Ten years after the fact, it is now undeniable that the Manic Street Preachers' 'The Holy Bible' is one of the most important albums released during the 90s. ireallylovemusic’s John Doran talks to Nicky Wire about the album and the ten years that have passed since.
It is a decade since the release of the Manics' third, break-through album and 'The Holy Bible', you see, has now joined a very exclusive club. It is now part of the secret history of cult albums that will remain dark and hardy perennial buys for generation after generation of young people. Along with 'Low' by Bowie, 'Unknown Pleasures' by Joy Division, 'Metal Box' by Public Image Limited and a handful of others its status is guaranteed. And that an album can deal with themes such as anorexia, misogyny, mental illness, holocaust and the collapse of the self, without sounding like a lame parody of death metal or a mawkish plea for sympathy, is a great feat in itself. In 1994 this release marked a time of great flux for the band. They had moved away from being cult G’N'R aping androgynes to being uniformed and masculine agit rockers; they were standing on the verge of becoming enormo-dome superstars and the fun of being a gang of mates in a band seemed to be wearing off.
A decade later, bassist and lyricist, Nicky Wire, pumped up on antibiotics, fighting a nasty bout of flu, is in Cardiff explaining how he feels about the album in 2005.
When was the last time you listened to The Holy Bible?
"I’m the resident Bill Wyman of the band; I play our records a lot. So last year really when I instigated the tenth anniversary thing. It is because I am quite an archivist as well, shall we say, of the group, so I thought it would be a good thing to do. And it isn't a record that makes me depressed even though it is depressing to listen to! It's just a record I like. I enjoy the process of putting stuff like this together and it felt like the right time to do it and it is a bit of tribute to Richey as well. I'm happy with the amount of extras you get. I do like value for money. There is loads of stuff on there; the DVD could have been released on its own. There's the American mix of the album as well. It's the kind of thing I'd like to do for all of our albums really, I like to catalogue this stuff."
What are the fundamental differences between the remastered version of the album and the US mix?
"On the American mix of the album the sound is just fuller and broader. It sounds like it was made for vinyl if you know what I mean. It has that warmer feel. I would say that 50% of it is better than the original, tracks like 'Archives Of Pain', 'Mausoleum' and 'Yes' definitely have a fullness and richness that they don't have on the original. It takes away the lo-fi aspect of it. There was one time we had a chance at breaking America bizarrely because it's such a cult record. You had a lot of death metal bands in America quoting it as an influence, bands like Corrosion Of Conformity. There were a lot of bands who were offering US tours in America. It was the one chance we had but things were so weird at the time."
Ignoring the personal context of the album for a second; in purely formal terms, how do you think the album stands up ten years on?
"I think it stands up really well. I think there are certain albums that form part of my life and everyone else's life that you go back to every few years and i think it has become one of those records. It has become like 'Unknown Pleasures' (Joy Division) which sells copies every year. 'Holy Bible' sells 5-10,000 copies every year to the same sort of people; the sort of people who are interested in that secret history of finding the cult, classic album. That is what it has become and I'm quite happy with that because i grew up on records like that, be it 'Marquee Moon', be it 'Unknown Pleasures' or whatever. Every band needs an album like this. We've really enjoyed the gigantic commercial success that came later but if a band doesn't have an album like that, it's a hole in their armory. Even the Rolling Stones had 'Their Satanic Majesty's Bequest' and that's the album that only certain people buy."
In some ways, sonically it is more relevant now because more bands are referencing the same kind of post punk records that you were listening to at the time.
"Definitely. It doesn't happen often in a band's career when you all start listening to the same sort of music and reading the same sort of things. With us then it was Wire, Magazine, John McGeoch (PIL, Banshees, Visage) was a big influence on James, Jah Wobble was a big influence on the bass sound and gang of four were a big influence as well. It was all the music we grew up listening to. When we first started Guns ‘N’Roses came along and changed us for a couple of albums but this music was our natural habitat. Post punk was what we listened to the most because we missed out on punk. Sometimes in a band there is a telepathy and even in the rhythm section with me and Sean (Moore, drums) that was happening on tracks like 'ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwouldfallapart'; it was just like speeded up Adam And The Ants! We didn't need to speak about it. We just felt like we were doing the right thing."
