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Everything Must Go - NME, 8th October 2011

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ARTICLES:2011



Title: Everything Must Go
Publication: NME
Date: Saturday 8th October 2011
Writer: Emily Mackay, Dan Martin
Photos: Tom Oxley



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25 years ago Manic Street Preachers began a crusade to torch rock'n'roll and rebuild it in their own lipsticked, literary image. As they prepare to take a break, Emily Mackay reflects on their legacy.

"We're not saying there's anything glamorous in getting fucked up, we're not saying there's anything glamorous in being dead, but there's nothing glamorous in having a 20-year career in rock either. That's even more sick" - Nicky Wire, 1990

Well, what a sick juncture we find ourselves at. More than two decades after Manics bassist Nicky Wire spat that live-fast-die-young sentiment in the face of their first Melody Maker interview, here we are celebrating their 25-year career with a comprehensive singles collection.

The humour of the situation isn't lost on them. The knowing irony of the title of 'National Treasures' deliberately draw attention to how odd it is to talk about the Manics having a legacy. This is the band who sang of defacing art in galleries, tearing down icons (even their own), who urged teenagers to kill themselves before they get old, who said they'd split up after making one double album that would go straight to Number One. They weren't supposed to even have a future, let alone a legacy.

Thankfully, they kind of, er, changed their minds, sticking closer to Wire's later pronouncement of "we reserve the right to contradict ourselves" than to the original plan to be a brief-flaring-pop-cultural grenade. If they were principled, they were also ambitious ("We just wanna be the most important reference point of the '90s. That's all," shrugged second guitarist and band ideologue Richey Edwards in the same interview). Of course, one album would never have been enough to exhaust that furious flood of ideas and anger and wit and sexiness. Ten hasn't been enough to tire the anger that fuelled them as they plotted from James' bedroom in the depressed former coal town of Blackwood, south Wales, scrawling angry letters to the music press ("In mundane 1991 we look like nothing else on earth...Fuck the rotten edifice of Manchester.")

It's that same manic sickness, their hunger to jerry-rig the broken art rock'n'roll into something with real political power that means, two decades on, they still care more than any band you can think of. Interviews with them are exhausting, brilliant, inspiring things; you could publish the whole transcript of the most casual phone chat in full without a tweak, and it'd be funnier, more interesting than nearly everything else you could put in a magazine that week. No matter how many times they play the same songs, there'll always come a point in their set where everything takes off and gravity seems to stop. There's as much fire in their bellies, more venom in their tongues, than in a year's worth of raw new bands.

And yet, most of those new bands, if they've been doing their homework, will be spouting something ludicrous and Manics-derived in their first interview. They won't sound like the Manics, mind; they're not a band you often hear used as a musical reference (think of how many acts you've heard described with the words 'The Jesus And Mary Chain' recently, then compare it with how often you've heard 'Manic Street Preachers). They're always too unfashionable; in a world of shoegaze, crusty and grunge they came championing Guns N Roses and Public Enemy with their 1992 debut 'Generation Terrorists', and remained gloriously out of step with their peers.

If no-one's trying to recreate the sounds of 'Roses In The Hospital' or 'Revol', though, Richey still got his wish. Their ridiculous, brilliant history is littered with genius moments that have become touchstones, exemplary demonstrations of how you should (and shouldn't) do this rock'n'roll band thing. Not just their records, but everything they did, the things they said, have passed into a modern mythology. No accident; a new modern myth was precisely what they aimed to be. Thanks to Richey's decision to put his blood where his mouth was and carve his integrity into his arm in front of a horrified Steve Lamacq in an 1991 NME interview, you only have to utter the phrase '4 REAL' to conjure up the idea of a terrifying dedication to the cause. Singing 'Faster' on Top Of The Pops in balaclavas, having porn star Traci Lords guest on feminist plaint 'Little Baby Nothing', telling their first Glastonbury crowd in 1994, "I say build some more fucking bypasses over this shithole'... baffling, brilliant moments like these never tire in the retelling.

'Generation Terrorists' with its spiteful, scattershot polemical poetry, its slogans and collages and lovebites and soundbites, became your archetypal audacious debut album statement. The follow-up, 1993's 'Gold Against The Soul', is now almost a byword for 'difficult second album', the one where you lose your way in the big sounds of a major label rock band (although it also contains some of their most enduring and beautiful songs). And, of course, there's 1994's 'The Holy Bible'. Released in the same year as Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe' and Blur's 'Parklife', the Manics' monolithic third album is the first example you reach for when thinking of a record that's iconic in darkness, in pure negation and rage (yet still witty, sexy and furiously alive).

