Manic Street Preachers

Antiwar songs by Manic Street Preachers
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Manic Street PreachersManic Street Preachers (often known colloquially as "The Manics") are a Welsh rock band often associated (erroneously) with the Britpop scene, who gained mainstream popularity in the UK in the late 1990s. They are known for their intelligent and often political lyrics and have a dedicated cult following. Although during the early part of their career they were regarded as a punk rock band, their music is now often generally regarded as alternative rock, due to changes in their sound. Co-lyricist and guitarist Richey James Edwards (Richey James, as he preferred to be known) mysteriously disappeared in 1995; his whereabouts are unknown.

Politically, the Manics appear as a socialist group — a stance inflected by their working class upbringing in Blackwood, south Wales (they grew up during the miners' strike of the 1980s) as evidenced by their often highly politicised lyrics and actions (they once dedicated an award to Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and later the Socialist Labour Party). The band also played a highly publicised gig in Cuba.

The band - originally named Betty Blue (the English title of Jean-Jacques Beineix's French film 37°2 le matin) - was formed in 1986 in Oakdale Comprehensive School, Blackwood, Wales by school friends James Dean Bradfield (lead guitarist), Sean Moore (drummer and James' cousin), Nicky Wire (real name Nicholas Jones, rhythm guitarist and brother of poet and playwright Patrick Jones), and Flicker (real name Miles Woodward, bass guitarist). During this time James had tried writing lyrics (among them the unrecorded 'Jackboot Johnny') but he gave up and Nicky wrote all their earliest lyrics. Jenny Watkins-Isnardi, a previous girlfriend of Nicky, has also claimed to be the band's first singer. Her autobiographical book, In the Beginning, describes her life with the other band members around this time. Flicker left the band in early 1988, claiming that the band were moving away from their punk roots.

The band continued as a three-piece, with Nicky switching from rhythm to bass guitar, and in 1989 they recorded their first single, "Suicide Alley". The cover was highly reminiscent of The Clash's first album (simply titled The Clash) and was photographed and designed by school friend Richey James Edwards. Richey's contribution to the band was co-writing the lyrics with Nicky, designing record sleeves and other artwork, miming guitar onstage mostly, or playing at a relatively low volume (Richey once said of his guitar playing, "I can play a bit, but compared to James I can't play at all") and driving the band to and from gigs.

However, many believe that Richey contributed much more. He brought a unique aesthetic to the band, that was a collision of The Clash and Guns N' Roses (which sat perfectly with James, two of his heroes are Mick Jones and Slash), Albert Camus-style intelligence, Guy Debord-style politics and Marilyn Monroe style glamour. The Manics aesthetic - especially in these early days - also strongly embraced a philosophy of sell out as freedom and liberation, that by exerting absolute freedom of will and by being honest about your past, present and future, mistakes and all, double standards and broken promises were nothing to be ashamed of. For this reason, the Manics polarised opinion more than any other British rock band before or since. Some critics hated them for what they saw as superficial glamour, arrogant rock star posturing, aggressive intellectualism, and a nihilistic lack of traditional values.

Much of this criticism stemmed from an aggressive anti-success ethic amongst NME championed bands that had reached epidemic proportions by the time the Manics began to receive coverage in the music papers, as well as the then-rampant critical opinion that a band had to "stand for something". Ironically enough, the fans loved the band for the very things that they were condemned for by the press, with Nicky saying in later years that their manipulation of the media was "the greatest thing we ever did".

All of this set the Manics a million miles apart from the shoegazing and Madchester bands of the day. At early gigs, they would be bottled and heckled from beginning to end. James and Nicky would hurl abuse at their audiences and tear through short sets similar to those of The Ramones famous "Twenty minutes of energy" gigs, a display of an odd punk rock style band/audience interaction that had been unheard of since the infamous riotous early gigs of Scotland's The Jesus and Mary Chain a few years earlier.

In 1990, they signed a deal with punk label Damaged Goods Records for one EP. The four track EP New Art Riot attracted as much media interest for its attacks on fellow musicians as for the actual music. With the help of Hall Or Nothing management, the Manics signed to hip London Dance music label Heavenly Records. Their first single for the label - Motown Junk (released on January 21, 1991) - showcased their iconoclastic ("I laughed when Lennon got shot") punk/metal influenced rock n' roll. The song also displayed their huge cultural scope with a Public Enemy-sampling intro and an outro sample of The Skids.

