In 1994, the Manics were in a fairly solid position. The release of The Holy Bible, which built upon the successes of their debut Generation Terrorists and its follow-up Gold Against The Soul, cemented the Manics' reputation as spokesmen of their generation. Upon their emergence into the music scene, they declared they were here to 'scavenge the debris of popular culture and claim it as their own'. The Holy Bible flung them beyond that into an area very, very few bands had been before - a place where the main lyricist, Richey Edwards (also the man who made the aformentioned claim), pored over the gaping wounds of the scum and bottom-feeders of society with a scary abundance of empathy. Listening to it, it's not too hard to imagine Richey has experienced all those situations (including an anorexic, a prostitute, a political faster, an opresser of the Holocaust, and a dying persioner), such was the passion and conviction the album displayed. It was a truly bleak album, but one that connected with people in a way so few do. It blew the cult of the Manics (and their fans, at the time, were a cult, make no mistake about it) to huge proportions. It looked like the next album would be the one to spill them over into the mainstream and cement their reputation as one of the greatest bands of the era.
The story of Everything Must Go is now so famous it barely needs to be told. But, here goes anyway. In 1995, just a few months after The Holy Bible was released, Richey - only recently out of a rehabitulation program he'd entered for his depression and self-mutilation - booked himself out of his hotel and was never seen again. His car was found on the Severn Bridge (a pretty notorious suicide spot), and as such, he was assumed to have committed suicide. Fans claim to have seen him since (apparently there's a strong rumour he now lives in Goa), but then, they claim that of Elvis, Cobain, and Hendrix, too. British law dictates that once a person has been missing 7 years, they are dead, so Richey officially is no more. Having said that, the lack of a body means there isn't a sense of closure about affairs. Still, legally, the case is closed.
This might not seem much, but to see the ramifications of that, you have to understand just how much of a hero Richey was. He was, essentially, the ultimate teenager. He went through all the problems so many do at that age - depression, crisis of identity, self-mutilation, symptoms of schizophrenia, non-existent self-esteem - and went through them at a level that was so public, and so overblown, you couldn't help but be sucked in. Richey, effectively, was one of his own characters - so tragic, so beautiful, yet so damaged and so obviously dysfunctional. It's usually the Americans who super-size everything, but this is one example where that's not true - Richey was Kurt Cobain to the nth degree. Cobain's troubles were private by comparison, but Richey used to cut himself on stage with blades given to him by fans. In one notorious incident, he carved the words '4 Real' into his arm when a radio DJ questioned his commitment to his cause. Attention-seeking? Of course it was, but that's a huge part of Richey's appeal. Just like Cobain, he craved attention, but just couldn't handle it.
While Richey's 'death' didn't attract the headlines of Cobain's (certainly not in America, where the Manics never really took off), part of that can be attributed to the fact that just vanishing is a little more subtle than firing a shotgun into your own mouth. Richey's death certainly hit the fans harder in the UK. In a lot of ways it was the only possibly end of Richey's story, a man who never grew out of his problems as people are supposed to, and a man who, crucially, idolized Cobain. But still, it was a devastating blow to all those who saw themselves in him, and one that still hurts today. RicheyEdwards.net ran a poll to see what people did on the anniversary of his disapearance in 2002, on that crucial 7th year, and out of 178 votes, 22 people (17%) claimed to have self-mutilated. Interesting, that 7 year gap makes it almost impossible for anybody who was likely to identify with him before he died to still be a teenager - so either it hit the fans REALLY hard, or he's still presenting an enigma and drawing in new fans. Most likely, both.
It's key to know all this if you really want to understand Everything Must Go, because before it was released, it was one of the most villified records you'll ever come across. As far as some fans were concerned, Richey WAS the Manics. All their crowning achievements, as they saw it, were down to Richey and his world-view. Some fans, on the other hand, supported the remaining Manics in their decision to continue without their most vocal member.
It was unfair of the fans to think that the Manics could not go on without Richey. For a start, although many of the great things that the Manics had done on their first 3 albums were down to Richey, there wasn't exactly a shortage of input from Nicky Wire of James Dean Bradfield. Regardless of what the sleeves said, James played all the guitars (Richey couldn't really play guitar, he just posed with one most of the time), meaning every classic air guitar moment (Motorcycle Emptiness, Faster, Slash N Burn) was his. Similarly, both Nicky and James were the songwriters of the group. It's weel documented now that, often, Richey would just write pages and pages of unformed tirades against society, which would be given to the bassist and singer for them to fashion into something with a melody and chords. It showed - when James screamed 'I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing!!' on Faster, powerful as it was, there was an undeniable sense of him having to cram too many words into too short a space. Thus, all the skyscraping melodies (From Despair To Where, Little Baby Nothing, Motorcycle Emptiness again) belonged to James and, to a lesser extent, Sean Moore (the drummer), who wrote all the music. As Nicky Wire , who'd been best friends with Richey since they were at school together, said of the decision to continue - 'It would be melodramatic to say it was the hardest thing to do, because it wasn't.'