The dangerous glamour of first-era Manics is the most immediately seductive, but what came after Richey Edwards' unexplained disappearance in February 1995 following an increasingly intense struggle with depression, anorexia and alcohol, was no less legendary. Their first album as a three-piece, 1996's 'Everything Must Go', is the model of a graceful, brave recovery. A band pulling themselves back with an album that faced that catastrophic blow head-on and came out fighting; a musical reinvention that silenced the doommongers.

And then there was the glorious spectacle of their ascent into the big time without compromise; those triumphant stadium gigs and the beautiful crossover success of 'A Design For Life', an intelligent anthem that packed books' worth of social analysis into lyrics to be bawled at the top of your lungs as much as quietly treasured.

As they moved from cultdom to a band comfortable on radio playlists (pausing along the way to score the first new Number One of the new millennium with 'The Masses Against The Classes), there were the latter day accolades and retrospectives, from our own Godlike Genius award in 2008 to the rarities compilation 'Lipstick Traces'. Next came the brave decision to revisit Richey's last trove of lyrics for 2009'S 'Jourbal For Plague Lovers', tearing at their acceptability with sharp riffs and jagged words. And then, with customary contradiction, for last year's 'Postcards From A Young Man', a more light entertainment choice of spectacle than Jackie Collins Existential Question Time'; in tune with the album's fixation with modem mass communication, we got to see the Manics playing on Strictly ComeDancing. Just...amazing.

In the spirit of the Situationist philosophers that they espoused at the start, they are a machine for producing brilliant, mind-twisting, hysterical and appalling moments. And in the spirit of those moments, they were dedicated to the art of the single. Richey reviewed the week's releases for Smash Hits in 1992. Neneh Cherry, Suede and the reissued 'Anarchy In The UK' drew praise, and he repeatedly enthused about the power of "great pop". Their own singles were carefully chosen statements, always with carefully chosen B-sides, artwork littered with clues and quotes. A little cultural time capsule, or timebomb. It's always about the whole package, and that's why the legacy of the Manics is so much more than just a sound.

You'll hear them referred to as the reason people got into music the reason they formed a band, started a magazine. There a band you can make (and break) friendships over, that form instant understandings. You scope someone wearing a 'Little Baby Nothing' T-shirt or a leopard-print blouse, and you just know they're going to be alright. Probably batshit crazy, but...alright. In common with many other Manics fans, I can honestly say my life would have been very different without them. I wouldn't have read the same books, seen the same films. Probably wouldn't have studied as hard (always mindful of Nicky and Richey's scorn of I slacker students). Certainly wouldn't be doing the job I'm doing now. One of the best things about going to Manics gigs in the past few years has been walking past teenage fans queuing outside for hours to get to the front row, then seeing them all sweaty and ecstatic at the end, their feather boas clinging to their foreheads and their eyeliner down by their chins, and knowing that a new generation of fans is having the same experience.

And will this break really be the end? If so, let's make sure these 'National Treasures' stay where they belong; not in a museum of reverence, but learned by heart and screamed aloud, passed from fan to fan, keeping alive a secret history of rock that won't ever fit neatly in the hail of fame.

"We Sanctified The Single As A Holy Phenomenon"

The Manics are bowing out after releasing some of the most incendiary singles ever - but which is best? Dan Martin forced the band to rank all 40.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered on a Cardiff industrial estate to mourn the passing of Manic Street Preachers as we know them. At Faster Studios, the band's HQ , posters adorn the walls. The telly flicks between NME TV and the Lib Dem conference. James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore are contemplating their status as the UK's ultimate singles band. "We always sanctified the single as a very holy phenomenon of our youth and it entranced us," says Nicky. "It felt like the easiest way of infiltrating the mainstream. The idea of getting on Top Of The Pops doing 'Faster' looking like extras from Apocalypse Now was satisfying to us." He looks forlorn. "It was a much clearer world then."

So Manic Street Preachers have declared the passing of the rock hit and are marking it with a bumper, 38-song compendium of every one of their singles (well, almost) then going away for "at least two years". So NME has travelled to Cardiff to force the band to face the music and rank their singles into an ultimate Top 40. To make up the numbers we've added their self-released seven-inch 'Suicide Alley', and 'Strip It Down' from the 'New Art Riot' EP.

What follows is a rock'n'roll summit carried out with the gravitas of a cabinet war room. James sits on a sofa, plucking an acoustic, shouting ideas. Nicky shuffles around the cue cards of their history like he's on The Cube. Then Sean will switch round significant entries like the general everyone fears.

