Not many people have heard about this band, and many of those who did associate it with stadium rock or dad-rock genres. This is wrong on so many levels. The Manics are one of Britain’s most unique and captivating bands. Their sharp lyrics and colorful persona have gained them a relatively small, but very dedicated group of fans, and constant stylistical reinventions gave the Welsh band critics’ approval. This text will be an attempt to give a little insight to the band’s discography and (hopefully) give them some new fans.
Let’s begin, shall we?
The band was founded in 1986 in a small town called Blackwood in Wales by singing guitarist James Dean Bradfield, his cousin Sean Moore (drums), guitarist Nicky Wire and a bassist called Flicker. Flicker quit the band before they released any material and was replaced by guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards (With Wire taking on the bassist duties from now on). On the first three albums the music is credited to Bradfield and Moore, while the lyrics were written by the duo of Wire and Edwards. Following Richey’s mysterious dissapearance in 1995 almost all lyrics are written by Wire.
1992 – Generation Terrorists
After a few messy, but inspired EPs and singles the Manics’ debut was a bold statement. First of all, it hit the runtime of 73 minutes – not many bands have the guts to do that on their first record. There were also various cocky appearances in the media – claiming they would “sell 16 million copies and split up”. A memorable accident happened during an interview with NME – following the accusation that the band wasn’t taking their music seriously, Richey carved “4REAL” into his arm with a razorblade. The band caused some controversy with stunts like that, but the album was far from a bestseller. Musically, it’s an energetic mixture of glam, punk and hard rock, featuring some brilliant riffs (Slash n’ Burn, Stay Beautiful and the fan favourite Motorcycle Emptiness) as well as some really agressive and passionate political statements (You Love Us, Repeat (UK)). To be expected though, there’s quite a bit of filler too – a single, 45-minute or so album would be much more memorable. Overall though, it’s a solid debut that feels youthful and honest
1993 – Gold Against The Soul
A great example that good songs don’t always make a good album. The band attempted to give their sound an extra, grungy flavour and experiment a bit, but the result feels rushed and rather dissappointing. The obvious highlights include From Despair to Where, as well as the marvellous La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh), one of the best songs of their career, but it can’t really save the album from being nothing much than a transition period.
1994 – The Holy Bible
This is it. The very pinnacle of Manic’s discography, an album so dark, twisted and disturbing that it’s really more than an album – it’s a brutal, cleansing experience. Edwards took the majority of the lyrical duties, writing about the Holocaust, anorexia or suicide, while the sound is equally horryfing – raw post-punk where haunting basslines meet military drums and razor-sharp guitars. Bradfield’s vocal expression reaches its disturbing height too – sometimes it’s the devilish mumbling, sometimes it’s a shivering scream from the top of the lungs. It’s difficult to really name any highlights here, this album is a complete work of art – almost an hour of music that’s going to either repel you or make you return to this masterpiece constantly
1996 – Everything Must Go
The dissapearance of Richey in February of 1995 might as well be and end for the band – the remaining three considered calling it quits before a sudden spark convinced them to continue as a trio. That spark was A Design For Life. A stunning, anthemic song, it quickly became beloved by fans, it also allowed them for a commercial succes. This album produced many hit singles (Kevin Carter, Australia, the title track), but it was far from being a sellout attempt. This is stadium rock at its most noble and honest, joyous and proud, one of the defining British albums of the 90s.
1998 – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Unfortunately, the Manics took it a bit too far. The follow-up to Everything Must Go fails to achive the delicate balance between rock and pop, leaning more towards the latter. The hit single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next is flawless, but that can’t be said about other promotional songs – The Everlasting and Tsunami seem rather bland and uninspired, despite their obvious catchiness. Some really nice moments here (Ready for Drowning, Nobody Loved You) but it’s hard to call this album essential in the context of their entire discography.
