. Can I stop soon?? How many freaking gross people did they manage to fit into this chorus??
Christ, this guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. A real ‘deep cut’ (as it were) serial killer there, Richey, kudos. He killed five people in the early 90s, but thankfully he was released after pleading insanity.
Less a ‘serial killer’, which is a welcome change of pace, and more an ‘absolute piece of shit’. South African white nationalist who encouraged violence to preserve minority rule in protest of the end of apartheid. Thankfully, he was murdered in 2010…No, I don’t mean ‘thankfully’, I just… Shit, I don’t even know any more…
Wow, really small time, very much the Ringo Starr in this group of horrendous reprobates. Controversial judge who wasn’t really a fan of rape victims, didn’t know who The Beatles were and was unanimously described as ‘colourful’ upon his death, which is the polite way of saying ‘cunty’.
Yeah, you all know him, he was in that film. And wasn’t Forest Whitaker fabulous?
Another homicidal, suicidal, genocidal maniac. However, he did actually run for the 2000 Yugoslavian presidency despite being charged the year before by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with war crimes in connection with the Bosnian War, which is a bit of a flex, you have to admit.
Some silly Welsh rock band that somehow inspire intense devotion among dangerous incels well into their 30s and…
Wait a minute… Give them… the respect…they… deserve…?
Seriously, Razorblade, not the time. Read the fucking room.
Generation Terrorists, 1992
You need your stars, even killers have prestige.
Access to a living you will not see.
Twenty-four boredom, I’m convicted instantly.
Gorgeous poverty of created needs
Phew, feels good to get back to cock rock where the balls of the cock in question are absolutely to the wall, doesn’t it?
Slash ‘N’ Burn might not technically be the greatest opening track in the band’s history, but there may not be a more perfect introductory song on a band’s debut album in the 150 or so years of recorded music. It’s all here – the wildly dated* hair metal stylings; the disparate influences (critics immediately pointed out how the song’s title may as well have been ‘Slash ‘N’ Axl’) in an era when you were only allowed to be influenced by either Nirvana or Madchester; the impossibly breathtaking sloganeering (‘3rd world to the first/Kill to live!’, ‘Chained to economy now famine has been!’, ‘Politics here’s death and god is safer sex!’); some lyrics that are laughably yet somehow also provocatively terrible (‘Worms in the garden more real than McDonalds/Drain your blood and let Exxon spill in!’, ‘Madonna drinks coke and so can you too/Tastes real good not like sweet poison should!’).
(*in 1992 at least, I’m sure it’s eagerly come in and then laughably fallen out of fashion on at least fourteen separate occasions in the near 30 years since)
It might have multiple issues – ranging from a laughably tinny production to… well… did you not see that Madonna line?? – but Slash… simply overflows with charm. It also screamed “This band is really something“, it was an unashamed rallying cry for a cult that would soon envelop those brave/dumb enough to be drawn in by the high camp punk/glam/metal revolution the band were demanding while also winking at their audience and suggesting their tongues were at least partially caressing the inside of their cheeks. It also screamed the obvious belief that this band would soon become the biggest freaking thing in the world – surely Slash… would only make total sense if 60’000+ stadium attendees were screaming along?? – and who wouldn’t want to get in on the ground floor here??
Oh! And lipstick and feather boas! Did we mention those??
A framed adolescence steeped in the history of you
Stopping the summer once for you
Experience is lost on me, I am melancholia eternally
But I still smile so stupidly
For the first time ever
I don’t understand my television
And just like a moment in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
I’m perpetually stuck in sepia film
The band’s greatest b-side and – holy unwritten diaries, Batman – maybe they have always been a great b-sides band, despite what I previously said. Listen, this list is otherwise an intensely scientific study of the band’s musical evolution using maths and charts that I couldn’t possibly expect someone like you to understand – Slash and Burn ended up with a score of (((2!!!x3)/0.1)/6×10^4)-(((500000/5)+2.39)/w)x10391304347x((dx10^-4)+0.175838)/200000–0.159585, so was obviously ranked slightly higher than Archives of Pain, which only received a score of 2∑n=1∞∑k=12n(−1)n+1(2π)2n(2n−k+1)!(12πi)k. But the painfully beautiful Sepia is as high as it is simply for personal reasons, reasons I probably cannot and definitely will not properly explain.
Yes, it’s a song about Richey – in a series of either 367 or 26’905 depending on how you read into later songs – but it’s the most beautifully worded and perhaps the most nakedly emotional response to his disappearance, and perhaps even the first time the band managed to explicitly face up to the weight of his (at the time) recent departure from a band who had always styled themselves as a Gang of Four. Musically, the song isn’t really anything special, with only really a suitably fuzzy and confused guitar solo marking it out as anything above typical radio rock fare. Those lyrics though – lordy lou those lyrics! – are perhaps the greatest of the ‘EMG’ era (it was the b-side of Kevin Carter, our #33 entrant), and maybe, just maybe, might be the greatest lyrics that Nick Wire has ever penned solo*. It catches Nicky in an especially vulnerable position soon after Richey’s disappearance, where for the first time the band were mentioned on the proper news and Wire doesn’t even understand his TV. It’s an achingly affecting celebration of a (perhaps?) platonic male friendship, and the line ‘No, you never kissed me, never felt anything for me’ hits hard, as well as simply screaming for deeper discussion
(*although apparently our #2 entry might have been penned almost or completely exclusively by Wire, and that lyric is pretty fucking untouchable. It’s their second best ever song, did you hear?)
The chorus’s mention of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ (which on paper really shouldn’t scan, but totally works) references the final scene, where BC and SK run out of hiding to apparent certain death, only for the screen to pause and then fade into sepia, the real endings of our two heroes forever ambiguous. Nicky links this to how he feels his story with Richey is now put on hold, the two of them perpetually (the way JDB delivers that one word will cause dangerous explosions in your undergarments) stuck in some kind of limbo, with the true resolution a mystery perhaps forever. 25 years on… yeah… it was a good shout. JDB’s vocal performance absolutely elevates the song as well, being one of the few people on Earth who could truly understand the pain that Wire is describing. His screamed delivery of the line ‘And these unwritten diaries/That can never breathe, NEEEEEEEEE-ver breeeeeeaaathe!’ is spine-collapsingly exquisite.