So 'You Love Us' misses the Top 10 in favour of 'Suicide Alley' ("It gives us something new to talk about," deadpans Nicky). Hearts sink at the thought of Number 40, 'There By The Grace Of God'. Finally, the band come up with the rundown. "It's hard, as there's a difference between significance and actually liking something," admits Nicky. "'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' might not be people's favourite but then when you play it live and you realise what it did for us you've got to give it its dues. That's the dilemma, my rampant commercialism versus James and Sean's artistic desires."

So, start reading their countdown below, then for the sharp end of the Manics' career in singles, turn over...

40. THERE BY THE GRACE OF GOD (2002)
Nicky: "Grey. Dour. And a mistake because we had a track called 'Forever Delayed' which would have been an amazing single."

39. REVOL (1994)
Nicky: "Bizarre, utter mess. Great lyric but bad song."

38. SHE IS SUFFERING (1994)
Nicky: "Puppets, the worst video we ever did. But I did say to James, 'This could be our 'Every Breath You Take'.'"

37. SO WHY SO SAD (2001)
James: "The Avalanches remix should've been the single."

36. EMPTY SOULS (2005)
Sean: "It's a nice, shiny, sparkly, lovely video. But that was it really."

35. LITTLE BABY NOTHING (1992)
James: "I tried to write something that The E Street Band would play."

34. STRIP IT DOWN (1990)
Nicky: "A Clash rip-off. Live it's brilliant, though."

33. AUTUMNSONG (2007)
James: "'Autumnsong' is the women's workout song for the noughties."

32. LIFE BECOMING A LANDSLIDE (1994)
James: "I was trying to mix Iron Maiden and The Clash's version of 'Armagideon Time'."

31. SLASH 'N' BURN (1992)
James: "Sean didn't really like it because he thought I sang 'decadence' too Welsh."

30. THE EVERLASTING (1998)
Nicky: "The title just about sums that song up."

29. FROM DESPAIR TO WHERE (1993)
James: "Martin [Hall], our manager, said it would be our first international Number One, like 'Maggie May' for Rod Stewart."

28. THIS IS THE DAY (2011)
Nicky: "We're really happy with it, but time hasn't quite settled in yet."

27. THEME FROM MASH (SUICIDE IS PAINLESS) (1992)
Nicky: "I've got fond memories of this; it's got some great drums, great artwork and all for the NME [compilation]. What more could you really want?"

26. INDIAN SUMMER (2007)
James: "It had a sense of redemption to it. It feels like it's a signpost to the future."

25. TSUNAMI (1999)
Nicky: "To have the line 'disco dancing with the rapists' playlisted on Radio 1, that is subversion."

24. EVERYTHING MUST GO (1996)
Sean: "In Drummer magazine it's down as my best ever drum part."

23. POSTCARDS FROM A YOUNG MAN (2011)
Nicky: "This is really deep and resonant and important and sad, because we know that we'll never do a record like that again."

22. STAY BEAUTIFUL (1991)
James: "The middle of the chorus where it goes 'wa wa' it should've gone 'fuck off. Cop out."

21. AUSTRALIA (1996)
Nicky: "'Tsunami' and 'Australia' were both fourth singles [off their respective albums], that's fucking impressive."

20. YOU STOLE THE SUN FROM MY HEART (1999)
Nicky: "This was the first time we dipped into a bit of Buzzcocks."

19. LET ROBESON SING (2001)
Sean: "It has potential, but it wasn't fully realised."

18. LOVE'S SWEET EXILE (1991)
Nicky: "James used to be so fast!"
James: "I'll play it right fucking now if you want!"

17. ROSES IN THE HOSPITAL (1993)
James: "Love the lyric, love the choruses, but the verses are just (Bowie's) 'Sound And Vision'."

16. SOME KIND OF NOTHINGNESS (2010)
Nicky: "Just the glory of having Ian McCulloch sing one of our songs..."

15. OCEAN SPRAY (2001)
James: "Inspired by my mum's passing. You have doubts over whether you should convert those emotions."

14. KEVIN CARTER (1996)
Nicky: "It was more like a Wire song at first. Great Richey lyric."

13. FOUND THAT SOUL (2001)
Nicky: "When we released this and 'So Why So Sad' we were a bit sad they weren't One and Two!"

12. LA TRISTESSE DURERA (SCREAM TO A SIGH) (1993)
Nicky: "The last great baggy record with The Chemical Brothers doing the remix."