2001 – Know Your Enemy
Quite possibly their most underrated effort. On the downside, it has a bit of filler (it clocks at 75 minutes), and it would do much better as a shorter, more cohesive album. On the other side it does an excellent job of mixing raw, noisy, distorted tracks with some surprising experiments like a genuine disco song (Miss Europa Disco Dancer) or an attempt to sound like Beach Boys (So Why So Sad). Overall though its led by agressive guitar tones and has a general lo-fi feel to it. A hidden gem in MSP catalogue, definitely worth your time.
2004 – Lifeblood
This album nearly caused the band to split, was disowned by fans and critics alike, and the band refuses to play these songs live anymore. But is it really that bad? The biggest problem Lifeblood it’s that it doesn’t really sound like Manic Street Preachers. It’s smooth, cold, melancholic, with synth-driven sound that doesn’t fit the band’s aesthetic at all. On the other hand, songs like 1985 or A Song for Departure are truly amazing, not to mention the astonishing Empty Souls or Cardiff Afterlife (dedicated to Richey). Even the controversial lead single, The Love of Richard Nixon has some undeniably catchy hooks. I’m not sure what were the band thinking at the time, but after more than a decade Lifeblood seems so odd and out of place that it’s not a black sheep anymore – it’s so unique in its weirdness it’s became an asset.
2007 – Send Away The Tigers
Apparently, the Manic Street Preachers way of dealing with crysis within the band is recording a postive, triumphant pop-rock album. It worked great in 1996 and proven to be effective in 2007 too. Basically, it’s a collection of 10 songs that mix power pop and hard rock in different proportions, mostly with good results. Hit singles Underdogs and Indian Summer provide the needed dose of catchiness, while Imperial Bodybags hits a little bit harder. Also, this album features one of the greatest moments in MSP career – Your Love Alone is Not Enough featuring a vocal duo with Nina Persson
2009 – Journal For Plague Lovers
This one was made from lyrics Richey left behind just before he went missing. Don’t worry though, it’s not an overly-emotional tearjerker cash-grab. Instead, Journal… is the closest the band ever get to reprising The Holy Bible stylistic. It borrows heavily from post-punk, but with some modern elements and a few slower tracks in between. It sounds raw and fresh (Steve Albini was the producer). No single promoted this album, and it’s really hard to pick some highlights, it’s a cohesive work of art that’s meant to be enjoyed as a whole. Direct, but not simple music with an intellectual twist, emotional, but in a natural, poetic way.
2010 – Postcards From a Young Man
“One last shot at mass communication” as they described it, Postcards ain’t a bad record, it’s just nice, but forgettable pop-rock album with some nice moments. The title track is monumental and epic, (It’s not War) Just The End of Love is sweet and catchy and A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun brings some energy and passion. Not even near their best work, it’s more of an interesting album for die-hard fans rather than a must-listen staple of modern music
2013 – Rewind The Film
It’s the Manics at their most subtle and introspective. A mostly acoustic album, Rewind the Film is definitely a grower – it takes time to really appreciate this record. The opening track features vocals by the stunning Lucy Rose, other guests include Richard Hawley and Cate Le Bon (3 Ways to See Despair was apparently intended for Morrissey). Calm and reflective, it sticks out in the band’s back catalogue.
2014 – Futurology
Recorded during the same session as Rewind the Film, this album feels like the total opposite – brave and innovative. There are elements of new wave, electronica and even industrial on this thing, all fitted into the Manics own style. Again, there are some guests on this album, like Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on melodic Between the Clock and The Bed or Nina Hoss, who sings in a great, bilingual duet with James on Europa Geht Durch Micht. There are also two purely instrumental tracks that fit really well into the overall sound. Despite the band expanding their sound, they still can deliver a great melody – cue the title track, Let’s Go to War or Misguided Missile (which SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SINGLE, dammit!) You can’t really tell what to expect from the band after an album like that, but we’re gonna to find out soon enough – rumours say 2018 or even earlier.