Sniff… No, it’s just a fly or some shit that’s got in my eye…
14 Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky
Everything Must Go, 1996
Back to 1996, back to Richey Edwards (this time a song penned by Edwards himself that could be read as an epitaph on his career with the band. Y’know, if you were into that kind of stuff), back to absolute un-fucking-impeachable beauty.
Back in the 90s, my best friend (to this day) asked me what Small Black Flowers… was about. When I told him it was about zoo animals, before I even got to bore on about the obvious links to Richey’s own mental state, he replied:
Fucking hell, they complain about everything, don’t they??Christopher George Lisett
I had no comeback to that…
I don’t want cause I just get,
All your slut heroes offer is a fear of the future,
Past made useless cause I’m dying now,
Communal tyranny, a jail that bleeds our wrists.
Motown, Motown junk
I laughed when Lennon got shot,
Twenty one years of living and nothing means anything to me.
Motown junk a lifetime of slavery,
Songs of love echo underclass betrayal,
Stops your heart beating for one to ten seconds,
Stops your brain thinking for one to ten seconds,
Revolution, revolution, revolution, revolution, revolution….
Yeah, that was as especially long quote to open this piece, but I’m more concerned about not including every single one of the 35 lines of this undisputable and singular punk rock classic. They are all absolute killers. This is the Manics’ calling card, their theme tune, their furious yet joyful call to arms and statement of intent. It wasn’t technically their debut single (it followed the kinda crappy and kinda Richeyless Suicide Alley and the kinda awesome but kinda amateur New Art Riot EP) but it was their first on a proper label (Heavenly) and their first song where they properly worked out what this band would sound like and what it would be about. Motown… is the sound of a band hitting on lightning in a bottle early on and realising that they desperately needed to lay out their whole manifesto, their whole philosophy in this 225 seconds of absolute genius that they’d unexpectedly fallen into. Motown… is the sound of a band that doesn’t believe they’ll ever get a chance to record a song ever again, so wanted to make sure they aggressively booted this one opportunity out if the park. It might be why it remains in the bands’ setlist thirty years later, the band looking back after a long and successful career on a moment when they had no idea if they’d be back to Blackwood the next day so wanted to absolutely blitz every. Single. Second.
Even the cover, a depiction of a watch forever stopped by the bomb on Hiroshima, seemed to chime with the general feeling that this was everything, that it was all going to end soon so the band may as well take the opportunity to remind you that all your slut heroes offer is a fear of the future (whoo-ah-hoo). They live in urban hell, they destroy rock and roll.
The song remains a standard to this day, with the band commenting that when/if they finally get bored of playing this era-defining classic live they’ll know that it might be time to pack it all if. However, JDB has long chosen not to sing the wonderfully edgelord lyric ‘I laughed when Lennon got shot’, occasionally replacing Lennon’s name with Reagan (also good, two thumbs up from me), but more often just cutting the line short to ‘I laughed’.
Fucking cowards. Don’t censor the truth…
Everything Must Go (duh), 1996
Dum. Dum-dum (diddle-ee). Dum. Dum-dum (diddle-ee). Dum. Dum-dum (diddle-ee). Daka-dak, daka-dak, dak-daka-dak. Sing along people in the back.
After Richey left, the band needed a new theme song. All of a sudden, Lennon getting shot barely mustered a smile, and the band were really in two minds over whether rock and roll would have to be violently dismantled. The title track and necessarily the central statement of the most unlikely of comebacks set it all on the line both lyrically and musically. The song is a breathtaking piece of bombast, with the excess of strings and production that sounds like it was recorded in the Large Hadron Collider creating perhaps the band’s most awe inspiring moment and – in a line repeated so often I feel dirty even saying it now- the best Bond theme that never was. The lyrics were, for better or worse, a huge signifier of the direction Nicky was largely going to be taking in the future as the band’s chief scribe – allusions to moving on, accepting change, how things will never be the same, heavy references to Richey and light references to wider societal issues , but generally vague enough to interpret your own meaning (‘I look to the future it makes me cry/But it seems too real to tell you why’). Because of the context and circumstances, you could only read it as a comment on the band wanting to move on from their past (Nicky Wire said, rather more succinctly, that it was telling the fans “If you didn’t like it, fuck off”) and be ‘Freed from the memory/Escape from our history’ (HIS-TO-RAAAY!!! Another exemplar JDB performance), which is kind of funny considering that songs about being in the Manics in the 90s make up roughly 48% of all their tracks over the next 25 years. The album recently released in 2021 opens with the line ‘I’m walking on my own, it’s 1993’, and is about a tour of Japan they did that year.
A bit of love for Sean Moore. Often the forgotten Manic, he was never at the front spouting revolutionary bile in the early days, he spent the ‘GATS’ era dressed and acting like Silent Bob, he spent the ‘THB’ era in a little beret that just made him look adorable, and to to this day he will always sit silently behind JDB and Nicky Wire and let them comment on whatever it is he’s supposed to be doing these days. His near reclusive status has, obviously, lead to a certain section of Manics fandom getting ever so obsessed with him. Apparently he’s really into his guns and shooting, so would have really been behind the ‘fuck the brady Bill’ sentiments of ifwhiteamerica… at #40. I heard, yeah, that he owns two houses next door to each other, one for himself and one for his wife, which… I can… sympathise with… It’s been widely accepted that Shawn the Sheep is a thinly veiled biography. I also hear that he’s the cousin’s friend that Nicki Minaj was referencing, as he did indeed plan to marry in Trinidad before his testicles inflated massively due to the side affects of the COVID vaccine. To understand the impact, you have to know that, even normally, San Moore’s testicles are huge. So big that you can still find early gig reviews where the writer mistakenly thought it curious that Sean arrived on stage while supported by two separate yoga balls. I hear that Sean Moore is officially the only white person in the world with a certified ‘N-Word Pass’, but he never uses it, because that’s the kind of guy he is. I hear that he holds the world record for a Mario Kart 64 speed run on Rainbow Road. He’s, like, five full seconds ahead of the person in second place. Astonishing stuff.
