Manic Street Preachers Are Just As Relevant The Second Time Around
Thank God (or Al Gore) for the Internet, because now artists we might not otherwise hear from, or know anything about, are well within our grasp.
The Internet may have changed the world, but it hasn't really changed record companies all that much; most of them still can't tell wheat from chaff. As a result, we're seeing many fine albums released in Britain, selling pretty well and then never gaining a stateside release. The result? Only hardcore music buffs, comfortable spending $30 on import versions, ever hear the things.
In late 1994, a scruffy four-piece band from Wales released what has widely been heralded in Britain as one of the most significant rock records of the '90s. The album emerged under the rather nervy, irreverent moniker "The Holy Bible," and on the other side of the pond, it was a critical smash, guaranteeing its creators, the Manic Street Preachers, some pretty serious ink in the British music rags that mattered.
On Feb. 8, "The Holy Bible" arrives in the United States in a twin-disc, single-DVD 10th anniversary format, courtesy of Sony Legacy. But will anyone notice?
Sony released its 10th anniversary edition of the Manic's masterpiece a few weeks ago in Britain and it has generated a second wave of press adulation, nailing four stars from Q, Mojo and Blender, all of which proclaimed the album one of the most important of the '90s and all of which noted that time has done nothing to diminish its power.
I'll go one step further and submit that "The Holy Bible" is at least as significant a '90s release as Nirvana's "Nevermind" and is in fact more musically astute and potentially universal in its visceral, fiery lyrical attack than that far better-known record. I see no reason why the album shouldn't be regarded as highly in this country as it is "over there." The reissue should guarantee this, if the label truly gets behind it.
There are reasons for the Nirvana comparison, which go beyond the tendencies of most critics to cite the ubersuccessful "Nevermind" as the pinnacle of '90s music. First, both the Manics and Nirvana excelled at a form of postpunk, guitar-based cacophony. And both are now indelibly marked by myth, based on the pseudo-martyrdom of their masterminds -- Kurt Cobain committed suicide at the peak of Nirvana's popularity; and Street Preacher Richey Edwards disappeared almost immediately following the release of "The Holy Bible," of which he wrote the majority and which bore the unmistakable mark of his troubled imagination. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.
But while Nirvana never fully realized Cobain's potential before he took his life, "Bible" is a perfect album, and one that the remaining Manics have not been able to match in power and grace in the decade since, though they've certainly tried.
The reason for this is the apocalyptic vision of Richey's lyrics and the way the rest of the band -- bassist Nicky Wire, drummer/percussionist Sean Moore, vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield - mirrored, in a dense aural tapestry that teetered appealingly on cacophony, that vision. It's heavy music, both in terms of text, sonic representation and composition; it's also a transitional record in the best sense of that term, in that it channeled the best of skittish '80s new-fusion -- Public Image Ltd. and Joy Division, among others -- into a sound that was breaking new ground by suggesting that modern rock could be a relevant forum for both musical discovery and social criticism. No small feat.
So just what was Edwards going on about, and why did it seem to drive him around the bend, like some strange hybrid of Syd Barrett and J.D. Salinger? The band borrowed a quote from novelist J.G. Ballard for the original album sleeve that should have warned the curious that beneath the record's jacket waited something perhaps less than pleasant: "I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror." That's exactly what Edwards set out to do with tracks like "Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart," "Die in the Summertime," "Of Walking Abortion" and "Revol," which dealt with such atypical pop concerns as political atrocities, self-mutilation, the commodifying of the human body, the theories of Michel Foucault and the fleeting nature of youth.
No wonder "The Holy Bible" is only being released in the United States 10 years later.
The still-AWOL Edwards did offer a few semaphores regarding his hypertext rants on "Bible," but they lack the linear plot constructions Americans seem to love so much. Writing about the dam-bursting album-opener "Yes," for example, Edwards writes rather cryptically, "Prostitution of the self. The majority of your time is spent doing something you hate to get something you don't need. Everyone has a price to buy themselves out of freedom. Say yes to everything."
Heady by today's standards, certainly. But that's part of the enduring excellence of "The Holy Bible"; its is both daring and daunting, and it continues to mean something a decade removed from its milieu. That meets my definition of a classic.
"The Holy Bible" 10th anniversary package doesn't see release until Feb. 8, but you might want to order one now through your favorite record store. This record will not have the massive distribution, sadly, of so many far-lesser works touted by major record labels.