Monday, April 11, 2005

Just Another Manics Monday - Wally Reviews The Holy Bible

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When Manic Street Preachers The Holy Bible was released in 1994 I didn’t listen to it very much. I made the effort to track down an import copy since it wasn’t being released in the US, but the unrelenting brutal imagery of the lyrics was too much for me then. Like bassist Nickey Wire relates in the DVD that comes with the 10th Anniversary edition, I too was at a very happy stage of my life having just met my future wife. So I shelved it figuring I would come around to really listening to it some time in the future, which is the same thing that happened to me with Lou Reed’s similarly bleak Berlin album.

A few years ago, perhaps sparked by post September 11 fallout, The Holy Bible began to get regular airplay from me. The soul of the band and principle lyricist of The Holy Bible, Richey James, had long disappeared in Cardiff most likely taking his own life by leaping off the Severn Bridge and songs like “4st 7lb” - I want to walk in the snow And not leave a footprint I want to walk in the snow And not soil its purity - and “Die In The Summertime” - Childhood pictures redeem, clean and so serene See myself without ruining lines Whole days throwing sticks into streams - gained a potent power with the personal connection to Richey’s battle with anorexia and possible suicide respectively. I’m still quite snug in the cocoon of domestic happiness, but you can’t keep harsh reality from intruding and The Holy Bible is fearless in illuminating things we normally don’t like to see the light. There is truth in beauty and also unwelcome truth in ugliness.

“Yes” posits a world of consumerism run rampant - 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. “Archives Of Pain” gives the case for capital punishment - If hospitals cure Then prisons must bring their pain Don't be ashamed to slaughter The centre of humanity is cruelty There is never redemption Any fool can regret yesterday Nail it to the House of Lords You will be buried in the same box As a killer, as a killer, as a killer - a right wing move which must have startled some of their fans. They also take on the evil of political correctness on album closer “P.C.P.” - Ten foot sign in Oxford Street Be pure, be vigilant, behave Grey not neon, grey not real Life bleeds, death is your birthright PC she speaks impotent and sterile, Naive, blind, atheist, sadist, Stiff-upper lip, first principle of her silence, Of her silence PCP, a PC police victory PCP, a PC pyrrhic victory When I was young PC meant Police Constable Nowadays I can't seem to tell the difference - but the lyrics on The Holy Bible with their claustrophobic density would all be for naught were it not for the incredible music composed for the album by James Dean Bradfield (is he one of the most unheralded guitar greats of our time?) and Sean Moore. Gone was the heavy metal Guns N’ Roses attack of their first two records, replaced by music just as heavy, but owing more of a debt to the British post-punk bands like PIL, Gang Of Four, Magazine, The Skids, and Wire. “Mausoleum” even gives a nod to American New Wave with its jittery Devo rhythms. I don’t know how such rousing choruses could be coupled with the lyrics on The Holy Bible, but every track sounds like a potential hit as the liner notes to the 10th Anniversary Edition attest.

The Holy Bible, has been reissued and in the Stateside case issued for the first time in a deluxe package including both the British mix and the mix that was intended for the American market – meaning louder drums and guitars for most part. A DVD is included featuring interviews with the surviving members of the group, live performances, and videos; a highlight being a performance on Top Of The Pops in which James Dean Bradfield wears a balaclava with James stenciled across the top while the rest of the band dresses in military garb reminiscent of Echo & The Bunnymen. The CD’s contain some bonus live takes proving the band could back up the studio recordings, some demos, and some very raw Radio 1 sessions.

The Holy Bible was a unique piece of rock and roll, a singular burst of alienation, despair, and cruel truths married to music that bludgeoned while lifting the listeners own spirits. Compelling, emotional, and visceral, unrelenting and paradoxically gentle at times – hear “This Is Yesterday” for the evidence of that. The Holy Bible ranks with the best music made during the 90’s or any decade for that matter. It’s time for a new generation to get religion, go out and get The Holy Bible today.

Bonus review:

I first heard about the Manic Street Preachers when my good friend DD Blank came back from London and made me a tape of “You Love Us” that he picked up there. It was a revelatory shock with its merger of the punk aesthetic and hard rock audacity; there was no question that I had to love them. I snagged the 12 inch single of “Motown Junk” on a record buying junket to Atlanta and even though I was both a Motown and John Lennon fan, I had to admire the Manics attack of those sacred musical cows. The Stay Beautiful EP finalized the deal. The rousing choruses of “Stay Beautiful” and its perfect alienated lyrics encapsulated everything I was feeling in my mixed up mid-twenties. Anxiety is indeed freedom. I borrowed my university’s library copies of Melody Maker that had any Manics related articles and never brought them back. I didn’t go so far as to slice the slogan “4 Real” into my arm like Richey James did when an NME reporter questioned the band’s sincerity, but DD Blank and I did start making our own stenciled tee shirts single-handedly trying to revive the DIY rock and roll spirit of Tennessee. The most profound event at the time was the back cover of Stay Beautiful which had a US address one could write to for literature.

This address turned out to be the PO Box of Nickey Wire’s brother Patrick Jones who has since gone on to fame as a poet and playwright in Great Britain. He was helping to promote the Manics by putting out a fanzine Counter Language filled with news about the band and poetry from Patrick and fans. Back covers had addresses of other fans and soon I was corresponding with others. I started my own punk rock band and a fanzine called Anti-Society full of mad situationist ramblings. The biggest thrill was getting some of my poetry in Counter Language #5 under the name of Wally Thunders. Time passed and I lost touch with Patrick after he moved back to England. Then I lost contact with the Manics fans I corresponded with and the initial burst of inspiration disappeared along with Richey. I still love the Manics, especially the quiet grace of Everything Must Go, but time keeps on keeping on. James Dean Bradfield makes a wistful comment in the DVD with The Holy Bible 10th Anniversary set about how young they all looked back in 1994. Manic Street Preachers will never be as great as they were in The Holy Bible era, but that’s okay – the music and memory will forever live on, a lightning rod that will never go out of style.

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portions of this review also appear at Blogcritics.org

3 comments:

DDBlank said...

Nice review. I haven't really listened to that album in ages. It was always a difficult listen. I had a lot of baggage with the band and it made it harder. I have the "Faster/PCP" cd single, which is very enjoyable. Perhaps, I should pull out the whole record again.

One other point of information, I purchased "You Love Us" in York and not London. Not that it matters much other than the fact that clerk was really a nice guy and when I asked him to play the record he put it on. He could tell that I was grooving to it and said to me "It's good, idn't it" in that great way that only someone from England could. I owe that guy a lot for an odyssey that has taken me from used record stores in Camden Town to Wembley Arena to the Bowery Ballroom on Manics related escapades. BTW, James is a really nice guy, too.

Cheers,
DDBlank

Wally Bangs said...

Give a fellow a break, it's been over ten years ago...but now that you mention it I remember you telling about the clerk in York because he was so cool. The biggest thing that hit me when listening to The Holy Bible after such a long time was being able to spot the post punk influences more easily. The album definitely rewards close listening.

Anonymous said...

The Manic Street Preachers are making their 'God Save The Manics' EP
available as a free download from http://www.manics.co.uk from April
20th.

Thought that all interested would want to know.

Enjoy,
DrDDBlank