11. YOU LOVE US (1991)
Nicky: "The lyric was a mission statement, of our genuine attitude towards life."

10. SUICIDE ALLEY (1988)
The very first release, the scratchy punk fireball before the 'proper' first single

Nicky: "It was the first time we got anywhere near to realising what we could be. Richey wasn't in at that point, but he took the picture on the cover. We did 300 copies, was there with his Pritt Stick doing the covers, and we got an NME review from Swells [late NME legend Stephen Wells]. Without it I don't think we'd have quite got started."
James: "We were just trying to follow the rules, the old Clash thing that [manager] Bernie Rhodes told them, to write about what was happening outside their window or on their doorstep."
Nicky: "I hadn't started writing lyrics with Richey. It was just about spilling out of the pubs in Blackwood. Ultraviolence!"

9. THE LOVE OF RICHARD NIXON (2001)
Much-maligned lead single front 'Lifeblood', styled as 'Depeche Mode plays bossa nova'

James: "It sometimes feels like a cabinet reshuffle [changing styles], and this one feels like taking Mandelson into the cabinet. You know, it's slightly fraught with danger but you might need him. I can't imagine another band actually writing those lyrics."
Sean: "And getting it to Number Two! That's even more bizarre."
Nicky: "There's that sample at the end where Nixon says, 'I am not a quitter.' We thought that applied to us as a band. I just find him really interesting and kind of like myself."

8. (IT'S NOT WAR) JUST THE END OF LOVE (2010)
Glorious first single from 'Postcards From A Young Man', their "one last shot at mass communication"

Nicky: "It's so full of freshness for a band in their forties and on their 10th record. We love the title and the words and the video with Michael Sheen. It's one of those moments when everything comes together. Like I said, our one last shot at mass communication."
James: "It was the first time Nicky had followed his own muse and wrote his own music to his lyrics."
Nicky: "You're thinking of the wrong fucking song! That was 'Your Love Alone..."'
James: "Oh yeah, right. Because he did try to do the music for '(It's Not War)...' as well. And it was fucking awful!"

7. THE MASSES AGAINST THE CLASSES (2000)
Their biggest ever single, and the first brand new UK Number One single of the third millennium

Nicky: "The first Number One of the millennium, and coming just after we'd sold out Millennium Stadium [for millennium night]. It was a reaction to the supposed bigness and blandness of 'This Is My Truth...', coming back with something that starts with a Chomsky sample. It's not such a political song, it's a song about us. That idea that 10 years on, we'd become one of the biggest hands in Britain. But nobody really wanted to do it except me."
James: "It was one of his Blair moments - 'We need a new policy initiative! What's the policy initiative for next week?'"

6. MOTOWN JUNK (1991)
The proper first single for Heavenly, a punk rhapsody with a scattergun outpouring of hate.

James: "To [manager] Martin and [publicist] Philip Hall's great credit they spotted this as our first ever indie single, really. Martin liked it because it went 'Wooo-ooh!' We recorded it at Power Plant in north London where 'Maggie May' was recorded. And we've actually never managed to get a lot of those sounds back."
Nicky: "They're not the most sophisticated sounds, but it's the closest we've ever got to The Clash. It's the perfect manifestation of the four of us. Richey was fully integrated by this point. Getting NME Single Of The week gave us a genuine sense of excitement. There haven't been many times we haven't played it over the years."

5. IF YOU TOLERATE THIS YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE NEXT (1998)
The band's first Number One solidified their big-league place.

James: "That lyric, 'The future teaches you to be alone, the present to be afraid and cold, so if I can shoot rabbits then I can shoot fascists', it's not that easy to actually say as a rhyme, but it's beautiful to sing."
Nicky: "It was amazing to get a Number One. We'd been neck and neck with Steps all week, and we ended up doing 152,000 physical singles in the first week. It went Number One all around Europe, to do that with a song of musical and lyrical complexity was bizarre. The video is our greatest ever. People might think the album becomes a bit mid-paced, but '...Tolerate...', there's not a thing any of us would change."

4. MOTORCYCLE EMPTINESS (1992)
This monolith marked them out as big boys for the first time.

Nicky: "Our first worldwide-recognised song. But we didn't even play it for the first six months. Me and Richey didn't bother to learn it."
James: "It shows how out of step with the rest of the world we were. The first line, 'Culture sucks down words, itemise loathing and feed yourself smiles' - it never occurred to us that that was not the stuff that hit singles were made of."
Nicky: "Then we all saw Nirvana on Top Of The Pops and there was a collective sigh of, 'Oh my god. this is the new thing.' We thought it could be the Pistols and the New York Dolls, and it's just people with terrible clothes and beards and long hair."

3. YOUR LOVE ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH (2007)
Nina Persson from The Cardigans turned up on vocals; the 'Lifeblood' period slump was over.

