In August, 1994, The Manic Street Preachers released their third studio The Holy Bible album on Epic Records (Sony). The album peaked at Number 6 in the U.K. album chart and quickly plummeted. It is widely regarded as the bands masterpiece despite initial commercial failings.
Many see the album as some kind of posthumous tombstone for Richey Edwards. Credited as playing guitar on the album the reality is he probably did not actually play that much and the guitars could well be overdubs due to his physical and mental state at time of recording.
So what marks The Holy Bible apart? With roughly 75% of the lyrics penned by a man struggling desperately with anorexia and severe depression ultimately leading to almost certain suicide the album captures desperation, alienation and themes that many will identify with. It’s gut wrenching near non-cry for help and hindsight elevate the album to a place few records dare to tread.
Released just shy of a year after In Utero (Nirvana) both albums reflect very dark moods of the early 90’s. This mood would, arguably welcomingly, be blown apart by a double-barreled assault from America with Ill Communication (Beastie Boys) and the explosion of BritPop (notably Definitely Maybe and Parklife). These more ‘positive’ albums marked a huge shift, not necessarily better but they blew out the cob-webs just when worldwide ears needed it. Almost like a fresh start.
I’m no huge Manics fan but, honestly, listening to The Holy Bible for the first real time this past week my real impression is that it’s the true death of the slacker scene. Of course it sounds unlike ‘Grunge’ and has a very British feel. That pulling of alienated themes from their contemporaries. The expression of someone else’s lyrics by James Dean Bradfield has altered the way I now view the singer. Of course the themes the album not merely touches on but magnifies are unsettling – but the best of any art should be unsettling.
So. The Manic Street Preachers. That art riot band who divided a generation dizzied by the Sub-Pop scene and the frankly majestic Stone Roses were at the time looked sideways at. Gradually a few friends got into their debut album and then their 2nd album delivered more hits. I had not been working in a record shop long at all when The Holy Bible came out. A band I seriously considered to be attempting to ape Guns N’ Roses via The Clash clearly had something else to them. Customers who knew their ‘stuff’ would talk about the lyrics on the album being almost too much – and not in a bad way but that they had been not expecting that kind of cut open soul bared. Even then, when I would dismiss the band – I kind of knew they must be onto something.
I do not, still, know the album well enough to examine every song. The overall feel is a weird balance of a band still struggling to find their identity and issues that go way beyond music. A lot of love inside the band comes through. Three musicians painting a picture for another who is there on the outside looking in but almost orchestrating it. Lost and found and lost again. It has a disturbed, moving, gang mentality – almost like we should not, as outsiders, be listening.
Quite a few songs begin with spoken word intro taken from films, etc. This has a Crass feel (the band) and rarely works this well. Take, for example, Archives Of Pain with a vocal interview sample from one of the Yorkshire Rippers victims Mother “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 itself”. This gives way to a near Bleach era Nirvana bass line which quickly bursts into a wider, thinner sound. The song creeps along. Snakes. Deviates. The Manics have lost their wannabe Guns N’ Roses musicality. The guitar that rises spins the track away with echoes of early 80’s post punk blended with a rumbling death of Sub-Pop bass.
That early 80’s alternative sound is prevalent throughout The Holy Bible. Of Walking Abortion has a sound alike Siouxsie & The Banshees at their peak. “I knew that someday I was gonna die, and I knew before I died two things would happen to me, number one, that I would regret my whole life, and number two, that I would want to live my life over again“. The songs reel the listener in with Stadium Doom. A chorus that begs to be sung out until you realise the lyric that pepper it.
4st 7lb really is almost too much for me. Now I can see what those record shop customers were going on about almost 20 years ago. From its chilling sample intro “I eat too much to die. And not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle waiting” into John McGeoch, Magazine era guitar snakes. The sound settles to accessible alternative rock and musically it has the shudder of Funeral Pyre era Weller (The Jam) alternative Post Punk Pop. The lyrics when read alone are stark and disturbing – frank and desperate. Anyone that has been close to the illness highlighted will want to look away. Rock is littered with premature death. One feels the band are being supportive but this is one hell of a cry for help. The only comparable album here that springs to mind is Closer (Joy Division). A devastating warning shot.
