Words about music. Because previously, I posted some nonsense on career trajectories. About patterns and seams of context that sit indicative of a band’s overall impression on the musical landscape.
And then there’s this band…
One of the pitfalls of music blogging is an over-reliance upon records that mean something to the writer on even a remotely profound level. Say, for example, that you combine your interest in placing one word after another with a devotion to ‘80’s homogenised funk-pop nonentities Swing Out Sister. Naturally, it would make a great deal of sense to exclusively devote your slice of the interweb to these two passions – which is going to be great news for those readers simply unable to get enough of all things Swing Out Sister-related. But for the rest of us, ingesting reams of gushing prose on a narrow strata of subject matter grows tedious rather rapidly. Perhaps standing back from the Swing Out Sister references might be a way forward. Mix things up occasionally; maybe with a little thrash metal.
Which is another way of explaining that I’m extremely wary when it comes to Manic Street Preachers – to the point where writing about them stretches my zone of comfort. It’s the antonym of attraction; to use a word in its literal rather than figurative sense, there’s something about all of this that repulses, pushes away.
From the pretentious, adolescent iconoclasm of Generation Terrorists, the overblown stadium rock inflexions behind follow-up Gold Against The Soul, to the overt radio-friendliness of Everything Must Go – album #4 acting out fantasies in which polemic is enhanced by the number of copies sold in supermarkets – the evolution of the Manics sound can be easily tracked. Plotted. Understood as part of a continuum. A back catalogue totally lacking in warmth, attraction and immediacy by the time it reaches my ears. Such has been their subsequent, unrelenting slide from public consciousness since their fifth album that allegedly there’s been further five studio LPs shipped out to service stations and remainder book stores – who knew?
Proclaiming The Holy Bible is something non-canonical isn’t the most convincing of arguments. It’s parked someplace between #2 and # 4 in the discography, features James Dean Bradfield’s trademark buzz-saw vocal, and carries the words Manic Street Preachers above the Jenny Saville triptych on the cover.
Except… the posture that this record pulls sees it protrude from every other period of their (ongoing) activity in such an acute fashion. Its aggressive, compulsive, and poetic slant makes for an intense affair that defies liturgical cohesion – or to quote from yesterday’s piece: “The patterns are there for sure, but they’re somewhat mangled and counter-intuitive… Unsprung. Tilted”.
The protagonists are familiar, yet the modus operandi is anything but formulaic.
Two primary thoughts from listening to The Holy Bible. On repeat. For the last three hours.
Samples from film and TV preluding many a track not only detracts from the narrative; it’s also guaranteed to make your album sound dated. Even if the dialogue is filched from Orwell.
And: I’m still not certain that this is in any way a significant album in a wider context – I don’t like this band, their product, their poise, the footprints of focus each composition leaves. Yet in this instance I’m not writing from that wider context; what’s intriguing is that The Holy Bible deploys such force, both musically and lyrically.
Which leads us towards the Richey Edwards input. I’m not going to nudge the remainder of this piece towards the specifics of that particular story. It’s an horrifically over-told tale no matter how tragic, tainted in the telling by mawkishness, conjecture and amateur prognosis. If you don’t know the detail, Mr Google will be pleased to assist – all that matters here is that this is the singular album attuned to Edwards’ fragile and degrading mindset (which if you haven’t guessed, is the reason this record does feel so different – as well as the raison d’être for today’s words).
Influencing the stylistic slant of Generation Terrorists, less engaged with the manufacture of Gold Against The Soul, the deliberately spikey and stripped-back approach to the making of this particular record segued tightly with the aggressively dark, troubled and complex themes that the occasional guitarist and primary lyricist strip-mined – it’s writ large over tracks such as ‘4st 7lbs’ or ‘She Is Suffering’. It’s a feeding mechanism – the tight guitar-geared drive behind ‘Revol’, ‘Faster’, and ‘PCP’ direct descendants of Edwards’ kinked, taut intellectualism. The lyrics are not only powerful – there’s a degree of panicked tragedy, drawing the listener closer – claustrophobic tight.
Which is why this record stands out. Attuned to a different agenda, it the sound of what the Manics may have sounded like later in the trajectory, if fate hadn’t have intervened.
Manic Street Preachers / Yes