Nicky: "That's the reason we're here now. Working with Nina was just a moment of true perfection, her and James' voices just gel."
James: "Watching Nina nail a track in two takes was humbling. I feel fate was on our side for this. We've had a lot of bad luck, but we've also a lot of good luck."
Nicky: "Much as we've had a lot more success post-Richey, it's always an awkward and depressing feeling not having this superstar-looking person just there. Richey's presence was just so beguiling for me. Now you look over and it's just a bunch of fucking session musicians."

2. A DESIGN FOR LIFE (1996)
After Richey's disappearance, the band returned with an epic, string-drenched polemic on working class culture.

James: "After that terrible experience, luck did turn our way again. We dig for victories sometimes but this came easily."
Sean: "Always better on the back foot."
Nicky: "It was important we weren't aping 'The Holy Bible'. It would have been so fake if we'd come back with something like that. The fact that it was this glorious death waltz, having working-class culture patronised by Britpop, to actually have a moment where we could say 'This is what it really is, we've actually grown up in it.' I remember getting the midweeks, only Mark Morrison's 'Return Of The Mack' was gonna beat us, great pop single as it was."

1. FASTER (1994)
The most incendiary tour de force of their career, the on the point of glorious combustion

It is the dark heart of 'The Holy Bible' that emerges as Manic Street Preachers' Number One of their own Top 40 hit parade. What else? A Molotov cocktail of post-punk guitars powers along one of Richey's most freeform and barbed lyrical displays. The result of one of the most intense compositions of all time - and one of the most exhilarating pop songs of all time.

Nicky: "Sean's choice!"
Sean: "It's us at out most visceral best, spitting bile and we just looked good, good video, good song."
Nicky: "It's my title. I think the outro 'man kills everything' is mine. 'If you stand up like a nail...' is a Chinese proverb. So it's a perfect synthesis of everything really."
James: "It's one of Richey's soothsaying lyrics. There's a lot of prophesy, in terms of the acceleration of everything - joy, pain, death, consumerism."
Nicky: "I think 'I know I believe in nothing but it is my, nothing' is the great catchphrase of the '90s. And for him to actually write 'I am stronger than Mew, Miller and Mailer', it shows an almost heroic self-indulgence, really. But it makes you great. Because at the time Blur's 'Girls & Boys' went Top Five and I remember thinking, 'What the fuck arc we doing?', just completely ostracised. But then I remember having a moment thinking, 'This is brilliant? We'd never felt so alone and we really were totally distanced from everything else. And that's why we were the biggest cult band in Britain. It was one of those moments when you're never gonna do something that good again. You might do something more commercial, more uplifting, which we have done. But the cultdom of it - I think it was once described as 'a heady mix of 'Ace Of Spades' by Motorhead, and 'Anarchy In The UK'."
James: "It's something that connected with the darker parts of all our selves. And it's hard to get a career out of those moments."

Cover Versions

The Manics reflect on four of the 20 times they've graced our front page

GLITTER TWINS
(May 1, 1991)

Nicky: "This was our first NME cover, and it's pretty unique because I'm sure it was the first NME cover to have the guitarist and the bass player on it, but not the singer. We did some great shots of the full band but I guess you thought we were prettier! Richey carved 'VIH' on his chest, because he thought the image would be flipped."

IN LOVE
(February 15, 1992)

Nicky: "I was just so over the moon with that coverline, 'Do you really, sincerely love the Manic Street Preachers... or do you want to kick their heads in?' It couldn't have been more perfect."

BANGKOK NIGHTS
(May 28, 1994)

Nicky: "I have nothing but horrible memories of that trip. I just felt ill and fucking miserable. But we played brilliantly. Barbara Ellen wrote a brilliant piece, it ran in two parts."
James: "That was the start of my 10 years of drinking solidly. You can see it in mt face."

THIS WAS THEIR TRUTH
(August 1, 1998)

Nicky: "I remember this really clearly. 'This Is My Truth...' was about to come out, we were a big deal. We shot two covers that day, the first one and then we were interviewed by the fans for a few months later."
James: "I don't remember any of it. I was just pissed the whole time."

What's Next?

MSP are bowing out in December - what will they do after then?

Nicky: "I think we're gonna sit here and have a rest."
James: "I think we will, as a band, re-investigate ourselves as a concept..."
Sean: "We're just gonna fuck around..."
James: "...which we've done before and came up with 'Lifeblood', so we don't wanna make that mistake again. Our next record will be an opus, I think. We're aware that the age of the rock/pop single's gone, so we've got to try to think of how to survive without that."
Nicky: "The third and last great phase of Manic Street preachers - you can't just click one's fingers. We've used a lot of ideas up!"