Some of those were true. Maybe. You just don’t know with Sean, it’s like making assumptions on the social life of the Chinshakiangosaurus. We’re never going to get confirmation.
However, outside his marital arrangements and his enormous testicles, what I really wanted to appreciate here is the guy’s drumming. Absolutely in the conversation when you’re talking of the greatest rock drummers of all time, Sean’s explosive talents elevate so many Manics songs, providing impeccable bases for the songs to be built upon and playing an essential part in the oomph that characterises all the bands’ greatest songs. Everything…might be his crowning achievement, aided by a amazingly vast engineering by Ian Grimble that makes every drum hit sound like it’s a boulder dropping into an empty theatre, it’s an astonishingly complex but nevertheless stirring performance that could either be to celebrate the winning of World War 3 or to warn of impending destruction. The song is a rare Manics track that doesn’t really push guitars to the fore, instead allowing the string and drums to take centre stage, and Sean relishes the opportunity to blow the listener away.
Did I mention the trumpet playing? Yeah, that’s him on #33 Kevin Carter. Is there anything this polymath can’t do?
Gold Against the Soul, 1993
My idea of love comes from
A childhood glimpse of pornography
Though there is no true love
Just a finely tuned jealousy
When JDB sings Richey’s lyric of ‘I don’t wanna be a man’, he’s not awkwardly transbaiting like Wire would later even less elegantly attempt on ‘TIMTTMY’s Born a Girl. He means he doesn’t want to be an adult. The whole song is about (wait or it) life becoming a landslide after birth, it’s got nothing to do with gender identity, instead how your whole life getting near traumatically complex after ‘Very first second a screaming icon’. Why does nobody get that?? Is it the mention of pornography, because only men like porno??
Sorry, I fucking love this song, and I find all of the writers describing its lyrics as ‘confused’ are obviously more confused themselves. Is the song itself confused?? Well…it can’t really decide whether it’s a solemn acoustic ballad or a meaty stadium rock shout along… Yeah, OK, you might have a point, but fuck all y’all, this song rules.
Circle the wagons, we’re under attack
We’ve realised there’s no going back
Into the top ten with the gorgeous Synths ‘n’ Sadness opener to the ridiculously undervalued ‘LB’ album, for years perhaps the most unfairly overlooked song in the band’s catalogue*, and the highest ranking song from the 21st century (!) if you were wondering what era of Manics fan I generally am. It acts as a great companion piece to Everything Must Go, just with the bombast scaled out to more elegiac levels, the strings replaced by synths, and the lyrics both far more specific and far more… sigh… mournful. Hey, remember being young?, Nicky asks, Have I ever wrote a song about that before? Lyrically it combines different references to events happening around the time – such as Torvill and Dean winning gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics, the music of The Smiths and, obviously, the Miners’ Strike (‘The Civil War failed, why?’) – while also referencing some notable event that lead to Nicky ‘Losing all that I had’ and the the band ‘realised there’s no going back’. The Manic Street Preachers would form in 1986. Hey! I thought you were all escaped from your memory and freed from your history?! What gives?!
(*I notice that this is thankfully being rectified recently, with it featuring high on many people’s best ever lists. These things take time when only 24 people have ever heard the Lifeblood album)
Musically, 1985 is a sweeping and gorgeous piece, dramatic and stirring without needing to go ‘full James Bond’. It’s as forward thinking and experimental musically as the lyrics are nostalgic and centred on the past. It’s musically perfect, the perfect opener for the ‘LB’ album, and a near enough perfect song.
The Holy Bible, 1994
Self-worth scatters, self-esteem’s a bore
I long since moved to a higher plateau
This discipline’s so rare so please applaud
Just look at the fat scum who pamper me so
Yeah, 4st 7lb, an epilogue of youth
Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse
I’ve finally come to understand life
Through staring blankly at my navel
Alright, alright stop screaming at the back, I’ll get to the fucking lyrics in a second, calm down. Are you really that desperate to hear this sad old pathetic fanboy add another take upon the burning piles of reactions to what must be one of the most overanalysed and discussed lyrics in British rock history??
Even if the lyrics were ‘One, two, three, four, five/Everybody eating disorder, so come on, let’s ride/I like Karen, Kate, Emma and Ryvita/See my third rib appear so you know they getting sweeter’, 4st 7lb would still be one of the band’s greatest ever songs. Musically, it not only sounds quite unlike anything else in the bands’ canon, but pretty much unlike any other song ever recorded. The stabbing, relentless guitar belies the perverted optimism of the music, like a Britney Spears anthem to female empowerment performed by a malfunctioning sex robot refusing to acknowledge that its lower body had been torn off and it was rapidly losing functions as a result of massive oil loss. And every description you attempt will soon be rendered redundant, as the song completely changes its tempo, mood and atmosphere roughly every thirty seconds, leading up to the huge twist around two thirds of the way through where the song turns into a grotesque rock ballad and slowly… staggers… to a halt…as the walls close in and the song itself seems to attempt to recklessly carry on despite the world collapsing around it. Shit, 4st 7lb doesn’t even need lyrics, it’s so musically accomplished that the sheer horror of delusion is seeped into every chord.
