Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible
#18 in Q's Top 100 Albums Of All Time (2002).
#15 in Melody Maker's Top 100 Albums Of All Time (2000).
#34 in albumvote.co.uk's Top 100 Albums Of All Time.
James Dean Bradfield - Vocals, Guitars
Richey Edwards - Guitars (supposedly)
Nicky Wire - Bass
Sean Moore - Drums, Percussion
The Manic Street Preachers, as we speak, are on the verge of releasing their new album, Lifeblood. It will be their first album since releasing Forever Delayed (a greatest hits) and Lipstick Traces (a B-side/rarity compilation). They stand now, on the back of tracks like A Design For Life, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, and The Everlasting, as Wales' biggest band. Probably, Britain's biggest and greatest pop act. Because make no mistake, despite their intelligence, sloganeering, and having one of the most under-rated guitarists in the world in James Dean Bradfield (a recent Guitarist special reflected this), the Manics of the second half of the 90s was a pop band.
It would have interesting to mark the reactions of people who bought Forever Delayed. Pop bands, traditionally, are best viewed through their Greatest Hits packages. People who bought into the Manics after the songs mentioned above would not have been expecting glam-punk new-wave anthems Motown Junk and You Love Us. They would have been expecting even less a blistering punk song singing the virtues of starving yourself.
That song was Faster, The Holy Bible's only contribution to Forever Delayed. On that album, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not surprising, really, given that as an album, The Holy Bible sticks out like a sore thumb too - not just in the catalogue of the Manics, but in music in a general. It's so bleak it makes In Utero, Korn's self-titled debut, and Angel Dust look like Westlife albums. It documents insanity and exposes it in a way not even Syd Barrett's albums do (though the comparison is somewhat unfair). It truly feels like the most 'punk' album ever, so comprehensively does it shock the listener and stand on its own in the annals of music. And, perhaps most strikingly, it made a star and a martyr out of Richey Edwards, an Axl Rose and Trent Reznor-worshipping skinny Welsh boy with a penchant for cutting himself, and probably the least talented guitar player ever to appear on a major label recording. The liners may well say that Richey played guitar on the Manics' early records - don't believe them. It was all Bradfield.
Richey Edwards is an inescapable presence in this album, because he looms so obviously over it. Almost every lyric is his, the only real input from anyone else coming from both Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield having to edit his prosaic ramblings into something singable. Truly, this album is his. The lyrics are what makes this album such a revelation, 10 years down the line, because Richey was visiting places nobody else dared to. Sure, you could say anyone could write about the characters presented on this album, but nobody else ever has with as much empathy for, and awe of, self-destruction. You can almost hear the pull of the knife across Richey's flesh in Bradfield's voice - thankfully, a voice with enough depth and versality to handle such weighty matters.
So what does Richey write about? The Holy Bible could easily be seen as a concept album, each one dealing with a new character, each as depraved and sadomasochistic, yet sympathetic and fatally damaged as the next. From the prostitute of Yes, to the anorexic on the album highlight, 4st 7lbs, to the righteous faster on the aptly-named Faster, to everyone involved in the Holocaust on The Intense Humming Of Evil. How about some choice quotes from each of these songs?
All virgins are liars, honey
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
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
Self-worth scatters, self-esteem's a bore
I've long since moved to a higher plateau
This discipline's so rare so please applaud
Just look at the fat scum who pamper me so
Yeah 4 stone 7, an epilogue of youth
Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse
I've finally come to understand life
Through staring blankly at my navel
I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter
I am all the things that you regret
A truth that washes that learnt how to spell
The first time you see yourself naked you cry
Soft skin now acne, foul breath, so broken
He loves me truly this mute solitude I'm draining
I know I believe in nothing BUT IT IS MY NOTHING!!
