The Manic Street Preachers’ art derives just as much from circumstances as it does from actual creation of word and sound. Without something to react to, it’s possible that little would become of the band. This is not to say that these were untalented fellows seemingly lacking in vision entirely, but having four Welshman up against what seemed to be the entire UK rock scene, not to mention their own personal crap (mainly Richey Edwards’ personal crap) made them perhaps one of the most formidable rock acts in the `90s UK.
Between 1990 and up until the release of The Holy Bible, the Manics were considered more agitators than musicians. The market was saturated with the likes of Radiohead, Blur, My Bloody Valentine and scores of bands trying their damnedest to be the kingdom-side version of The Pixies. On the other hand, the Manics reveled in pure iconoclasm combining The Clash’s leftist politics, Guns n’ Roses cock rock and ironic “sellout” aestheticism. Songs like “You Love Us” exploded with crotch-grabbing brashness while “Sweet Baby Nothing” –with Tracey Lord contributing vocals – took aim at female objectification. Add in the grunge porn of “Gold Against the Soul” and you’d be hard-pressed not to write them off as some cocky novelty.
Those who loved to even mildly dislike the Manics, however, were given temporary leave come 1994. With The Holy Bible there was much that remained the same: their fierce, articulate rhetoric, their fancy for dress-up (this time in military fatigues) and their tendency to off some weighty solos. What changed, however, was the way they approached these aspects. For one, the band laid aside their American rock leanings and dusted off their post-punk collection – Wire, Joy Division, PiL to name but a few – in order to tear their sound up and rebuild it. Their lyrics were seemingly endless word assaults – mostly penned by Edwards – dealing with the death penalty, which was pro-victim, the Holocaust, dictatorial vanity, eating disorders, political correctness, etc. Some of the most damning and classic rock epigrams you’ve never heard stem from this album. From opener “Yes:” “You want a girl so tear off his cock/ tie his hair in bunches/ fuck him, call him Rita if you want.”
The album is both a balls-out rock fuckfest and a lyrical killing field of objectification, oppression and hopelessness, and one can’t be blamed for seeing the connection to the disappearance of Richey Edwards that happened not long after the album’s release. But I’m not about to link yet another final album to a catastrophe, let alone one that excludes the other people that made the thing. As mentioned before, The Holy Bible can be seen as a reaction, as four restless yops penning catchy slogan-esque titles and provocative lyrics with vague literary and social references and trying to make them explode off of the disc.
In the post-Edwards period, the band has since moved away from its heavier roots and hence, finally broke through, at least in England. Nevertheless, no one can hold a candle to The Holy Bible. Though the influences are very much apparent, I’m hard pressed to find an album that sounds in the least bit like it, before and after the Brit-pop explosion it was submerged in. “Fuck you” records are hard to perfect and often difficult to listen to. But since this band was born to express that very sentiment, over and over again – thought not so much these days – one can hardly dismiss this ugly wonder of an album.