It’s music that necessitates a powerful lyric, so it’s nice of Richey to step up with perhaps the most powerful, disturbing and intellectually confrontational lyric he ever wrote. Yes, even including those ones about the Holocaust and the death penalty. Even on ‘The Hoy effing Bible’, 4st 7lb is the centrepiece where all hope goes to die, where all optimism is shown to be the deluded cries of an extremely sick person. It’s from the viewpoint of a woman (young girl? Teenager?) suffering from the same anorexia nervosa that Richey suffered from, laying out the ways/weighs in which she believes she is successfully managing to control her body and reach purity, her attempts to ‘Walk in the snow/and not leave a footprint’. The young woman is not just attempting to lose weight in order to imitate the Kates (Moss) and Kristens (McMenamy) of the world, she wants to lessen her very existence (‘I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view’), to accept all consequences on her road to what she believes is perfection.
The lyrics from her viewpoint even reject that this is even a bad thing. Sure, her cheeks are sunken, her skin is ‘Stretching taut, cling film on bone’, her stomach’s collapsed, her vision’s blurry, but such self-control has lead her to a ‘higher plateau’, there’s ‘Such beautiful dignity in self abuse’. There are references to the sort of perverted vanity that Richey would come back to again and again in his lyrics (see #21), but there’s also a disturbing respect for the girl in the lyrics. It can easily be read as a borderline sick appreciation of the protagonist’s stance, that she is a Bobby Sands figure willing to go through such crushing pain in order to doggedly uphold her beliefs. The final lines which I quoted a the start of this piece seem to crow all the horror that we’ve encountered (4st 7lb is explicit in its descriptions of the suffering) to finally have the girl say “Hey, you gotta respect this hustle though, no??#GirlBoss”.
Disturbing, endlessly debatable, absolutely unparalleled in rock music, and a stone cold fucking masterpiece. But, erm, yeah, here’s a list of UK helplines if you think you might be suffering from an eating disorder.
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits then I can shoot fascistsA statement we can all get behind
Number one single, ladies and gentlemen.
Yeah, you probably know this one. Quick pro tip for wedding DJs: Tolerate… generally gets a better reaction than 4st 7lb.
It’s pretty astonishing that, just four years after scarring a generation with the artistically alarming and commercially laughably unfeasible ‘THB’, The Manics were number one with a single that, lyrically, didn’t really veer too far away from their classic beliefs and intentions much at all. Hey! They even mention the Fascists! You know they love mentioning the fascists! A deep and thoughtful lyric about questioning whether you’d actually have the strength of your convictions to drop everything and go and physically fight fascism, like Welsh farmers who joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Sure, we pinkie lefties love to read about anti-fascism, and we can debate anyone you want on Reddit about the true nature of protests, but do we have anywhere near the 大胆子 needed to stand up and physically fight to protect our beliefs? ‘Monuments put from pen to paper/Turns me into a gutless wonder’. Again, this was all in a number one single. You know what’s number one right now? Ed Sheeran. Again?? He was number one the last time I did this bit! This time with a different song! What is wrong with this country?? Anyway, Ed’s latest is “an ode to making your feelings known, with the four-time Grammy winner making proclamations of adoration throughout the track“. If I can shoot rabbits…
But, seriously, fuck the lyrics for a second, musically Tolerate… is absolutely impeccable and the large reason why the track should always be considered one of the great British rock songs. It’s technically a slow song, but it builds up to such a freaking astonishing crescendo that my mate Darren – you don’t know him, he lives in Scotland – said that simply listening to the building organ and guitar solo made his girlfriend give birth to triplets. She wasn’t even pregnant! Darren, apparently – and this is just what I heard – was also shitting himself with joy at the time. The entire second half of the song is just an emotional whirligig, gorgeously produced and arranged. The moment when JDB sings ‘And on the street tonight/An old man plays with newspaper cuttings of his glory days’ before one last ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand’ launches us into the chorus again, is honestly one of the most spine-tingling and joyous moments in music.
And it was originally recorded as a b-side!! It was only when the signature ‘whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ treated organ sound was added that the band realised what magic they’d happened upon. Before that, for a comeback single, the band were seriously considering – and you’ll like this – Be Natural! I mean, seriously, what the actual fuck, guys??
Generation Terrorists, 1992
Life lies a slow suicide
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power
Just like lungs sucking on air
Survival’s natural as sorrow, sorrow, sorrow
Honestly, I was today years old when I realised it wasn’t ‘symbolic mayhem‘ or ‘From feudal serf to splendour‘. Jesus, James, learn to fucking enunciate correctly, yeah?
Despite the fact that the band seemed to represent the greatest party welcoming the oncoming apocalypse, being in the Manics in their early years wasn’t always a lot of fun. They would be playing to half empty pubs to laddish crowds loudly demanding that this bunch of effeminate ponces throw on some baggy shirts and play Waterfall. They weren’t taken seriously by the wider press, who generally refused to consider this collection of slogan bathed Barbie dolls as any more legitimate than Sigue Sigue Sputnik, they were obviously some crass comedy band taking away essential coverage from Crowded House and the The Housemartins (we were big into house music in the early 90s). They were not only mocked for their heritage – because, unbelievably, the idea of a band being Welsh at the time was still laughable – but forced away from the only place they’d known their entire lives and forced to mainly live in fucking London. Everyone hates London. I know that the people who actually live there like to pretend they don’t, but that’s only because they’ve been victim of horrendous gaslighting on a near genocidal scale. Sad, really.
The band never let it grind them down though. They always knew that they had Motorcycle Emptiness in their back pocket. They knew they had an unquestionable classic ready to unleash at any time.
