Manic Street Preachers
The Holy Bible
f you asked someone to name a Britpop album, they’d probably answer Definitely Maybe or Parklife. They might even mention the Manic Street Preachers’ breakthrough, Everything Must Go, the post-Richey album that made them, for a while, the biggest band in the UK. But we snobby, Richey-loving, “true” Manics fans knew the truth: this band had already released their masterpiece. The Holy Bible was all but lost among the new radio-friendly Britpop hordes, a commercial flop that proved, for the thousandth time, that the world is full of idiots. Or, as Richey put it, “People are like maggots—small, blind and worthless.”
Now, Sony have released a Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Holy Bible, comprising two CDs and a DVD. CD1 is a digitally remastered version of the original, plus live tracks. The Manics were a brilliant live band at the time, despite Richey’s increasingly self-destructive behaviour, and the versions of “Intense Humming of Evil”, “4st 7lbs”, “Yes” and “Of Walking Abortion” here pulsate with menacing intensity. The band ended this tour by smashing up all of their equipment—and they sound like they’re itching to do it all the way through these tracks.
After trying to sound like Guns ‘n’ Roses on “Gold Against the Soul”, the Manics went back to their original influences: Wire, PiL and Joy Division. The result was a muscular, stripped-down sound that proved how talented James Dean Bradfield is, taking Richey’s and (to a lesser degree) Nicky’s lyrics about the holocaust and anorexia and creating the perfect soundtrack to them: an album that is depressing, violent, unflinching, but also tuneful, uplifting and stirring. It’s awe-inspiring.
“Yes” is a perfect opener, a song about a world in which everything is for sale. The lyrics are uncompromising and disturbing: “He’s a boy—you want a girl so tear off his cock; Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want”. All wrapped up in a sing-along chorus. This is incredible stuff, more powerful than any of the punk bands of the 70s managed; more powerful than pretty much anything that’s come since.
“Ifwhiteamerica…” is, lyrically, a slightly more traditional Manics song, with its references to River Phoenix and sociology textbooks. It takes in censorship, gun control, hypocrisy and militarism. Then things get really bleak. “Of Walking Abortion” is an anthem of self-loathing. “She is Suffering” talks about the desire to corrupt and destroy beauty. “This is Yesterday”, which was one of Nicky’s, and “Revol”, a throwaway number about the flaws of various revolutionaries, provide a little light relief. “PCP” is wonderfully gothic and “Die in the Summertime” has a lyric about, well, wanting to die in the summertime. Again, it’s got a great tune. You’ll find yourself humming it in the office and then realise with a start exactly what you’re humming.
At the album’s centre are a trio of songs that take your breath away. “4st 7lbs”, the tale of a teenage girl who wants “to be so skinny, that I rot from view” is clearly about Richey. It’s a deeply disturbing song, not only because you know what happened next, but also because it comes as close to glamourising anorexia as you can get. Then there’s “Mausoleum” which is so dark that it’s almost unlistenable. This is not pop music. And after that is the blistering “Faster”, which is so good that the English language lacks the words to describe it.
Once you’ve listened to the whole thing and reminded yourself how important the Manics used to be, you can turn to CD2 and hear the previously-unreleased US mix of the album by Tom Lord Alge. It’s actually better than the original. The sound is beefed up and nearly all the songs sound fuller and richer. CD2 also contains a couple of demos and three live session tracks, which are nice for fans, but hardly essential.
Finally, the DVD contains the group doing various performances on TV shows and on stage at Glastonbury, looking so goddamn cool in their military uniforms. They really were the perfect band. Just for a moment. That moment was, I would argue, during their performance of “Faster” on Top of the Pops, with James wearing a balaclava and terrifying Britain. The DVD also features an illuminating 30-minute interview, as well as the videos for the singles.
The Holy Bible is easily one of the best albums of the 90s—ignored by many, but loved intensely by the few who’ve lived with it over the years. With luck, this re-release will find a new audience. It puts everything the Manics have done since to shame, not to mention nearly everything else.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-12-14