Arm-slashing, provocative political agendas and shameless sloganeering initially had the Manic Street PReacgers earmarked as five-minute wonders. Six years on, from acclaimed recordings through to their uncertain future, they've proved themselves to be rebels with a cause who were quick to recognise the power of the press. Which is where the NME stepped in...
"We are the decaying flowers in the playgrounds of the rich. We are young, beautiful scum, pissed off with the world." - Manic Street Preachers, NME, August 1990
"In the terms of the work I do, I've never been too late for anything." - Richey Edwards, October 1994
Hang on a minute. Don't take this the wrong way. The Manic Street Preachers, as proved by their frantic, huge-hearted show with The Stone Roses at Christmas, aren't the sort of band that's going to disappear just yet, no matter how many obstacles get in their way. In over five years of NME coverage, they've blazed a trail unlike any homegrown act of the last ten years. Forget the mad, bad odyssey of the likes of the Happy Mondays; the Manics were something altogether different, right from the start; like a group determined to live out their lives through the press, rather then be reported on as an adjunct to their own life-speed life-styles. The Manics - especially Richey Edwards - seemed fascinated by the power of the NME from the very beginning; the band even decided in advance which writers would cover the early stages of their career. Consequently, over five fractious, dazzling years, the group has never given us anything but the glorious, chaotic truth, no matter how bleak or difficult things may have been for them at the time.
NME writers were initially polarised by the Manics' manifestos and lurid schemes. Many felt it was just another punk throwback. But in the ensuing years, it became plain that the band amounted to a whole lot more than this. The Manics also enlivened the Angst section of the paper - sometimes an entire week's section of the letters page was dedicated to stormy issues which the band raised. Even the missives from their fans were exceptional. Read on for a still-burning history of the most remarkable band of our time...
August 11, 1989: Sensing that the blissed-out baggydelica of The Stone Roses and the Mondays may soon prompt a nihilistic punk alternative (something he's never been averse to), NME's Steven Wells reviewed the Manics' first independent single, 'Suicide Alley', in glowing terms. "White Rock Rebelboy Single Of The Week!" Wells gushed, before declaring that the band's Clash-esque tunefulness and situationist sloganeering were a welcome return to the glam-punk aesthetic of 1977, an era long before "Crass ruined everything," before finishing "Retrogressive, exciting and inspired. You'll probably hate it".
August 4, 1990: A year on, the band had landed their first NME interview via the On section. Amidst a booming, wildly optimistic scene (the likes of Five Thirty, Primal Scream, Ride and The Charlatans were all emerging at the time), the Manics looked and sounded utterly fantastic, like a heavily politicised New York Dolls.
Steven Wells, predictably, couldn't get enough of them: "They have more anger and energy than any other band I have ever interviewed," he announced, before letting them spout off, manifesto-like, as one voice, not using the individual band members' names (inevitably, those of Richey and Nicky Wire) to give them as much shock-value as possible. "Wipe out aristocracy, kill kill kill. Queen and country dumb flag scum," went the wildly overstated call-to-arms. A phenomenon was up and running.
March 9, 1991: Bolstered by reams of sensationalist press in the NME and elsewhere (most notably, a follow-up Swells' interview outside Buckingham Palace on January 5, '91, where the band declared their intention to record one double-album, then split up), they released their first single for new label Heavenly in March.
'Motown Junk' was a classic, and duly received Single Of The Week status from the NME's Stuart Bailie: "This is blamming and self-righteous, the wildest-sounding record this week by several large universes," he reasoned, next to a photo of the band looking tired and strung-out in pop-art gear. "And anyway," he taunted the disbelievers, "don't the best rock'n'roll songs always read like hieroglyphics?"
May 25, 1991: Two months later, the first huge crack appeared in the Manics' facade. On being interrogated by the NME's Steve Lamacq on the question of the band's earnestness, Richey calmly took out a razor blade from his pocket and carved the words '4 Real' into his left forearm, resulting in 17 stitches and much furore. Questioned whether, in the cold light of day, he might feel like 'a dickhead', Richey replied: "No, I feel just like the rest of this country - banging my head against the fucking wall".
February 8, 1992: In the wake of several glorious self-penned attacks on the state of the British music press (most notably in the NME Christmas issue, December 21, 1991, wherein the band rightly derided the fraggle movement of the time as nothing but "funny T-shirts, stupid haircuts, cider and songs about hanging out with your ex,") the Manics soon found themselves moving towards a backlash. Having signed to Columbia, the knives were out, with the NME's Andrew Collins having already given a cool reception to third 'proper' single, 'Stay Beautiful'.
