The Back Catalogue of the Manic Street Preachers

“It's not that I can't find worth in anything. It's just that I can't find worth in enough.”

 

 

The Manic Street Preachers have meant more to me than any other band I've ever come across. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but I first became aware of their existence when I was about 16 or 17 and for the first time in my life I felt like I'd found the band for me. The one that MEANT something. I didn't care what they looked like, (to be honest for about the first six months I was listening to them, I didn't even know) I just thought that this punky rock band, who were apparently from some dark corner of Wales, seemed to epitomize everything that I stood for, or at least everything that I wanted to stand for. They made sense to me. Which is weird because, looking back, I don't think the Manics have ever made complete, coherent sense to anybody, least of all themselves.

 

In the wilds of the Western part of County Durham in the North East of England, getting my hands on music was nigh on impossible. I had yet to discover John Peel and the only radio stations that I ever listened to were the type of commercial stations that nobody in their right mind would tune in to. I can remember the first time I heard them, or at least, the first time I noticed them. I was at home listening, for a change, to Radio 1. Jakki Brambles was the DJ and she played a Faith No More track, which I recognized because an old school friend of mine, Neil Ready, was a big fan and then she played the Theme from M*A*S*H* and I just went crazy. I recognized the theme as I had religiously watched re-runs of the show with my parents for years, but the Manic Street Preachers version was electrifying. I can still remember kneeling in front of the stereo, just staring at the radio, listening to the maddening electric guitars, almost shell shocked. It was the first song to ever jump out of the radio at me. It seemed alive and primal, fuelled with rage and passion and oh my God it was fantastic. When the song finished and I heard the name of the band I knew there and then that I had to find out more about them. That was September 1992.

 

It wasn't until the next summer, around June 1993 that I heard anything else about them. From Despair To Where was released and it too just leapt out of the radio, grabbed me by the throat and yelled at me for a couple of minutes. I fell in love with it instantly. I had to know more; this was the second time that this band had launched a surprise attack on me and I wanted more. Thankfully, a couple of my dear friends at college, Kris Shield and Stephen Rose, turned out to be Manics fans and I saw that Kris was listening to the Gold Against The Soul album one day and asked him if I could borrow it. Stephen immediately jumped into the conversation and told me not to bother and handed me Generation Terrorists, saying it was "much fucking better." Kris agreed, so I took the cassette (remember them?), placed it in to my walkman and pressed play. Within minutes I knew that THIS was my band.

 

But enough of my memoirs. I'm here to guide you through the back catalogue of the Manic Street Preachers and, unlike my own story, I think I'd better start nearer the beginning.

 

    

 

GENERATION TERRORISTS (1992)

Debut album? It doesn't sound like it. This is a whopping 18 track monster of a double album. Political, angry, intelligent, fierce, pompous, bloated and utterly, utterly thrilling from start to finish. It's one of the most impressive and ambitious debut albums ever released and you'll either love it or hate it. They wanted to sell 20 million albums and split up. They were originally going to have the inner sleeve made out of sandpaper, so that it would quickly destroy the vinyl product within, as 'a symbol of the disposability in a short attention span culture.' I mean, who else could have released this? The Manics, right from the start, were a completely different breed of rock star. There was nothing like this around in 1992. Hell, there's nothing like this around now! Ambitious to a ridiculous degree and armed with degrees in politics and a lifetime's worth of angst and rage they wanted to be the biggest and most intelligent band on the planet. Fuck Madchester! Fuck the Tories! Fuck you!

As an album, it's all over the place and there's more than one clanger on here, but it doesn't matter. As a debut, it's quite simply amazing. Loud, crass and too long by far it contains some fantastic moments. Little Baby Nothing (with guest vocalist ex-porn star Traci Lords), Loves Sweet Exile, the majestic Motorcycle Emptiness and of course, their anthem, You Love Us (who else would have had the balls to release this as a single?). There's also the wonderful Stay Beautiful; the ranting, controversial marvel that is Repeat (UK) and, oh fuck it. It's all brilliant.