Over the next year, the Manics earned a wild reputation - much like that of Guns N' Roses or The Sex Pistols - as well as an extremely loyal, rabid fan base. In music press interviews they attacked bands like Slowdive (who Richey famously described as 'worse than Hitler'), Ride, and My Bloody Valentine, the crusty pop rockers (Carter USM, Senseless Things, Ned's Atomic Dustbin) as well as the dying Madchester movement (The Happy Mondays, The Farm, Stone Roses). The Manics' manifesto went as follows: release one album that would outsell Appetite for Destruction, tour the world, headline Wembley for three nights and then burn out. The band also had plans to release their first LP in a sandpaper covered sleeve, as the Durruti Column had already done, so that their music would burn (or scratch) out with them. It was also designed to erode other records it was placed next to, a technique first used by Guy Debord with early editions of his book 'Memories'.

Their love/hate relationship with the press, and their use of Sex Pistols style media manipulation tactics, was documented on their next Heavenly single, You Love Us. They again displayed their huge cultural scope; the single sampled Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima as well as Iggy Pop. The video featured Nicky in drag as Marilyn Monroe and contained visual references to Betty Blue and Aleister Crowley. In a now legendary interview with then New Musical Express journalist Steve Lamacq - a man known for despising anything he sees as hype or contrivance - Richey carved the words "4 Real" into his arm with a razor blade to prove their sincerity. He was taken to hospital and received seventeen stitches. Shortly afterwards the band signed to Sony Records and began work on their debut album.

Their debut album, Generation Terrorists (originally titled "Culture, Alienation, Boredom And Despair"), was released on the Columbia Records imprint. The band toured the world and achieved success in most countries, including a particularly fanatical following in Japan, but failed to make any headway in the United States. This was possibly due to a combination of the band's androgynous image, aggressively intellectual "We Didn't Start the Fire"-style cultural referencing, and the Grunge Music explosion, making anything that whiffed of glam or heavy metal unfashionable overnight. The liner notes contained a literary quote for each of the albums eighteen songs (Albert Camus, Sylvia Plath, George Orwell among others) and the album lasted just over seventy minutes. The record contained six singles and sold 250,000 copies, but the band felt they had failed due to it not matching up to their own expectations (Bradfield said of it, "If you make a record as good as Appetite for Destruction it sells, if you don't it doesn't"). The band did not burn out after all, releasing a split single with Fatima Mansions (a rock cover of "Suicide Is Painless") which became their first UK Top 10 hit, and began work on a second album.

The second album, Gold Against the Soul, was released to mixed reviews but still performed well, reaching number eight in the UK album chart, and displayed a more grungy sound. The nature of the lyrics also changed, with Richey and Nicky eschewing their political fire for introspective melancholy. One track — 'La Tristesse Durera' — is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh based on Theo van Gogh's remark after his brother's suicide: 'The sadness will last forever'. The band also disposed of their glam slut punk image, adopting in its stead a more mainstream hard rock look, and their venomous attacks, though Nicky would still slag off other bands at gigs.

Following what the band themselves described as "the most unfocused part of our career", Edwards's personal problems of self-mutilation, anorexia nervosa and alcoholism became worse and began to affect the other band members as well as himself. He was admitted into The Priory in 1994, a private mental clinic to overcome his problems, and the band played a few festivals as a three piece to pay for his treatment.
Manic Street Preachers circa 1994 around the release of The Holy Bible. From left to right: Sean Moore, Richey James Edwards, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield
Manic Street Preachers circa 1994 around the release of The Holy Bible. From left to right: Sean Moore, Richey James Edwards, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield

The group's next album, The Holy Bible, released on August, regained their critical acclaim but sold extremely poorly. In fact it sold fewer copies than the previous albums and was not released at all in America, though an American mix of the album was in the can (and was released in Canada - it would later resurface as part of a 10th anniversary edition of the record). Despite this it is regarded by many as the band's magnum opus and is often voted onto lists of all time great albums. The album displayed yet another musical and aesthetic change for the band, the casual rock look was out and was replaced by army/navy uniforms, a look which began at the end of their last UK tour, but now took on a new meaning. Musically, the band were veering into a gothic take on traditional metal forms, with highly irregular melodies and ice-cold guitar riffs taking centre stage. It was a stark departure from their previous work, replacing the previously Tommy Vance friendly hard rock with gothic anti-rock, influenced by post punk and a reflection on the bands own musical taste at the time. According to James Dean Bradfield, they listened to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures almost constantly during the album's recording.