Go Buzz Baby Go (eugh…) and Behave Yourself Baby (euuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh…) were two early, pre-Richey even, Manics demos that were way back from when they were obviously still in their ‘baby’ phase. They were both – and I want to be as polite as possible here- absolute fucking pish. Buzz Baby… had something about it, admittedly, but Behave… might be up there with the most offensively horrendous pieces of music that the band ever dared record. Honestly? I’d prefer to listen to You Stole the Sun From My Heart*. They didn’t realise at the time that they were assembling the blocks for their first legitimate entry into the rock canon. The band took pieces of these early piles of trash, added one of the greatest guitar line of all time (neeeer noo. Niddle-niddle neeeer noo. Diddle-iddle-diddle-iddle-diddle-iddle-diddle-iddle!), and ended up with an undisputable all time classic, the absolute unarguable proof of the band’s singular talent, very much their own Sweet Child O’ Mine (only, y’know, better), and it showed that – despite the band’s protestations to the contrary – they were here to motherfucking stay.
(*OK, I’m exaggerating here for effect, but Behave Yourself Baby is still really bad)
Because most people hadn’t heard their early, far more complex and technicality proficient b-sides such as We Her Majesty’s Prisoners (#35) or the Heavenly version of Spectators of Suicide (#29), as soon as the debut album was released containing this seemingly impossible step up artistically many immediately claimed that Motorcycle… couldn’t possibly be from the same doofuses responsible for the disrespectfully light hearted Slash ‘N’Burn (#17). Bleats of ghost writers and industry plants were dribbled out by the same horrendously serious music appreciators who threw a similar shit fit when it was revealed that Richey’s guitar was never actually plugged in when they played live. To be honest, there was slightly more truth to the accusations than the band and their fans would probably be willing to admit – that ‘ghost writer’ was JDB, for whom Motorcycle… is an early calling card and proof of his effervescent talents. He was the only band member to play on the record (though Sean programmed the drum machine and would have no problem replicating it live), taking over Nicky’s bass parts and (cough) “Richey’s” rhythm parts to ensure decent quality. It would take another six months after the album’s release before (cough) “the two of them” would feel confident enough to play the song live. Richey had learned his air guitar poses down to a motherfucking T by that point.
This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, 1998
So, we arrive back at the eternal question that has plagued Manics fans for almost 25 years now: “Is Alex too hard on TIMTTMY?”
I reminisced and reread my revolutionary 2019 rereview recently, reckoning whether it was ready for revaluation. And, wow, I go in pretty hard on the album, still obviously unable to get over that moment as a late teenage boy when I felt I had been abandoned by the band I love. Now, approximately 23 years and two weeks after the record’s release, am I grown up and rational enough to detach the great emotional betrayal I felt from that album when I was a typically restrained and unemotioal teenage boy?
No. No I’m not. Well, maybe a bit…
I still stand by a lot of what I said in that review. My hatred for The Everlasting and (as I might have mentioned) You Stole the Sun From My Heart are still very much in place, and the utter vacancy of the music and lyrics on those two pieces of trash still mean that 50% of the singles released from the band’s fifth album were absolute stinkers. I still believe that nonsense like I’m Not Working, Born a Girl and (oh God, please mummy, not this again) S.Y.M.M are among the worst excuses for songcraft the band have ever been shameless enough to release. But I was too hard on You’re Tender and You’re Tired (#92) and Black Dog on My Shoulder (#75), perhaps wanting to build a more convincing narrative of the album going off a cliff after tracks 2-6, forgetting that You Stole… is track 3 and the album’s stinkiness is more liberally spread across the whole album. And…
Yeah, that’s it. No, this album still ain’t no good (I think that’s well understood). Will you please stop having me return to it only to come away with the exact same appraisal??
Yeah, anyway, 50% of the singles are shite. The other two? Well, we’ve already seen Tolerate… at number eight. Then we also have another classic, which might not make number one… but happily comes in somewhere… In between, in between, in between, in between!!
Tsunami is a perfect rock song. When you go to rock school, Tsunami is the final exam that you have to perfect. It’s anthemic; it’s experimental but not so much to offset the vibes of one of the greatest rock songs of the 20th century; it’s lyrics are oblique enough to just mindlessly chant along to but contain so much meaning that rewards exploration; it contains the line ‘Disco dancing with the rapists’; and it all hangs on an electric sitar that is maybe the most gorgeous sounding additional instrumentation in the band’s career. If this is what the band’s version of selling out sounds like, pump the Coca Cola™ into my Nestle™ sponsored iVeins™.
The lyrics, some of Wire’s best, are about June and Jennifer Gibbons (often referred to as ‘The Silent Twins’), daughters of Caribbean nationals who came to the UK as part of the ‘Windrush Generation‘ of the 1960s. Ostracised for being the only black kids in the Welsh town of Haverfordwest they eventually ended up in, and speaking a fast Bajan Creole, that nobody could understand, the twins decided to lean into their outsider status. Eventually concocting a language that nobody else could understand, being arrested for petty misdemeanours and then refusing to speak at all, leading to an especially harsh eleven year stretch in Broadmoor likely linked to their refusal to speak. All the while creating fiction and plays between themselves. After Jennifer died in mysterious circumstances in 1993, June began to speak of her experience, saying that the twins had always agreed that once one of them dies the other could break the vow of silence, and June spoke in terms of Jennifer making a sacrifice so that June would be able to tell their story.
Yeah, I’m not going to bother flagging up the potential Richey references anymore, I really don’t have the time.
The Holy Bible, 1994
The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.Valerie Solanas, ‘SCUM Manifesto
Yeah, sorry, it’s not wall to wall radio rock bangers at this point. We still need to occasionally peer into that hole.
Walking... takes its title, and a lot of its bleakness, from the beyond radical SCUM Manifesto (standing for ‘The Society for Cutting Up Men’), written by the beyond radical feminist Valerie Solanos, who would later shoot Andy Warhol (for… reasons… Not necessarily ideological…). However, the band refute the idea that men are responsible for all the horrors of the world. They bravely stand up against this feminazi SJW by rejecting the proposal that the responsibility for history’s atrocities lies solely in the Y chromosome. No, this is a worm in all human nature! The massacred innocent blood stains us all! Who’s responsible? You fucking are!