 

Do yourself a favour though. If you're not in the UK, import it from there. The European version doesn't contain any of the introductory quotes that the UK version has and the US version isn't even a double album! The one thing that some fans will like about the US version is that it contains Democracy Coma, but that's no excuse when you see what else you're missing.

 

BEST PARTS :

The opening line of Repeat (UK): Repeat after me. Fuck Queen and Country.

 

So Dead: The Lyric – It's not that I can't find worth in anything. It's just that I can't find worth in enough.

 

Stay Beautiful: The ridiculous two note guitar howl that follows the line. "Why don't you just...."

 

Motorcycle Emptiness: All of it

 

 

GOLD AGAINST THE SOUL (1993)

Their debut didn't sell 20 million copies and they didn't split up. Contrary bastards. Instead they released a follow up that was more anthemic, more polished and more commercially friendly than their debut. It only had 10 songs for a start and 4 of them turned into UK top 30 singles - The marvellous and angry From Despair to Where, the bouncy La Tristesse Durera, the haunting Life Becoming a Landslide and a crappy, censored version of the fantastic Roses In The Hospital, which is still my favourite song to hear live. I have to say that I can't stand the last three songs on this album and I'd probably go as far to say that it's the weakest album they've released. But there are 7 really good tracks on here. Worthy of consideration at least.

 

BEST PARTS:

The bass line of La Tristesse Durera

 

From Despair To Where: The song starts quiet, with James almost whispering the first few lines. " I write this alone in my bed. I've poisoned every room in my house. The place is quiet and so alone. Pretend there's something worth waiting for."  Then, BAM! All fucking hell breaks loose. Marvellous.

 

Roses in the Hospital: The first "We don't want your FUCKING love!"  You've really got to spit that word out. Especially live.

 

 

THE HOLY BIBLE (1994)

I'd best admit here that, as far as I'm concerned, this is the GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME! There, now go buy it. You want more detail? Go find it elsewhere. In fact, there's a review of the 10th Anniversary edition in our album reviews section, so go there after here. Best of all, discover it for yourself.

 

BEST PARTS:

All of it. Seriously.

 

If I had to pick one highlight it would be the lyrics to Yes, of which this is the chorus: And in these plagued streets of pity you can buy anything. For $200 anyone can conceive a God on video. He's a boy, you want a girl, so tear off his cock. Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want.

    

 

EVERYTHING MUST GO (1996)

The re-invention of the band. After the disappearance of band member Richey James many fans wanted the band to stop, but out of the ashes rose a phoenix so bright and powerful that nobody could ignore them. Commercial success finally arrived and the Manics became household names with this album. If the Holy Bible was a dark album, Everything Must Go is a shining light. Somehow they found hope in the darkest of days and produced one of the most triumphant and astonishing albums of the past decade. With 4 top 10 UK singles in Design For Life, Kevin Carter, Australia and Everything Must Go this is the album that finally put the band on the map, as far as mainstream success is concerned. It is, quite simply, an astonishing success.

 

BEST PARTS:

Sean's trumpet solo during the sublime Kevin Carter.

 

Richey's poignant and heartbreaking lyrics to Small Black Flowers that Grow In The Sky.

 

The triumphant Design For Life. Their comeback single was mind blowing. Tight, concise and perfectly structured with a threatening, sinister undercurrent. It heralded the return of Britain's most intelligent rock band and proved, beyond doubt, that the band could and should continue. Singer James Dean Bradfield has been known to suggest that this is "the greatest song of all time." It's certainly one of them.

 

 

THIS IS MY TRUTH, TELL ME YOURS (1998)

Having wiped the slate clean with Everything Must Go the band changed their direction somewhat. This is my truth...  is a very different type of album to anything they'd released prior. It still has a thousand and one political and literary references, but they're no longer used as a basis for a manifesto, rather as a means of analyzing and justifying personal beliefs. With songs like My Little Empire, The Everlasting and Born A Girl, the mood is a lot more introspective than any of the other albums. Even when the subject of a song is something like the Hillsborough disaster (S.Y.M.M.) or inspired by people such as the volunteers of the International Brigade, who fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War (If You Tolerate This...), there always seems to be a kind of personal reflection in Nicky's lyrics this time round.

