With Christmas 06 a distant memory, I thought it a good time to reflect on some of the numerous ‘best of’ albums that record companies release upon us on the run up to such ‘would make a great gift’ occasions.
One of the years biggest sellers, and a bit of a landmark one at that, was Oasis’ ‘Stop The Clocks’. No matter what your opinion of brothers Gallagher, they where the backbone of the mid-90’s explosion of British guitar based music, and this compilation, overseen by Noel and Liam makes a fair attempt at covering the career of a band that have predictably since failed to achieve the level of fame enjoyed in years 93 – 97. Next up was U2: U218singles – featuring 16 of the bands best known singles as well as a couple of new tracks (which annoys me as these ‘extra tracks’ rarely manage to stand tall beside the established work). Then I checked out Charlatans: Forever – The Singles, featuring their entire single back catalogue from the classic ‘The Only One I Know’ to the more recent ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’.
To recap, I was now in possession of three ‘best of’s’ by three influential bands, containing their ‘finest’ work. This got me thinking about the lost works – could it be possible that as the years go by, that through some horrible filtering process album tracks, nee entire albums, that i once loved dearly, could find themselves cast aside in the back of dusty drawers (or iPod Library) never to again be paid the attention they deserve? Bands make albums, albums are formed from a concept, albums tell a story, albums by the same artist vary in style according to producer. An artist or band that produces a decent 3 minute single is one thing, an artist or band that can repeatedly produces quality albums, manages an altogether more respected feat. By simply filtering out albums and settling for Best Of compilations – surely one is not getting the whole story?
To my horror I span around and spotted an album that had already fallen victim to such a process, The Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible. An album of immense importance both musically and personally to Manic’s fan’s, yet one that offers up only a single track in the context of their Greatest Hits package, Manic Street Preachers: Forever Delayed.
Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore launched into the public’s consciousness as The Manic Street Preachers with their 1992 debut album, ‘Generation Terrorists’ and by the time of its follow up ‘Gold Against The Soul’ had garnered a worldwide fanatical following. 1994 saw the release of ‘The Holy Bible’. Whilst notable at it’s time of release for containing the bands most uncompromising work to date, it has since gathered further notoriety as being the last album on which Richey Edwards was to be fully involved with before his mysterious disappearance the year after the albums release.
Beginning with the spoken word sample (a device used throughout the album to introduce tracks) ‘you can buy her, you can buy her, this one’s here, this one’s here, this one’s here and this one’s here, anythings for sale’ before launching into the acerbic ‘Yes’, the album is off to a flyer. Sporting all the Manic trademarks; James Dean Bradfields distinctive voice, delivered in his awesome jugular vein busting, neck bulging form, complemented by sparse, crisp production it sounds like it could been recorded in one of their basements, indeed it might have well as been, having been recorded at the £50 a day Soundspace Studios in Cardiff – a studio normally used for recording rough demos.
In ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart’ we are welcomed to join Margaret Thatcher in a ‘Gala Tribute to celebrate former president Ronald Reagan’s 83rd birthday’ before launching into a guitar driven anti-American tirade. Namechecking all manner of figures who have played a key part in the country’s chequered history, from the guy who filmed JFK’s assasination (Zapruder), the would be assassin of Ronald Reagan (Bill Brady), to the location of some of the country’s bloodiest battles (Grenada, Haiti, Poland, Nicarargua) it certainly doesn’t hold back in getting it’s message across.
There’s a change of pace into track 4 ‘She Is Suffering’. The last single to be taken from the album, and in turn their final single before their career changing ‘Design For Life’, it features the great line ‘beauty is such a terrible thing’. Archives Of Pain opens with a quote from the mother of one of the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper, ‘ I wonder who you think you are, You damn well think you’re God or something, God give life, God take it away, not you,I think you are the devil itself’. Of all the soundclips used throughout the album this is certainly one of the most affecting, and a perfect match for the song that follows, as angry, as menacing as any on the album.
One of the striking things about this album is the sheer intensity of the lyrics, some of the greatest singles can be tainted by simply studying the lyrics of the songs and wondering what the heck the song was about, but this is certainly not the case on this album. Every lyric in every line of every song counts – it really does reward the listener to dig out the sleeve-notes and pay attention. The album cover itself features the striking painting ‘Strategy (South Face/ Front Face/ North Face)’ by Jenny Saville. Famous for her images of obese women, the painting features three depictions of an obese woman in her underwear viewed from varying angles, and matches perfectly the raw and uncompromising tone of the album. It’s testament to the level of detail that the band go to with all aspects of their work that permission was given to use this painting on the cover following a 30-minute telephone call between Saville and Edwards in which he described, in detail, each song on the album. So impressed in fact was Saville that she would accept no fee for the deed.
Maintaining the ferocious pace of the album is the appropriately titled ‘Faster’ where testament is paid to the literary elite so admired and studied by the band, ‘I am Stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer; i spat out Plath and Pinter’. Released as a double a-side with album closer ‘PCP’ this was the first single to be taken from the album and gained the band huge notoriety – and the BBC 25,000 complaints – when James Dean Bradfield sported a militant balaclava throughout the entire performance of the song on Top Of The Pops.
Penultimate track on the album ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’ sees the move into a different gear altogether. The albums longest track, and in stark contrast with the fast paced songs that make up the majority of the rest of the album it sports a repetitive, industrial laden score throughout. The mood remains one of sobriety with the soundclip played over the intro taken from the Nuremberg trials of 1945 – 46 most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of Nazi Germany. It’s a truly haunting track, and is testament to the uncompromising nature of the album as a whole, never afraid to pull any punches, and never afraid to commit 100% to the subject matter. The aforementioned ‘PCP’ brings the curtain down on an album that over ten years since its release still stands tall as a magnificent, relevant, acerbic piece of work.
When the Manic’s supported Oasis during the Mancunians 1996 homecoming gig’s at Manchester’s Maine Road football ground Nicky Wire commented that most of the fans at that concert thought ‘Design For Life’ (then riding high in the charts) was the bands debut single, which he found quite amusing. In a way the fans lack of knowledge sums the general apathy that one can slip into by not investing in a band. By simply collecting the singles, or buying the compilations one will never truly understand a bands message or their music. Granted, not all bands deserve such attention, but in the case of The Manic Street Preachers, who from day one have had acute sense of purpose, to miss out on this would be a tragedy.
Manic Street Preachers
The Holy Bible (2004)
Record Label: Epic Records