She Is Suffering is the song I know best before listening to the album this past week. The song was a Top 30 U.K. hit (26) and is perhaps the song that could sit on a previous Manics album the most. That said it sits perfectly on The Holy Bible. Again a creeping musical feeling crawls painfully but harmoniously.
The album has, like most great albums do, a whole feel. From the catchier Revol to the searching and meandering The Intense Humming Of Evil and all inbetween and beyond. Languid thin sounds that get under the flesh rising without warning to bursts of anthemic venom.
The Holy Bible wears its influences well and the band are clearly schooled on the right kind of alternative late punk and early 80’s goth sounds. PCP starts like the aforementioned John McGeoch bands with waves of gloom that switch to a sharp Britpop shaping stabbing sing-a-long.
I thought it fitting to add some comments from a thread from Drowned In Sound which have helped shape this post to end this entry. I strongly figure it is the bands classic album and recommend getting lost in it for a while. Just remember to come up for air occasionally.
“it’s post their silly stadium Guns n Roses stuff and pre their MOR radio stuff
it’s dark as fuck
it’s Richie’s swan song
there’s clangers as always but some of the lyrics are great, and again, dark as fuck
whole thing’s delivered with a venom that’s been missing ever since
good songs” ethricdouble
“I think a large reason why the record is so revered or why many people still rate it is due to the fact that its an extremely personal record and one which resonates with many a disillusioned youth/teenager. However this is not to say that it cannot be appreciated as an adult…as mentioned above, the tunes are great, the lyrics are worth pouring over (and there are very few bands which touch on the subject matters covered) and it was a huge departure from their earlier work and finally seemed to perfectly marry the lyrics with the music. I applaud James Dean Bradfield as well for writing the music and working out the choruses from some of the lyrics given to him.” robellovich
“One of the very best albums of the 90s (and therefore all time!) for me. Faster, 4st7lbs and This Is Yesterday are three of the best songs in alternative rock history, and there isn’t a song on the rest of the album that lets it down. The way James Dean Bradfield creates what are essentially pop rock songs with the unhinged lyrics he has been provided by Richey is nothing short of genius. The orchestration and production is really interesting too, it is a sound quite unlike any other band. Add to this that conceptually they completely nail what they are going for, and you have yourself a classic, and entirely unique album.” dan_thw
“The primary guitar influence on The Holy Bible is actually Charlie Burchill from Simple Minds circa 1980-1981 (Empires and Dance/Sons of Fascination era). Even ‘Mausoleum’ has a drumbeat influenced by their track ‘In Trance As Mission’. Much credit to James for recognising the brilliance of SM’s early work at a time when it was uncool to admit to listening to those albums.” spumco
“I used to rinse the shit out of this album as an angry teenager. I find it hard to listen to now, mostly because I don’t think the music holds up well on the whole. There are moments of brilliance – Yes, This Is Yesterday – but generally it’s an album fuelled by the lyrics and JDB’s excellent expression of rage.” jigglypuff
“Pseudo intelligence? I wouldn’t say so. OK, some of Richey’s lyrics, and more so Nicky’s in Manics Mark II were a bit knowingly pretentious, but at least back then they were a genuinely very clever and idealistic bunch of young men. And unlike the U2s of this world, at least in their “classic” albums, it actually hit home with real conviction and honesty. Richard_Harrow
“listened to this album for the first time in about 15 years, always thought of those couple of years being really into the manics as quite regrettable but this album is pretty amazing” ThingsThatFly
I can’t really put it into words but when I was 14 and having gotten into the Manic Street Preachers to annoy my sister as they beat the Spice girls to a brit award, it blew my mind and I listened to it non stop for like a year. It’s one of my all time favourite albums, it means a lot to me. LordLuciusBanter