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Post-Punk Clerics And Spam Again - The Independent, 23rd February 1992

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Title: Post-Punk Clerics And Spam Again
Publication: The Independent
Date: Sunday 23rd February 1992
Writer: Ben Thompson


Understand we can never belong/Throw some acid on the Mona Lisa's face/Pollute your mineral water with strychnine taste. Manic Street Preachers are back in town: better lock up your grandmother.

They've just bounced off each other's shoulders and onstage at the Astoria, dressed from a garage sale at the New York Dolls' house. Nicky and Richey, the androgynous ones with bad haircuts, flaunt their guitars and pose badly either side of the drum kit. Singer James Dean Bradfield is just proclaiming You Love Us for the sixth time when the alarming realisation strikes that some of us must do. This dreadful song is actually a hit, and those who hoped that if they ignored this band for long enough they might just go away, have got to think again.

The most shocking thing about Manic Street Preachers has always been their eagerness to please. As with Kylie post-Better The Devil You Know, there is something debased about their desperation to prove themselves. Richey once had to be taken to hospital for 17 stitches after scratching 4-Real on his forearm with a razor-blade to impress a sceptical NME journalist, and this band's self-laceration is not just skin deep. Always the first to acknowledge what sad characters they are, they implore anyone who'll listen to deny the culture of consumption while at the same time purchasing their iconography wholesale from Athena.

It's been no surprise that a music industry riddled with punk nostalgia has been happy to help them live out their fantasies. The fact that so many paying punters are keen to swallow their regurgitated alienation cliches - some people have even bought the T- shirts with Molotov Cocktails of Fabulous Destruction written on them - is a sorry comment on the state of the nation.

Manic Street Preachers' celebrated anger and energy mostly shows itself in hopping rather foolishly round the stage and showing off absurd white drain-piped legs in an assortment of undignified stretching exercises. At one point, though, Nicky the bassist - presumably in tribute to the Sex Pistols - decides to show how wild and uncontrollable he is by attacking a photographer who he deems to be infringing his personal space. Fortunately, his efforts to bring down the full weight of his guitar on this innocent man's head are about as focused and successful as his attempts at writing political lyrics.

This incident apart, the whole thing is not quite as depressing as it might be. The house is full and people seem to be enjoying themselves. Manic Street Preachers' music is pitifully inadequate next to the pre-senility Rolling Stones and pumped-up Public Enemy that play before they come on, but fifth on the bill to AC/DC at a Midlands race-track it might sound quite fresh and energetic. It's a shame that their best tunes seem to be already behind them. They finish in a shower of glitter with Motown Junk, their first single proper. This record sounded dated and pointless when it originally came out, but compared with most of their recent material, it's a classic.

The Velvet Underground's is one of the few ancient rock myths to which Manic Street Preachers do not pay obsequious homage, which is odd given that they owe more to that band's nihilistic glamour fantasies than to most of the big names with whom they do claim kinship. That the Velvet Underground were not an entirely bad thing was due in no small part to Moe Tucker - probably the first woman to be in a band on genuinely equal terms, whose idiosyncratic drumming and down- to-earth nature were the ideal foil for the duelling egos of Lou Reed and John Cale.

Nowadays Moe (nee Maureen) plays the guitar and sings, well out of the limelight. While the critical red carpet is dry-cleaned for the impending arrival of Mr Reed, she plays a couple of low- key shows at the Clapham Grand, with fellow Velvet vet and alleged Texas tug-boat captain Sterling Morrison as guest guitarist. The performance starts memorably, with three people playing the drums while she sings one of her own compositions called, I think, Spam Again.

The chord progressions have a Buddy Holly-style simplicity, while the minimalist folksiness of the lyrics - Now I've gotta go to work, earn a dollar or two/So I can buy some Spam for me and you - suggests Jonathan Richman. There's nothing twee about Moe Tucker though. Her distinctive, scrawny voice and trenchant songwriting put across the realities of a world in which people have to work for a living, without any of the rose-tinted flannel you'd expect from a Springsteen or a Mellencamp. It's like watching a band fronted by Mrs Bates from Emmerdale.

There is something engagingly raw and punkish about her band too. Sterling says thank you a lot between songs. A younger man in leathers, whose guitar-playing does nothing to allay suspicions that he might be Moe's toyboy, reads out loud from a book of Barry Manilow fan letters. The bass-player is the only one with what could properly be called a singing voice, and he is sensibly restricted to the occasional harmony, by a woman with more subversive spirit in her little toe than the average Manic Street Preacher has in his whole body.