The lyrics, about 75% of them by Edwards, had taken on a poetic nature and were much more horrifying and disturbing than ever before. It was therefore compared to the Nirvana album In Utero in almost every review, a not wholly unwarranted assessment as Edwards, in particular, was listening to that album around that time.

In support of the album, the band appeared on Top of the Pops, performing first single "Faster". The performance was extremely controversial at the time, as the band were all dressed in army regalia, with Bradfield wearing a terrorist style balaclava. Some people mistook the band's intentions, and thought they were supporting Irish paramilitary groups. At the time, the band was told by the BBC that they had received the most complaints ever. [2]

Months later, on February 1, 1995, Richey James Edwards disappeared from the Embassy Hotel at Bayswater Road in London after checking out at 7:00am. His car was found abandoned February 14, 1995 at the Severn View service station near the Severn Bridge going into Wales. He was never seen again, although unsubstantiated sightings have been common, so much so that the band have even kept a percentage of the royalties aside should Edward's ever return. Nonetheless, Edwards retains a special place in many fans' hearts. The band was put on hold for six months and calling it quits was seriously considered, but with the blessing of Edwards' family the other Manics went back to work. Their first musical appearance since Edwards' departure was recording a cover of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" for The Help Album, a charity effort in 1995 in support of aid efforts in war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The first album without Edwards, Everything Must Go, contained five lyrics either written or co-written by Edwards, was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The bulk of the lyrics were written solely by Wire including number two hit single "A Design for Life", which became a working class anthem, and established the band alongside the other premier British bands of the day like Oasis. The band's image changed yet again, inadvertently they gained a casual, lad culture image much like that of Oasis as A Design for Life's message was roundly misinterpreted ('We don't talk about love/We only want to get drunk' was intended as a scathing critique of those who believe working classes have no cultural or emotional depth. This line was wrongly adopted by many as a drinking anthem). The album was shortlisted for the 1996 Mercury Prize award for best album, and yielded the hit singles "Australia", "Everything Must Go" and "Kevin Carter".

1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was just as successful across most of the world, and gave the band their first number one single in "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next". (sample (help·info)) It was written about the Spanish Civil War and was inspired in equal parts by George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and The Clash's "Spanish Bombs". The album also included the hit singles "You Stole The Sun From My Heart", "Tsunami" and "The Everlasting".

In 2000 they released the limited edition single "The Masses Against The Classes", which takes its name from a quotation of 19th century Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone ("All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes"). Despite receiving little to no promotion, the record hit the number one position on the UK Singles chart. The record was a return to their more rock based roots and was well accepted by their old fans.

In 2001 they became the first popular western rock band to play in Cuba, (at the Karl Marx theater) and met with president Fidel Castro. Their concert and trip to Cuba was documented and then released as a DVD entitled "Louder Than War".

In this concert they revealed many tracks from their sixth album Know Your Enemy, a much more eclectic album in the vein of London Calling or Sandinista! era Clash. The song "Ocean Spray" was written by James about his mother's battle with cancer (she died in 1999). The first singles from the album, "So Why So Sad" and "Found That Soul", were both released on the same day (at the time, many critics wrongly heralded this as a first, although it soon transpired that, in fact, Lush were the first band to release two singles on the same day, a feat they had achieved seven years earlier in 1994). Other singles included "Let Robeson Sing". The latter song addressed an eight-year period beginning in 1950, when the U.S. State Department confiscated the passport of international concert singer Paul Robeson and, with it, his freedom to travel outside the U.S. (The clapping at the end of the song is taken from a recording of a concert he did on the telephone to a Welsh Miner's group). When Robeson and his lawyers met with officials at the U.S. State Department August 23, 1950 to ask why it was "detrimental to the interests of the United States Government" for him to travel abroad, "they were told that his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries — it was a family affair." There then followed an international campaign to break the travel ban. (Duberman, Martin. Paul Robeson: A Biography ISBN-X, p. 389)

The greatest hits (plus remixes) album Forever Delayed was released in 2002. It was controversial with fans who claimed that it did not reflect the band's greatest songs but instead only featured the songs that charted well (although a look at the chart entries for singles included and excluded reveals that this is not completely true either). The album included two brand new songs, "Door To The River" and "There By The Grace Of God" (which was released as a single).

