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Buyers Guide: Manic Street Preachers - Classic Rock Magazine, August 2011

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Title: Buyers Guide: Manic Street Preachers
Publication: Classic Rock Magazine
Date: August 2011
Writer: Henry Yates

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Still spitting furiously intelligent lyrics, and still burning with authenticity, they're Britrock's unlikely sole survivors.

For evidence of the gulf between the Manic Street Preachers and the career-minded, market-sector-driven young drones who call themselves rock stars in the post-millennium, simply type 'Richey Manic arm' into Google Images. The photograph that appears was taken in May 1991. In it, rhythm guitarist and co-lyricist Richey Edwards has just responded to an interviewers question over the band's authenticity by scoring '4 Real' into his forearm with a blade, culling so deep that he almost hit bone. Seventeen stitches later, such doubts would never be raised again.

On record, on stage and in interviews, the Manics are in many ways the perfect rock band. From the start, they occupied a territory all their own: the knife edge between the intellectual and visceral where politics. film, literature and social history were fed through the meat grinder of hook-heavy classic rock They're the only band that can cite Sylvia Plath, Chuck D, Giant Haystacks and Guns N Roses without prompting hoots of derision.

Back in 1989, when the band emerged from the chilly poverty of Blackwood, the original quartet was split clean up the middle: "a positive division of labour," as frontman James Dean Bradfield called it. On one side, the visionaries Edwards and bassist Nicky Wire; mediocre players (at the time), but invaluable both for their aesthetic and the furious intelligence of their lyrics. On the other, guitarist Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore, both musicians whose prowess is often overlooked, and the engine-room that ensured the Manics were more than a string of clever-clogs song titles.

Bands with such fierce ideology tend to burn out fast, and, early on, even the Manics announced a plan to sell 16 million copies of debut album Generation Terrorists then split up. Of course, they never did, recovering from the (likely) suicide of Edwards in 1995 to release their most accessible record , Everything Must Go.

Some say they've faded since then. And, for a time, it was true, with their turn-of-the-millennium records lacking bite. But they regrouped with 2007 's Send Away The Tigers, and even in their 40s they're still raging against the dying of the light.

The Manics are '4 Real'. They burn with authenticity; it bleeds into their albums and fuels their status as Britrock's sole survivors.

Essential - Classics

Everything Must Go
Everything Must Go might equally have been called Nothing To Lose, Shattered by the loss of their talisman, most bands would have folded Instead. Bradfield, Wire and Moore wrote the album of their career.

The feather boa brigade will tell you that Everything Must Go cost the Manics their edge, aesthetic and status as agent provocateurs. Maybe, but this fourth album is the band's most bullet-proof batch of songs. Many are now drive-time staples - the epic A Design For Life say - but lesser-heard tracks like Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky ensure this commercial high-water-mark can still unnerve.

Generation Terrorists
With this debut the Manics were screaming their manifesto from the rooftops and writing same staggeringly good material.

In 1992, with Britain in thrall to grunge, nobody was making music like this, This was a small-town record with its eye on the world; a rock'n'roll thesis that fused literary heavyweights and LA hair-metal with the fury of being young, skint and marked as Valleys factory fodder. Singles like Motorcycle Emptiness and You Love Us were the starting pistol for Britrock. And although it was never going to sell 16 million copies, for the thousands who did buy it Generation Terrorists was life-changing.

Superior - Reputation Cementing

The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible is the line in the sand, It's the last album where Edwards was alive to spit about anorexia, suicide and the holocaust. The last album where Bradfield favoured sharp-elbowed riff over a stadium-sized chorus. The last time the Manics sounded truly dangerous,

The official critical line is that The Holy Bible is their grand work, and the hard-core will piss blood to see it dismissed as merely 'superior'. But for the Manics dabbler it is a divisive first purchase, with the savage brilliance of cuts like Faster and She Is Suffering offset by a general bleakness that isn't for everyone.

Gold Against The Soul
The Manics felt it had been infected by Columbia's major-label poison ("All we wanted to do was go under the corporate wing," admitted Bradfield. "We thought we could ignore it, but you do get affected"), the critics slated its lack of emotional focus, and the hard-core railed against its watered-down politics.

The album has grown in stature, and is far leaner, meaner and more loaded with gems than its battered reputation would suggest. From Despair To Where, Life Becoming A Landslide, La Tristesse Duerera (Scream To A Sigh)... a band that carries these songs before it is invincible.

Send Away The Tigers
At the fag-end of a flabby decade nothing more was expected from the Manics. Then they dropped this: a rot-stopping comeback special described by Wire as embodying "the reason why we wanted to be in a band," where guitars trampled everything but the melody.

For the first time in years the band sounded like they were having fun again, revisiting the glam-metal of their youth on Underdogs and scoring a No.2 with Your Love Alone Is Not Enough. "There's an element of shit-or-bust this time," Wire told the BBC. "But I think we might have pulled it off."

Postcards From A Young Man
With Edwards having been exorcised on Journal...the Manics returned with an album of self-described "big radio hits" that represented their "last attempt at mass communication".

In the end it wasn't a great seller, but fans of Everything Must Go's wide-screen drama will find this a good companion piece, with strings crammed into every orifice of Some Kind Of Nothingness, (It'S Not War) Just The End Of Love coming on like a sunbeam puncturing storm clouds, and Duff McKagan, John Cale and Ian McCulloch all invited to the closest the Manics have come to a street party.

Good - Worth Exploring

Know Your Enemy
Unsurprisingly. a band whose founding mission statement might have been 'us against the world', working individually in the studio didn't suit the Manics, and they opened the new millennium with a stutter. This schizophrenic sixth album is frustrating, home to several absolute crackers (Intravenous Agnostic), some wet-weekend balladry (So Why So Sad) and - God help us - one moment of hellish calypso funk.

"It has moments of brilliance but there's no focus; it's all over the place," says Wire. which is a fair assessment of the confused album that started the Manics' wilderness years.

Journal For Plague Lovers
A few weeks before he vanished, Edwards presented Wire with a ring-binder with reams of dark, spidery, often oblique lyrics crumpled within. It was only 14 years later - having reminded us of their own talents with...Tigers - that the reinvigorated Manics felt confident enough to work them into 13 tracks. And while it's too glib to dub the resulting album The Holy Bible II, the unsettling sleeve art, absence of hit singles, and sharp edges of moments like Peeled Apples made this the most raw and thrusting Manics album in years. "I can't write lyrics like this." Wire told website The Quietus. "And I wouldn't want to"

This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Not the first on anyone's to-buy list, but the Manics' fifth album has plenty to recommend it. If You Tolerate This...was a revelation that topped the UK singles chart without compromising, The Everlasting had a stately beauty. while Ready For Drowning was angular and interesting. Overall though, ...Truth... is too patchy to be considered a true classic, with the lumbering S.Y.M.M. and Wire's My little Empire as tedious as you'd expect from a song written about hoovering. Their status as superstars and national treasures had left this once feral rock band feeling positively middle-of-the-road.

"It's not like we had rows or anything," Wire mused of Lifeblood's half-arsed recording process. "It's just we had a theory that we must sound like New Order or the Pet Shop Boys".

Contrary to the title, this was anemic: a huge, wafty, water-treading record that reaches for 'epic' but defies even the most die-hard fan to recall a single memorable hook, barbed lyric or reason for listening. It's no surprise that Lifeblood dropped like a stone from the UK chart that both Bradfield and Wire would dip into solo projects afterwards, or that 2007's Send Away The Tigers felt like an embarrassed apology.

Bloody awful.