The Intense Humming Of Evil
6 million screaming souls
Maybe misery, maybe nothing at all
Lives that wouldn't have changed a thing
Never counted, never mattered, never be
Drink it away, every tear is false
Churchill no different
Wished the workers bled to a machine
In addition to the caustic, acidic lyrics, each song is book-ended with a soundbite, a sample of somebody speaking. There's a clip of the film version of George Orwell's 1984 in Faster, Channel 4 documnetaries on anorexia and prostitution on 4st 7lbs and Yes respectively, a quote from the mother of a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper mass murderer on Archives Of Pain, and the quite brilliant J. G. Ballard quote "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, and force it to look in the mirror" on Mausoleum.
All this is tempered brilliantly by James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore. Gothic (but not Goth) arpeggios, storming riffs, and doomy basslines bring the lyrics to life without overshadowing them. If there's a complaint in this arrangement it's that Bradfield's voice is sometimes a little hard to decipher, partly down to him, at times, having to shove 12 words into a space clearly designed for 5 or 6. But then, it all adds to the post-punk leanings, and the general air of insanity of proceedings. Bradfield's guitar work should be applauded on this album - almost all his best, most technically demanding solos are found here, yet he never strays far from a punk ethos to his riffs and rhythm work. He manages to tip-toe almost perfectly the line between his two biggest guitar heroes; Slash and Joe Strummer.
The only big flaw with The Holy Bible is the programming. Namely, Yes. If I were deciding the track listing for this album, no way in hell would I have Yes as the opening track. It deserves to be on the album, certainly, but it seems underwhelming when placed at the start of the album. I can see why they did it - it's one of the softest, least immediately shocking songs on the album (that is, until you figure out the lyrics), and in a way eases the listener in. But once you're familiar with the album, you'll be wishing Of Walking Abortion or Faster was given the role of the opener. Yes is a fine track, but when delving into a world this bleak it always seems appropriate to dive in head-first. Faster was the first single, I believe, which reflects this. It's tempting to say Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwould fallapart (note the heinous misuse of an apostrophe) doesn't deserve to be the second track on the album, too, but the startling cries of 'There's too much black in the Union Jack! And there ain't enough white, in the Stars And Stripes!' save it.
Sadly, this album was not only Richey Edward's defining moment, it was his last stand. He disappeared after this album was released, and a body has not yet been found. He is now legally dead, having been missing the requisite 7 years. His death left the surviving Manics in a tricky predicament, one they'd emerge from with the beautiful, but entirely different, Everything Must Go.
Punk, hard rock, indie, and even metal fans owe it to themselves to hear this. Anyone else may be scared off, but may just find they never look at life the same way again. I certainly haven't.
Within The Genre - 5/5
Outside The Genre - 5/5
Quite simply, genius. Dealing with anorexia (Richey was apparently anorexic himself), it contains one of the best lyrics even written by anyone, replete with the awesome chorus 'I want to walk in the snow/and not leave a footprint, I want to walk in the snow/and not soil its purity'. The verse riff in the first half revolves around an arpeggiated G7no5 - Edim progresion. Halfway through, the music slows down and becomes a more atmospheric, minimalist base over which Bradfield's lyrics are allowed to hit home harder than anywhere else on the album. There's some great lead guitar work too. Out of interest, the song is named 4st 7lbs as this is the threshold for human adult death - if you drop below this weight, you die.
Beginning with the 1984 quote "I hate purity. Hate goodness. I want everything corrupted." (taken from Winstons' first meeting with Julia), this song blitzes the listener with killer riffs based on major 7th intervals. Still the best way for a newcomer to sample this album. As a stand-alone single, this song can easily be seen just as a punk declaration of self-confidence (much the same as You Love Us) , with only the line 'So dam
n easy to cave in/Man kills everything' a marker of the bleak subject matter contained in the rest of the album. It also boasts one of the strangest guitar solos around - based almost entirely on physical repetition, it makes no tonal sense and still sounds excellent.
The Intense Humming Of Evil
One for the Nine Inch Nails fans out there. Clearly indebted to Trent Reznor, the music suggests a machine grinding coldly along, while Bradfield's voice is distant and haunted. Probably the point on the album where the music most accurately matches the lyrics - you can almost hear gas being released from the ambient electronics, and the harmonics suggest a woozy, undignified death. The song deals with concentration camps in Germany, and contains a recording from the court proceedings in which Germany was charged with war crimes.