But the fans still loved them, voting them fifth Best New Band in anticipation of their much-discussed debut album, 'Generation Terrorists'. Here, however, the band were lionised by Barbara Ellen, who saw their admittedly flawed vision as the stuff of true heroism: "People who steer too close to the sun often get their wings melted. The great thing is - the Manics dare to fly. So (10) and stuff the marking system".
May 30, 1992: In celebration of the above, Stuart Bailie went to Los Angeles to discover the mood of the band - and found them on the brink of disaster. Richey, shocked and alienated by the freeze-dried consumerism of the States, confessed: "It's really fucked me up. People just seem to want so much over here, they're not content with anything. Everything just seems for sale."
To confirm fears that the Manics had already discovered the vacuum that existed in their adolescent notion of rock stardom, they released the epic 'Motorcycle Emptiness', notching up another NME Single Of The Week: "I don't want to go over the top," confessed Danny Kelly, "so I'll just say this joins Nick Cave's 'Straight To You' as one of the songs whose luminescence will light our lives long into the future".
October 3, 1992: Having contributed a cover version of 'Suicide Is Painless (The Theme From MASH)' to the NME's 'Ruby Trax' album - it became yet another Single Of The Week - Richey adorned the NME front cover topless, covered in ink-print images of Marilyn Monroe. Claiming that they'd chosen the song as a reminder of when Top Of The Pops was off the air owing to a Musicians Union dispute, Richey explained: "It reminded us of a very gloomy time in our lives".
Boosting the band's profile, the song ensured that, when the NME Poll results rolled in (January 2, 1993), the group were the readers' fifth favourite band - REM were top - and had delivered the ninth best album.
June 19, 1993: In the wake of a bizarre onstage outburst by Nicky Wire wishing AIDS upon Michael Stipe at a Christmas Kilburn gig (NME Jan 2, 1992), the band released a new single, 'From Despair To Where', from their second album, 'Gold Against The Soul', and agreed to meet an NME reporter.
Abandoning their earlier androgyny and utter disrespect for practically all other groups, the Manics talked about becoming "a traditional rock band", while Nicky kept the outrage-o-meter in business by expressing the opinion that travellers "should be treated more harshly".
NME confesses that: "Right now, there's a rather horrible taste in my mouth".
May 28, 1994: Almost a full year on from such controversy-courting declarations, the band seem like a completely different entity during their tour of Thailand. Amid the flesh-spots and depravity of Pat-Pong, they attempt to explain to the NME's Barbara Ellen why new album 'The Holy Bible' has such a bleak vision and why Richey still feels the need to mutilate himself. Worryingly, Richey declares: "When I cut myself, I feel so much better. I'm not a person who can scream and shout, so this is my only outlet. It's all done very logically".
In the same issue, Simon Williams, sensing that the album will in time become a classic, awards it (9).
August 6 & 27, 1994: More cracks in the Manics' armour appear with the news that Richey has been booked into a private clinic to be treated for nervous exhaustion in the wake of missing the band's T In The Park appearance the previous weekend. Following the news (August 27), Nicky Wire explains: "If it comes to the point where Richey's not coming back, we won't continue."
October 1, 1994: Aware of the distress that his condition is causing both fans and long-term admirers, Richey agrees to talk to Stuart Bailie about his breakdown and enrols at Alcoholics Anonymous during rehearsals for the band's imminent UK tour at a windswept Pembrokeshire farm.
The group express their worries about the future and Richey encouragingly states: "In terms of the 'S' word, that does not enter my mind, and it never has done. In terms of An Attempt. Because I am much stronger than that."
February 25, 1995: Out of the blue, and to the amazement of everyone, including the rest of the band, comes the news that Richey went missing from the band's hotel - The Embassy in London's Bayswater Road - on February 1, prior to a planned promotional trip of America.
More alarming still is the discovery of Richey's car - a silver Vauxhall Cavalier - at Auste Service Station, near the Severn Bridge, on Friday, February 17. Talking to the NME, Richey's closest friend, Byron James, states: "Richey would never do anything without a reason. It's just a total mystery to me."
December 18, 1995: At the end of a year which has found British rock corralled into the gung-ho positivism of 'Britpop', the disappearance of Richey - who has now been missing for ten months - is addressed again in the NME's Christmas edition. Recalling Richey's avowed interest in JD Salinger, the author of archetypal loner Bible Catcher In The Rye, NME suggests that perhaps Richey may be alive and well somewhere, happy enough to live in isolation in the belief that the group may simply pick up the pieces and carry on without him. "Salinger built himself a bunker and basically locked himself away," Richey explained as far back as 1991.
And perhaps that's where we're best off leaving things for now, despite all the encouraging signs of the band's first post-Richey gig with The Stone Roses at Christmas. Who knows? Even though it's now been a year since Richey walked out of the Embassy Hotel, anything may be possible. Fingers crossed.