Yeah, Walking… is a teensy bit dark, it’s a touch horrific, and it’s bleaker than when they turn the lights off at Bleak House. But with one of the album’s most magnificent backing tracks* and an extraordinarily anthemic melody, the song manages to perversely raise its head above the wreckage that its own maliciousness has caused and turn to the camera and wink. You’ll hate yourself for it, but this song is so damn catchy. It’s an absolutely monstrous work of genius, cajoling you into happily singing along to the deepest condemnation of all of humanity. It tricks you, it lures you in, it has everyone admitting that, yes, we all are trash, we are all deficient, we are all of walking abortion, we are all responsible.
(*JDB is just abusing those guitars, motherfucker’s beating them bloody and then attempting rough strangulation. It’s a bit kinky, actually)
I’ve always found Walking… to be bizarrely… funny?? I believe the ideas and message behind the song are strongly held, but the band also realise how insanely darkly these beliefs are, and the idea of packaging them into a song so irresistible that its melody would fit easily on their ‘EMG’ comeback album and have thousands of people sing along, offering loud concurrence to the song’s dismal evaluation of humanity, is just too hilarious an idea to pass over.
Also, when JDB screams back in with ‘FRAG-ments…of uniforms’? We’re all here for that, right? That’s how and why we roll?
Everything Must Go, 1996
I wish I had a bottle
Right here in my dirty face
To wear the scars
To show from where I came
Yeah, this is it. This is The Song. Whatever happens in the next thirty years of the band’s career (album number 37 is an bit of a banger, but album number 53 absolutely stinks), this will always be their theme, the central point of their career from which all else is derived. If you’ve ever heard of the Manic Street Preachers, the underlying reason is almost definitely this song. The only possibly understandable reason you might have for not liking this British rock centrepiece is that you’ve heard it roughly 64’908’403 times. In the past week. It’s played on Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, 5 Live, 6 Music, Capital FM, Kiss 103, Smooth North West, Gaydio and MDZhB. It soundtracked your visit to Waitrose and was the hold music when you rang Stoke City Council to complain about the bin collections. I think the fact that the son is ubiquitous might have lead many of us to both take its inherent fabulousness for granted, and also stop appreciating just ow shocking it was that a band like this became ubiquitous at this time!
Richey hadn’t been since Febuary 1995. This strange cult band, who had recently released one of the most perverted and uncommercial subversion of rock music, were suddenly tragically separated from their ‘Minister of Propaganda’, the chief reason behind their previous cult status, and the assumed central figure behind all of their previous artistry. This was it, surely? It’s important to stress that, at this point, the Manics really weren’t that big a deal. Sure, they’d always had the Legacy Fans, but it was unclear in early 1996 if any of them would bother with a Richeyless Manics pathetically trundling on. The music press used to really like them, but the coverage had begun to trail off markedly once the band weren’t just a bunch of bozos trying to hype their debut album with incendiary statements and instead changed to more of a mournful and hyper literate group that sang about abortions. Their albums never sold great numbers, their only UK to 10 single was their balls out Slashified cover of the Theme from M*A*S*H back in 1992.That time they explosively penetrated the rock canon with Motorcycle Emptiness? Yeah, number 16. That was about as good as it got. Sad news about Richey lads, sure, but there’s not really much point in you carrying on now, is there? The band themselves would have felt the same way.
Until one day Wire was inspired by the ‘Knowledge is Power’ inscription above the entrance of the Pillgwenlly library roughly 15 miles away from the band’s hometown of Blackwood. ‘Libraries gave us power’. The next line was obvious for anyone associated with the Manics – you’ve gotta bring it back to the Holocaust, don’t you?? Another famous inscription above an entrance, this time to the Auschwitz concentration camps.’ Arbeit macht frei‘: work sets you free. ‘Then work came and made us free’. The Manics had always been working class, most of the band were children of miners and their background inspired their radically socialist viewpoints. But they’d never previously written a song about being working class. The message was always more important, rather than the credentials of the people writing/singing it. Nicky wrote one of the great celebrations/laments of the working class, focused not on the people themselves but more on the backdated and dangerous assumptions of the working class by those lucky enough to be able to afford their own pet foxes to shoot. ‘We don’t talk about love/We only want to get drunk’. In the forthcoming motion picture about the band’s life, Nicky (played by Adam Driver) would burst into JDB’s (played by Tom Hardy) room with a scrawled and ripped piece of paper.
“James! You gotta read this, man, I think I’ve just written our comeback single!”
JDB/Tom Hardy would be lying morosely in his bed, cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he stares blankly at the ceiling. He shakes his head when Nicky enters the room.
“Nicky, it’s over” JDB/Hardy says as he slowly moves to a sitting position and stubs out the cigarette in one of the many empty beer bottles surrounding his bed “We can’t do it without Richey. I’ve not even piked up my guitar in 12 months”
Nicky/Driver furrows his brow and angrily pushes the sheet of paper into JDB/Hardy’s face.
“Just, read it!”
JDB/Hardy sighs as he snatches the paper from Nicky/Driver’s hand and lights another cigarette. He rolls his eyes, he can’t believe Nicky/Driver is forcing him to do such a meaningless task, what did he want, a candy?? Then as he looks at the lyrics, his eyes begin to brighten and he begins mouthing the words in jubilation.
“Nicky” JDB/Hardy says as he stands up “Go get my guitar”
[NICKY AND JAMES KISS PASSIONATELY]
Sorry, might have overrun into my own private fanfic there…
While I don’t doubt that my cinematic interpretation will be 193 minutes of pure historical legitimacy (Sean Moore will be played by Rebel Wilson), what we actually know is that JDB says how Nicky handed him the lyrics and he realised how great a song he would have to write to do them justice. And, yeah, mission successful. Design… is a musical and orchestral juggernaut, with soaring strings and a guitar waltz good enough to convince the band that, hey, maybe we’ve got one more album left in us…
And it would have been a number one single if it wasn’t for – and you’ll like this – Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack.