It must have been hard, not having hindsight and being right in the thick of it; but how concerned were you that Richey was writing lyrics like those to '4st7lb' and 'Die In The Summertime'?
"To be honest it's the hindsight factor I'm afraid. At the time we were getting on so well. We were all in a happy place. Richey was fairly content, he'd just bought a flat and we could separate the artistic side of him from reality. Having been together for so long we'd seen each other's extremities over the previous ten years anyway so the lyrics were no surprise to us but I guess they were to other people. The whole tone of the album felt totally natural; it was only when we started touring the album and hearing the words every night and all the rest of it that it became more difficult. As the year unfolded it became a self-fulfilling prophecy though."
It was amazing getting to see 'Faster' on Top Of The Pops again; looking back now, did you realise what kind of furore it was going to cause?
"Well this is the scary thing about the Manics' world sometimes is that we're so wrapped up in each other that we actually don't realise what is going to happen. So some things just seem perfectly natural to us, like 'go on. Just throw a balaclava on.' it just seems like a fashion statement. But in the outside context it can be seen quite differently. When we're wrapped up in our own world we make our best records and that's what happened with 'the holy bible', so we weren't aware of anything really. On the first track on the album 'Yes', you hear the word 'cunt'. Now 'cunt' wasn't a word you heard at all. It's not like now with The Sopranos you just didn't hear it all and that apparently was quite shocking. As with Top Of The Pops i think that take that came on straight after us! You can reference Nirvana or the Mondays but it is stunningly obtuse and it stands up as one of the scariest moments on top of the pops ever. It cost us a lot of money to use it but we all look so good as a band, we're four individuals but the uniforms bring us together and you can tell we feel a strength in that. That's how we started the band with the idea that we could look ludicrous like that but it almost makes you feel better about yourself. It definitely marked the transition between a really feminine look and a masculine look and also it marked our physical peak. Every band has artistic or commercial peaks and that was one of ours. For 8 months we were pretty unassailable; from the release of 'Faster' to the last Astoria gig. It's just a shame we couldn't have done it to a bigger audience. That's the only regret. When we rehearse in Cardiff I have to pass the Millennium Stadium every day and I think 'we filled it once. Wouldn't it have been great to have filled it with the four of us.' It's quite unlikely actually. 'The Intense Humming Of Evil'? Maybe not."
'The Holy Bible' is seen as the hardcore fan's album. How do you feel about it?
"It varies with me all the time to be honest because I’m a fan of the band. It's our most coherent statement even though people say it's Richey's album. No album that we do is ever dominated by one person and this is true here because obviously Richey never wrote any music. The only thing that bothers me is 'She Is Suffering'; I wish we'd left it off there. The lyrics are shit. Richey didn't even think much of them at the time. It's kind of like a bloke riding to the rescue of the woman, as was his wont occasionally. We thought it would be our 'Every Breath You Take' but obviously it wasn't! It's an odd thing with our fans, you do get Bible-ites, shall we say, but at the more glamorous end they prefer 'Generation Terrorists' because of the androgyny. If you go to Sweden it is 'This Is My Truth...' which went twenty times platinum, Japan is 'Generation Terrorists' and Finland is 'Everything Must Go'."
And with that he's gone back to join James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore to carry on practising for an upcoming tour. It goes without saying that their latest album 'Lifeblood', for all its assured grace and radio friendliness, isn't comparable to their third effort. From the unflinching Jenny Saville cover art ['Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face)'], to the 'Naked Lunch' frozen moment lyrics, 'The Holy Bible' remains not only the greatest post 'Nevermind' rock record but one of the best rock albums ever recorded.