“I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing”
A single lyric somewhat lost amidst the harsh metallic guitars of their 1994 single “Faster”, yet it sums up the ethos of this ragged mess of a wonderful band. Well into the 28th(!) year of their career, the Manic Street Preachers are still going strong, and still fucking relevant. The Welsh firebrands’ unique songs of “culture, alienation, boredom and despair” still resonate with many, from their early storming glam-punk days to their anthemic-yet-intellectual pop rock of late, to the frenzied and dense post-punk of the masterpiece The Holy Bible.
The Manics are a band always willing to give it more one shot. Few bands have managed to survive the disappearance of a key member (guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards went missing c.February 1st 1995) and come back triumphant and with newfound commercial success and acclaim. But the Manics always set out to be a band unlike any other. From their early days they were staunchly political, referencing Marx and Orwell in their “press releases” and decorating themselves and their sleeves in androgynous imagery, in a scene dominated with apathetical shoegaze bands with massive fringes. They borrowed gigantic riffs from Slash and aggressive sloganeering from The Clash and Public Enemy. People hated them, Edwards cut ‘4 REAL’ into his arm after a journalist questioned his authenticity, and their debut album, Generation Terrorists, just happened to hold the best rock song of the ‘90s in “Motorcycle Emptiness”. Back then, the Manics were glorious, a total mess to behold and fall in love with, carefully calculated and calculatedly hypocritical. And this comes through especially with their new album.
Last year’s Rewind The Film, their first in nearly three years, was their softest yet, a decidedly British album full of pastoral atmospheres and brass-laden acoustics, with cameos from Richard Hawley, and Cate le Bon. Yet, despite how low-key it was, it provided some of their most emotional music in years. This year, on 07/07, they will drop their twelfth album, Futurology, an album steeped in modern European highways, Simple Minds influences, and krautrock synths melded with robotic guitars. It’s more venomous and angry than they’ve been in a long time, with lyrics directed at career rock ‘n’ rollers and apathy, compared to their reflective musing on middle-age that decorated their previous album. Clearly they’re a band willing to shape-shift at a whim, a band who steeps themselves in context, and still a band to believe in.
The Manics came to me at a time when I was still finding my feet in the world of rock and punk music, not seeing anything outside of The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The Manics told me to rally against what’s expected of you. In a scene of drab shirts and mumbling amongst feedback they spraypainted their own clothes, had homoerotic videos and smashed their guitars in a rage of glitter. They taught me it’s okay to distance yourself from the male heteronormativity, that you can wear dresses and make-up and still fucking rock. Then I listened to The Holy Bible.
The Holy Bible is an impossibly dense work of metallic, barbed guitars, military drumming, and Edwards’ bleak, poetic and semi-autobiographical lyrics covering depression, self-harm, anorexia, prostitution, et al. It is steeped in the context of its release (Edwards checked into The Priory psychiatric hospital after its release, and went missing a year after. He was declared presumed dead in 2008), and yet, after it’s already seeped through your skin and you’ve memorised the noise bursts in “Archives Of Pain”, it becomes strangely uplifting. You can learn and get through this. Because the Manics did. After Edwards disappeared, they scaled new commercial heights with Everything Must Go in 1996, which just happened to include the other best rock song of the ‘90s in “A Design For Life”, a rousing and incredibly spiriting call to arms for the working class.
While the band may have commercialised their sound after The Holy Bible, the genuine tragedy the band experienced enriched their songs with even more fragility and emotion than before. And while 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers marked a return to the rawness of The Holy Bible, it managed to be perhaps their most uplifting album, with the entirety of its lyrics taken from a notebook Edwards left the band before he went missing. The songs were rough, worn down with weight, and most importantly, incredible.
The Manics are important because they’ve retained their die-hard fanbase from the very start, took them on a wild journey, bared the scars, and still manage to be at their most relevant. Go to your show and amongst the lads in the Fred Perry shirts are androgynous young kids in fake leopard print and glitter and tousled hair, singing back the songs that saved them and helped them find purpose.
The Manics are confused and glamorous, screaming Socialist slogans in a world that’s not listening. The Manics are a tragedy with a beautiful ending. The Manics are the most important band in the world. The Manics live in urban hell. The Manics destroyed rock and roll.