The Holy Bible, 1994
Dumb cunt’s same dumb questions
Listen, all virgins are liars honey
And I don’t know what I’m scared of or what I even enjoy
Dulling, get money, but nothing turns out like you want it to
And in these plagued streets of pity you can buy anything
For £200 anyone can conceive a God on video
He’s a boy, you want a girl so chop off his cock
Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want
I eat and I dress and I wash and I still can say thank you
Puking, shaking, sinking I still stand for old ladies
Can’t shout, can’t scream, hurt myself to get pain out
The opening track of ‘THB’. Oh, what’s that? You thought we were done peering into the darkest hole in the pit of humanity?? HA! You might have merely adopted the dark while reading this list; but ‘THB’ was born in it, moulded by it! ‘THB’ didn’t see the light until roughly track ten (#56)!, By then it was nothing to ‘THB’ but BLINDING! The shadows betray you, because they belong to ‘THB’!
Quoting Batman films from a decade ago is still a really cool thing to do, yeah?
Yes is something else entirely. I may have played up the darkness in the intro, mostly because I’m always aware of how sexy I’m likely to come across if I quote Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, when in fact (musically) the song covers a wide breadth of tone and emotion. As unbelievable as it might sound when considering the song’s themes (or if you’ve taken a little peek at those lyrics that opened this entry), Yes often comes across as one of the lighter tracks on the album. If you listened it solely for the music and melody, you’d hear a somewhat cheery guitar line, an absolutely explosive quiet/loud dynamic, impressive time signatures and thrilling buzzsaw guitars. Not Pharrell Williams’s Happy by any stretch, but hardly the industrial brain grinder that so much of the following album descends into. It was even considered as the album’s fourth single before the thing that happened happened. Which would decree the removal of a hefty amount of ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’, admittedly, but speaks to how weirdly radio friendly the song almost is. I mean, it’s still really fucking weird, but not traumatically so.
The lyrics too might be bleak (Oh-ho-ho! Are they ever fucking bleak!), but the text is actually straightforward and its surface meaning is extremely simple to understand. While songs like Walking… (#5) might necessitate much further reading to grasp (if any of us fully understand it) and Ifwhiteamerica… (#40) introduces roughly 72 references a line that you might have to research, Yes is maybe the simplest lyric on the album to unpack. I mean, you might have to know that ‘T’ stands for ‘Toss off’ to fully appreciate the line ‘I T them, 24/7 all year long’, but other than that you’re pretty much good to go!! Inspired by the grim 1993 documentary Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns, and also a couple of pieces in the British press including one in (and you’ll like this) The Mail on Sunday , Yes is about… well…
Come one, you know what it’s about, don’t make me blush. The interesting morsels lie in the subtext! Is it a metaphor for good old capitalism, a system the band have enjoyed punching holes in since their earliest days? Richey himself commented that “The majority of your time is spent doing something you hate to get something you don’t need”- ‘There’s no part of my body that has not been used’. The song could be read as simply a far more graphic and sickening take on the same topics breached on Motorcycle… (#7), about the centrality of money and ‘purchase power’ insidiously crawling into every aspect of life until it’s the only thing that matters. There’s also the duel meaning that the band themselves are both the prostitutes and the clients in this scenario, that they ere both the ones who had reached a level where they could do whatever they wanted to their listeners/fanbase (as the album would prove) and also that they were the ones prostituting themselves to the music media attention that they’d always inspire. It’s also more centrally to do with Richey, him absolutely prostituting his darkest thoughts and feelings like offering an open wound to the press/fans to dig into. And how it’s funny that people seem to want to act like they car, now he’s too far gone to save. ‘Funny place for the social, for the insects to start caring/Just an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff’.
JBD can rarely bring himself to sing the ‘I hurt myelf to get pain out’ lne when performing the song live.
Gold Against the Soul, 1993
A piece of absolute wonder. Perhaps the most spectacularly cohesive and technically astounding rock song the band have ever done. The title is taken from the apparent last words of Vincent van Gogh and roughly translate to something along the lines of ‘The sadness continues’ or ‘The sadness endures’ or even ‘The sadness will never go/Will never go away/Baby it’s here to stay’. That sadness ain’t goin’ anywhere, Shagger Vince was basically trying to say. While that reference (in this largely Nicky penned lyric) might be an early sign of how more important a role art and artists would play in the band’s lyrics*, the song itself is from the perspective of an aging war veteran who now just finds himself ‘A cenotaph souvenir’. The empty and self-congratulatory ‘respect’ that’s given to our war veterans really mean nothing when they are forced to sell off their own medals just to be able to pay the bills**. If Life Becoming A Landslide (#11) warned of life peaking at birth, La Tristesse… makes sure you realise there’s no recompense in old age. It’s an absolutely gorgeous, concise and brilliant lyrics. Yeah, make your own links to the band themselves after they’d spaffed everything they had on their debut album, if you want. It’s a free country.
(*there are hundreds of examples, but see Black Square (#22), International Blue (#43), Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning) (#76), My Guernica (#79), His Last Painting (#96), This Is an Art Attack (#104) and Can You Tell What it is Yet? (#523). They rarely play that last one live these days)
(**or, as JDB sings it: “I sold ma me-duls, it paid a Be-YELL!”)
Musically, La Tristesse… really earns its stripes, and is easily among the most complex (yet widely accessible) pieces of pop/rock the band have ever done. It starts with mostly just JDB and a infectious bassline, before it builds up. And up. And up. Woodblocks are thrown in, then pianos, until the song ends up an astounding burst of joy that belies its comprehensively down beaten lyrics. Part of its everlasting charm is that it is also perhaps the band’s greatest piece as a complete unit. Sean’s drums are astonishingly powerful when they want to be, but gorgeously restrained when needed. JDB’s vocal performance is one of his greatest ever (featuring some of his all time best strange enunciations) and his guitar is certified Rock God levels. Nicky contributes his greatest bassline up to that point, forming the backing of what many would refer to as ‘the last great baggy song’. And Richey… erm… No, he’s there as well! Those power chords on the first chorus? That’s him! Making La Tristesse… the other only song that Richey contributed to musically (other than his… posthumous??… contribution to No Surface All Feeling at #19).