So when Everything Must Go was released, it came under a weight of expectation from the fanbase. Half of them, perversley, wanted the Manics to trip up, as if it would would somehow validate their worship of Richey. The other half were eager to see how they would fare without a seemingly crucial member. Needless to say, if it was remotely inferior, it would have been murdered. The pressure was on for the Manics, in a big, big way. Everything Must Go HAD to deliver.
Commercially, it did. There's some irony that although a cult so obviously built around Richey had threatened the mainstream breakthrough with one of the least mainstream releases of all time, the group eventually managed their breakthrough without Richey, and with an album that, while not a pop-minded or commercial record, was certainly not a difficult album to listen to. Everything Must Go was a critical success, too - almost everybody lucky enough to have their opinions published agreed that the record was far better than anyone had a right to expect. In 1997, it also won 3 Brit Awards, for Best Album, Best Group, and Best Live Act - a feat they repeated this feat 2 years later with This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The critical success garnered for The Holy Bible certainly hadn't changed, although it wavered when Know Your Enemy was savaged.
The key thing, though. Was it an artistic success?
Generally, the response to that was resounding yes. In 2002 it was voted the 50th greatest album ever by readers of Q magazine. The same poll, 5 years previously, had it at #11. Inevitably, however, some Richey fans claimed that the album was a great big sell-out - that the band were now a soulless MOR tragedy, and the sound of Everything Must Go was a complete betrayal of their past. It probably didn't help that Richey said, publicly, that he wanted The Holy Bible's follow-up to sound like a cross between Pantera and Nine Inch Nails.
The sound, undoubtedly, was a massive change from the glam and the punk they'd traded in on the first 3 albums. The production was much 'better' (read = cleaner), and had been moved in Phil Spector territory. String sections and harps had been introduced, lending several tracks on the album an epic lushness. James Dean Bradfield's voice was moving away from youthful fury, and towards a more classic style of singing - though it wasn't there yet. And, overall, the album was much more forgiving and openly beautiful than anything before it.
Lyrically, not a lot had changed - and what changes there were, were subtle ones. This can be attributed to the fact that many of the songs on here were co-written by Richey, before he went missing. These include Kevin Carter, the story of the photographer who won the Pulitzer Prize for a photograph he took of a starving child, yet decided not to save the child, and eventually committed suicide because of the guilt. It also includes Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky, a song expressing Holy Bible-style empathy for animals trapped in captivity; also a song that's far, far better than the Sixth Form subject matter suggests. On paper, as you can see, these aren't the usual topics of commercial "sell-out" songs. Elsewhere, even on songs Richey wasn't involved with, Nicky's own bile propelled them to write the song they'll probably always be remembered for, A Design For Life. It's probably the best song ever written about Britain's class struggle, and with the working-class attitude portrayed in the song (the Manics famously consider themselves a working-class sucess story), there's something great about the way it became a pub closing-time singalong, and remains a jukebox classic to this day. As you can see, their sloganeering and lyrical post-modernism remains present - there is a song named Song For Willem De Kooning, after all.
Ultimately, Everything Must Go can be considered Manic Street Preachers' Rumours - an album built out of adversity that went on to be a massive commercial success, and is generally accepted as a classic. Sure, the hardcore fans of the early stuff hate it, but that doesn't mean you have to. Everything Must Go is a stellar album, stuffed with great, anthemic songs, and it's a rewarding listening experience. It loses ground to The Holy Bible simply because it's not as unique, but if Everything Must Go is inferior, it's only slightly so. The Manics delivered here in a way they have not since (bar the stand-alone single, The Masses Against The Classes), and they did so at the most crucial time. This album jump-started into a new phase of their career, one they they've brought to a close with last year's compilations, Forever Delayed and Lipstick Traces. The next phase, then, begins on the 1st of November with Lifeblood. Here's hoping it starts as brilliantly as this one did.
Within The Genre
Outside the Genre
Recommended Downloads -
A Design For Life
If you live in Europe, you have heard this song. At a time when Oasis, Blur, and Radiohead were pumping out era-defining anthems like nobody's business, this song appeared and just raised the bar above everything any of those artists had produced. (At the time - OK Computer would follow next year.) A true classic. Backed by yearning, massive, Spector-ish strings, Bradfield produces his defining vocal performance to power along Nicky Wire's defining lyric. Simply one of the greatest singles ever recorded and released by ANYONE. Get a few listens under your belt, and just try to resist belt out THAT chorus. "We don't talk about love....we only wanna get drunk...."
Written by Richey about the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Kevin Carter is a great song, no question, with a great chord progression (more complex than you might imagine) and some cool lead guitar fills. Nice trumpet solo, too - played by their classically trained drummer, no less.
Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky
Generally regarded as an epitaph to Richey, this pinned-back song, featuing just James, his guitar, and a harp, is dark, atmospheric, and beautiful. Again, the chord progression is far more complex than you might expect - James remains one of the most under-rated and over-looked guitarists of his generation. Despite being viewed as a tribute to Richey, he wrote it himself after watching a documentary on animals in captivity. As I said before, it's a Sixth Form subject matter, but in this instance it makes for a far better song than it should.