It’s one of modern rock’s strangest - and most enduring - mysteries. Two decades ago, Welsh quartet Manic Street Preachers were at the height of their overseas popularity, breaking through with their second and third albums, 1993’s Gold Against the Soul and 1994’s The Holy Bible. But the group would soon be forced to continue as a trio when guitarist and key lyricist Richey Edwards disappeared without a trace in February of 1995. His car was discovered abandoned by a British bridge, but he was never seen again. No suicide note was found, and he was finally listed as presumed dead in 2008 by his family.
Now, the band's offering a tribute to their mercurial former member with a 20th Anniversary box-set reissue of The Holy Bible, containing the original UK album mix, its subsequent US reworking, plus a third CD of B-sides and a fourth concert-tracked disc. A 40-page book features some of Edwards’ original writings, for songs like ”Faster,” “Archives of Pain,” “Of Walking Abortion,” and the ponderously-titled “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart.” Bassist, lyricist and vocalist Nicky Wire reflected on those turbulent times, and the Manics’ most recent effort, last year’s Futurology.
Circa Futurology, where do you currently stand, politically?
Oh, fuck. For the first time in my life, I have no idea, to be honest. I’m in an absolute state of confusion, just through dereliction of duty. It’s just impossible to have any kind of political persuasion these days. I mean, deep down, I’m still in the same socialist corner that I grew up in. But I don’t think anyone really represents me, I guess. But I certainly have a belief that humanity’s at a pretty low ebb at the moment, and political classes have definitely played a part in that kind of explosion of the lower reaches of humanity.
How has Britain changed since the sunny days of the ascension, then fall, of Britpop-embracing Labour?
Well, I never particularly fell for that, anyway. But at least there was a sense of optimism that went along with it. But to be honest, it doesn’t make me feel good about myself to feel this kind of disenchantment with politics, in general. It’s not a healthy thing. In fact, I think I feel worse as a person for it. But I just can’t convince myself anymore. I can’t, and it’s pretty sad. The voices of my past and of my future are just totally unrepresented in the political sphere in Britain.
You’ve always been politically informed. How do you get your news now?
I still make a massive broadsweep. I don’t confine myself to classic - or left-leaning - liberal media at all, whether it’s The Guardian or the BBC. But I’ll make myself watch Fox News for a couple of hours a day, just to see if I can get in all points of view. I still like to know every angle there is - whether I trust it anymore is a different matter. I probably do it by force of will now, just to make sure that my brain is still functioning healthily. But in terms of media organs that I trust, it’s hard to go down that route like I used to. But this is the most hopeless that I’ve felt in my lifetime. But then again, change as a rule has always been constructed by the young generation. And even though they seem kind of disinterested in that whole sphere, it’s up to them to force change. They’re the ones with the energy and the attitude.
Where did you stand 20 years ago, post-Thatcher, pre-Blair?
I think we grew up verging on a deep-rooted socialism, which was prevalent where we came from. There had never been a Tory (conservative) MP in our constituency, and we had the safest Labour seat, and all those kinds of things. I still think that is the beating pulse of the band. Even though New Labour was the signpost to optimism. I can’t say I ever fully believed in it, because it just seemed way too shiny and well-presented, compared to what we’d grown up believing in.
But you set specific rules for yourself with The Holy Bible, right? You were going to record in a tiny, no-name studio in Cardiff’s red light district and employ a relatively unknown producer, too, in an effort to keep the sessions real.
And that’s what we did. I think we’d reached the height of our attempt to be a straightforward rock band with Gold Against the Soul - it was our ultimate version of a band that we couldn’t really be. We tried, and we did a really good impression. But I don’t think we were being true to ourselves. So The Holy Bible is just the way we looked - the kind of Apocalypse Now visual look, the tone of the words, the artwork, and the music itself. Every single morsel of that album is us being in control. For better or for worse, really.
And you wrote a decent percentage of Bible lyrics yourself, right?
Yeah. A good 25% of it was my lyrics, all the rest was Richey’s. Up until then, we’d always shared writing duties. But you can tell he was on such a hot streak that a lot of the tracks, like “Yes,” were just fully formed, written by him. Whereas other stuff like “Faster” or “This is Yesterday” were more mine. But when Richey was on this amazing streak, we just let it happen. You could read it as a piece of prose, to be honest - his lyrics were that good.
Why did you decide to celebrate The Holy Bible with a four-disc reissue and a US tour?
Well, to be honest, we were still playing some of the songs and we just thought if we don’t do this now, we’ll never be able to do it again. We’re 45 now, 46. And it’s such a physically-demanding, awkward album - it really is. Musically, it’s not enjoyable - it’s just a really brilliant challenge, and in another ten years down the line, I just don’t think we’d have been able to do it. So it just felt like the right time. And Futurology had been so well-received, we thought that we had to do it now. And we were due to come to America to play The Holy Bible 20 years ago, and it actually felt like it was the one record that could do alright in the States. But it never happened. That’s why we were determined to come this time, really.
But your first trip was nixed after Richey’s disappearance?
Yeah, it was. We had a huge tour lined up supporting Sponge, I think. And the American remix of Bible had been done, which was brilliant. It was all set up. And it just felt like a modern rock record that had a place in America, where we’d never really fitted in before with our other records. It didn’t quite fit a genre. So back then, it just felt like “Now’s our chance of sliding in to Jane’s Addiction’s slipstream a little bit.”
Ironically, The Holy Bible was released the same day as Oasis’s landmark debut Definitely Maybe. Everything was about to change.
Yeah. "Ironic" is the word. In the year of Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Park Life, we made The Holy Bible. But that made us feel kind of good in our own isolation.
Was Futurology even released in the States?
[Sighs] Well, it’s our fault, to be honest. We almost gave up (on America). Sometimes, when things go so well in other countries, be it Japan or Europe? Well, America just felt like such hard work. So it was just one of those things. We’d been through so many things, when (1996’s) Everything Must Go started exploding, we kind of thought, “Well, it’s more fun playing to 2,000 people in Italy than it is trying to break America!”
How has it been rehearsing and playing The Holy Bible? Do the songs feel eerily prophetic?
Yeah. The scary thing playing it is the relevance it still seems to have. And that’s what makes a timeless piece of art, really. And when you’re going through every little detail of it, you realize that its presence is undiminished, and its topics just haven’t seemed to change - they’ve just come ‘round in a full circle. And that’s when you realize that you’ve actually made something really brilliant, that the whole album has taken on this…this life.
Raul Malo from The Mavericks recently said that if you believe that Jesus and dinosaurs once shared the planet, then you have no valid place from which to argue anything. So he just does his best to avoid such idiots, and make the world a better place on a daily basis.
Ha! I think that is a really smart way of saying it. And that just comes with age, really. You try to do stuff on a more personal level, I guess, because you get disenchanted with the macro and you feel like with the micro, you can achieve more. That’s the best way of describing where we are in our heads at the moment. There’s a kind of poetic melancholia that wraps around you as you pass 40, so your lyrical perspective changes a little. You still try to get your point across, but you try to do it in a more poetic way. The points are still there - Futurology is packed full of ideas. It’s almost like a celebration of ideas. And to have that kind of enthusiasm on your 12th album, when you’re in your mid-40s, I’m pretty proud of that, really!