Wow. I’ve never been happier at an old person living in misery since Thatcher died.
The Holy Bible, 1994
I hate purity,
I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere,
I want everyone corruptJohn Hurt in Michael Radford’s film version of 1984
I mean, come on, it has to be, doesn’t it?? I know that I have always been referred to by the French as les homme terrible de hot takés, but I can only go so far! Faster is comfortably the greatest song that the Manics have ever released, and it may well be the greatest ever meeting of breathless rock/punk/whatever music and endlessly both recitable yet worthy of deeper reading lyrics of all time. It’s the greatest pop song that I have ever heard. At the very least, there really isn’t another song ever that sounds quite like it. Really, another one that sounds anything like it.
I am an architect,
They call me a butcher,
I am a pioneer,
They call me primitive,
I am purity,
They call me perverted,
Holding you but I only miss these things when they leave
Perhaps the most powerful thing about Faster is how little there is to it. It’s a maximalist and furious call to arms, it aims a scream so loud into the void that there isn’t really anything else that can match up to its sheer volume and anguish. But it’s little more than sped up military drums, a low in the mix standard bassline, and one screeching guitar line. Even I can play Faster on the guitar, and I struggle to remember where to put my fingers for Come As You Are. Even the astonishing guitar solo (which JDB memorably plays in the wonderfully minimalist video while the out of place lyrics ‘I know I believe in nothing/But it is my nothing’ are projected onto the screen) is no technical masterclass, it’s merely a furious scream at unimaginable speed. One reading of the title ‘Faster’* is that it refers to somebody fasting, i.e. massively cutting down their food intake. This would obviously chime with other tracks on ‘THB’ such as 4st 7lbs (#9), but it would also relate well to the song itself. This, the comeback single and first thing the vast majority of people will have heard from ‘THB’, was the band drastically counting their musical calories. There were no more strings, no more excessive production, that piano? Ha! No, that’s got to go. This was the band somehow stripping themselves back and manging to sound bigger than ever. They were toning their abs and managing to get to Olympic level.
(*one of the two things in the song, along with the ‘man kills everything’ closing lines, to have come from Wire rather than Richey. I… I wouldn’t have bothered even mentioning it, to be honest, Nicky)
I am idiot drug hive,
The virgin, the tattered and the torn,
Life is for the cold made warm and they are just lizards,
Self disgust is self-obsession honey and I do as I please,
A morality obedient only to be cleansed repented,
JDB has also described the title as being about “the acceleration of everything – joy, pain, death, consumerism”, which would also suit the song’s general sound, like a burning vehicle speeding helplessly out of control for four minutes as the people inside await certain annihilation. The production makes each line delivery sound like they are either barked at you from a great distance or despondently sighed close to your ear, creating the dizzying feeling that you’re not sure whether JDB is trying to make sure you hear his final important screamed message or is sadly murmuring his last words.
I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer,
I spat out Plath and Pinter,
I am all the things that you regret,
A truth that washes that learnt how to spell,
And that final message is… Well… Nothing, really. As appose to everything else on the album (and 90% of anything they’ve ever released), Faster isn’t really about anything. There’s no underlying narrative to the lyrics, no specific character within whose voice we’re supposed to inhibit, there isn’t really a wider message about society (no matter how fast it’s going). I’ve always found the song… strangely uplifting… It’s accepting the things wrong about you – accepting the things extremely and dangerously wrong about you – and still shouting out to the world “Fuck all y’all! I am stronger than Mensa, (Henry) Miller and (Norman) Mailer! I motherfucking spat out (Sylvia) Plath and (Harold) Pinter!!”
Except, you’re not really shouting that out to the world. You’re shouting it to yourself.
The first time you see yourself naked you cry,
Soft skin now acne,
Foul breath so broken,
He loves me truly this mute solitude I’m draining,
I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing,
Faster is a perverted song about self-acceptance. Perverted in how it chooses to deliver that message by taking onboard all the things people say about you, wallowing in the unavoidable hideousness of life, and then by ridiculously overcompensating in your own self-belief. You know that self-belief is laughably overstated though; you know that simply stating that you’re stronger than Mensa/Miller/Mailer means next to nothing when you are acutely aware of how you’re simply an idiot drug hive and a virgin tattered, torn; you know how ridiculous you’re being, but far better to be ridiculous than to simply surrender yourself to the horror. Self disgust may well be self-obsession, but you do as you please…
Sleep cannot hide thoughts splitting through my mind,
Shadows aren’t clean, false mirrors too many people awake,
If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down,
I’ve been too honest with myself I should have lied like everybody else
Isn’t that where depression comes from? Being honest with yourself? How could anyone possibly be OK with the world that surrounds us? How could you weigh up the situations that relate to both your capitalist entrapment and to the literal billions of people around the world who aren’t even as lucky as you are and come out of it OK? Faster is a song that laughs at the insanity, that cries out to the world “Wait… Are you really all OK with all this??” while crying at itself how insane it must be not to be alright. It’s a wondrous self-actualising anthem that, honestly, brings me to tears with its unrestrained glory and misguided self-belief.
So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything,
So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything,
So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything,
So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything
It really is that damn easy to cave in, isn’t it? I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t.
Many have. But I won’t…
Oh my God! We’re done!! Fell free to complain repeatedly about Little Baby Nothing not being included in the comments, and I do seriously want to hear about the songs I’ve stupidly left off. Also, thanks so much to Manic Street Preachers: A Critical Discography and Manic Street Preachers Song-by-Song for providing little titbits on songs I couldn’t for the fucking life of me think what to write for. I’ll write a statistical breakdown of the chart when I can be arsed, but for now…
In my bed…