This is My Truth... has a cold, melancholy atmosphere, but it is a tranquil and beautiful one all the same. James' singing is fantastic and really starts to develop as an instrument of its own accord here but if the Holy Bible was Richey's album, then this is Nicky's. It's the first album that Nicky wrote entirely on his own and as such, it is a far more personal album than anybody would have expected. Quietly stunning.

 

Best Parts:

When the organ kicks in towards the end of Ready For Drowning

 

The way James falls into the chorus of If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next: "AAaaaaaaannnnnnndd if you......."

 

The heartbreaking Nobody Loved You.

 

 

KNOW YOUR ENEMY (2001)

Possibly the most underrated of their albums and certainly the most overlooked, Know Your Enemy has a lot more going for it than any other magazine will tell you. Stylistically, it feels a bit jumbled up at first, but after a few listens it feels like a trip through the Manics' record collections. They pay homage to a wide range of influences here; So Why So Sad has more than a hint of the Beach Boys about it, Wattsville Blues has a bit of Lou Reed in there and Miss Europa Disco Dancer is a bloody disco style funk floor filler for crying out loud. It's certainly not as consistent in tone as This Is My Truth, Tell me Yours, but it has more than a few good moments hiding within. For starters there's Let Robeson sing, which is one of the best things they've ever written. There's also the startlingly punchy Intravenous Agnostic and James' first stab at lyric writing, the emotional and stunningly beautiful Ocean Spray. Know Your Enemy is an album that sees the band try to remember what it was that made them so exciting first time out, but handled from a more mature and reflective perspective. It's far from being their best album, but there's more than enough to make it interesting.

 

Best parts:

 

Let Robeson Sing and Ocean Spray. Two of the best things they've ever done.

    

 

Forever Delayed (2002)

A greatest hits collection that is made up entirely of singles, which instantly means that most of their best stuff isn't actually on here. Certainly a commercially minded package, it's a pretty decent compilation all in all, and a decent place to start your collection if you're not convinced about them, but only Faster is taken from The Holy Bible which means it's far from being a comprehensive retrospective. Sadly it's not in chronological order either, which would at least have helped to tell their story a little better. There are the standard 'two new tracks on here too,'  of which There By The Grace Of God is the best. Worth picking up if you can find it though, especially because of the inclusion of the Theme from M*A*S*H* (previously released as a charity single) and early single and live staple Motown Junk.

 

There was a limited edition package of this released also, with a bunch of remixes on it. Some of them are good, (Chemical Brothers mix of Faster), some of them are excellent (John Carter remix of Kevin Carter) and others are absolute pants.

 

Best parts :

There By The Grace Of God – it's better to have the other singles in their original context, but this Depeche Mode style song makes the album worth buying for fans. That and the utterly fantastic Motown Junk.

 

 

LIPSTICK TRACES -  A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers (2003)

A collection of b-sides and rarities that is just gob smackingly brilliant. As a quick way of finding out what the Manics are really about, this does the job far better than Forever Delayed. This is a fantastic double album. Part 1 is a collection of b-sides and part 2 is a collection of cover versions. Not to be missed.

 

Best parts:

Too many to mention, but on cd 1 Prologue to History, Mr Carbohydrate and Dead Trees and Traffic Islands deserve your utmost attention and on cd2, the fabulous covers of We Are All Bourgeois Now (which was a hidden track on Know Your Enemy) and Rock And Roll Music are well worth wrapping your ears around.

 

 

LIFEBLOOD (2004)

Reviewed in our November 2004 issue, Lifeblood is a great album. Listening to the album I get the feeling that it's the first album that they've really made for themselves. Every MSP album has seemed to be shouting, fighting or crying out against something or some one, but not here. The band sound relaxed, confident and totally at ease with themselves. At last, I think they may have created an album that, if given the promotion and air play it so rightly deserves, could go on to sell in Coldplay or U2 style numbers. They certainly deserve it. Let's just hope they don't split up; I've grown up with this band and I certainly look forward to growing old with them too.

 

Best parts:

The very beginning of 1985, where James' voice leaps out of the speakers; so loud, so clear and so full of belief and you realize how good it is to have them back.

 

 

 

Words and illustration : Damian Leslie