Four Welshmen of the rock apocalypse

Saville Strategy WPIn August 1994, a 3ft by 3ft image of the cover of new album by Manic Street Preachers hung in a high street shop window. Not just any shop, but Woolworths, a world wide chain and staple of many UK high streets.

This wan’t Bon Jovi, Wet Wet Wet, Mariah Carey or other consumable releases the public lapped up that year with their shiny tunes and polished poses. This was a large reproduction of Jenny Saville’s Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face).

The Manics’ previous LP, Gold Against The Soul, was a little more Bon Jovi than the band perhaps wanted. James Dean Bradfield, singer and lead guitarist, was channeling his inner Springsteen. But here were the four members in military clothing singing of with a shrill, grating guitar and Sean Moore’s militaristic drumming the envy of armed forces the world over. Hard hitting and not chart friendly. Not even Top Of The Pops friendly, as 25,000 complaints rained in about Bradfield wearing a balaclava on the show whilst performing ‘Faster.’  One may think the flames to the side of the band caused more risk than the diminutive singer.

It’s 21 years on and the history of the band has been well discussed, acknowledged and pondered. The LPs which followed were more mainstream, no less political and raging, but certainly appealed to a wider audience. But will the passing of two decades and an anniversary box set ignite more interest in a record often cited as must own?

Astoria Manics WPI doubt it. The tour gave newer fans a chance to hear some abrasion live but without the real vitriol of The Holy Bible autumn tour, and the anger of those famed Astoria shows.

Journal For Plague Lovers gave an update, a sister piece. But when worked upon without the major lyric writer, just his notes, the three friends were second guessing. It’s a fine record but timing and circumstance are everything when an LP leaves the band and becomes public food.

I stopped listening to The Holy Bible over five years ago, after spending the previous 15 feeling it was a great, if disturbing, work, along the passing of time I dropped it from my play list. Generation Terrorists didn’t suffer this fate, and areas of Gold… only did so because, well, some of it lacked quality.

Maybe the albatross of what happened in the February following its release began to weigh the album down.

The effect it had on Bradfield was more evident than upon Moore or bassist and co-lyricist Nicky Wire. In interviews since Richey Edwards left the Embassy Hotel on the eve of a US promotional tour, have shown the event still sits heavy on the boy with a knack for putting some absurd, intelligent and downright mind boggling lyrics into consumable song.

During the recording of the No Manifesto movie in 2005, the event still seemed to play on his mind. Wire has kept his thoughts more to himself; a considerable feat with regards to how close Edwards and Wire were and the latter’s gift for offering points of almost idiocy to the largest audiences possible.

HM Box WPThe 20th Anniversary box set comes with a full gamut of tracks, from the original album now remastered, the US remix – which Bradfield considers superior – B-Sides and live tracks from the BBC and the Astoria, The Holy Bible on vinyl and an accompanying booklet. There should, indeed, be nothing left to release from this tense period of note, and the perfect vision Edwards had can stay this way; unsullied.

After so long away, the music still retains a freshness, a shining newness. Switch off from the lyrics and much of the music allows for pogoing, spinning on one leg whilst soloing and the odd Wire-esque scissor kick. An energy is revealed rather than a showing of anger; unless it’s ‘The Intense Humming of Evil,’ which scares with its industrial scraping of metal machinery echoing around the speakers, then you despair at the horror of the thoughts in Edwards’ mind placed into song.

With time passed, there is a more melancholic beauty to the work, a deep seated facet of many Manics songs. Has the disappearance of Edwards softened within the public’s eye and the true beauty in most of his writing can now be revealed?

Manic Street Preachers’ Futurology LP review can be found here, while magazine Future-Past can be read and downloaded here.

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