An album of B-sides, rarities, and cover versions album was released in 2003 -Lipstick Traces, after a fan petition upon rumours of a greatest hits release began circulating. The album included the last song that was ever recorded when Edwards was still in the band, the previously unreleased "Judge Yr'self" that was intended to feature on the Judge Dredd movie soundtrack, as well as "Forever Delayed", a song the band had been playing at gigs throughout the year but had not been released.

The band's seventh studio album, Lifeblood, was released on November 1st 2004 and stalled at only #13 and was on the UK album chart for a mere 2 weeks. Critical opinions of the album were mixed; but the majority of fans agree that it is underrated. Musically, it was a great departure from the Manics' previous albums, though foreshadowed by "There By The Grace Of God". The band played two new songs from the album, "Empty Souls" and "Solitude Sometimes Is", during their appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004. "Everything Will Be", which the band previewed at the Glastonbury Festival 2003, appeared as a B-side to the single "The Love of Richard Nixon". (sample (help·info)) Tony Visconti helped the band produce three songs on the album. The album was followed by a UK Arena tour in December 2004, which featured a second guitarist backing up the band for the first time since Richey's disappearance. The band felt the live sound needed 'beefing up', so they recruited a friend to take up second guitar duties. The decision although controversial, was generally welcomed by the fans and it has since become standard at shows for the band to have a second guitarist onstage.
James Dean Bradfield live on the band's "Past, Present and Future" tour
James Dean Bradfield live on the band's "Past, Present and Future" tour

A tenth anniversary edition of The Holy Bible was released on December 6th 2004 which included a digitally remastered version of the original album, a rare U.S. mix and a DVD of live performances and extras including a band interview.

On April 19th 2005, the band played their final gig on their Past-Present-Future tour - which was revealed during the gig to be their last for at least two years. To thank the fans for coming, the band released an EP entitled God Save the Manics. Around 300 EPs were available and were to be given out after the gig to fans. However, staff at the Hammersmith Apollo in London did not give out the EPs - they were left by the door in a box. Some fans took armfuls of the EPs, which surfaced on internet auction sites some time later. The EP was also available to fans if they sent an email to the website, but for a limited time only. After all the copies were gone, the band made the EP available as a free download on their website, allowing fans who did not manage to get an EP to listen to the three previously unreleased tracks. The track "Firefight" was debuted at gigs on the Past-Present-Future tour.

In July 2005, the BBC's Newsnight conducted a cultural interest poll of their viewers, spanning topics such as albums, books, works of art, etc. The Holy Bible surprisingly topped the album list, beating out OK Computer by Radiohead, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, and more. On the poll, Peter Barron (Newsnight editor) said "The biggest surprise was the triumph of The Holy Bible by the Manic Street Preachers, an album which I suspect most quintessential Newsnight employees have never heard. On the whole we're not big Manics fans, but I understand they like us."

In September of 2005, the band contributed the new track "Leviathan" to the War Child charity album Help-a Day in the Life.

In late 2005, both Bradfield and Wire announced intentions towards releasing solo material prior to a new album by the band. On Christmas Day 2005 (25 December 2005), the band posted on the official site an mp3 of Wire's new solo track "I Killed The Zeitgeist" free for download during the course of the entire day. The sound was drastically different from the band's, featuring much more distorted instrumentation and Wire's throaty vocals. Singles entitled "Break My Heart Slowly" from Wire and "That's No Way To Tell A Lie" from Bradfield were later premiered on radio. Bradfield's aforementioned debut single as well as album (entitled The Great Western) were released in July while Wire's single and debut album entitled I Killed The Zeitgeist were released in September.

On the 5th of February the band announced a major UK tour to begin in May of this year. The tour is in support of the band's eighth studio album, Send Away The Tigers, due for release on the 7th May on Columbia records. These will be the first Manic Street Preachers touring shows in two years and Nicky Wire promises, "Springsteenesque long sets, working class rage, make-up and dumb punk fun".[3]. There is also a European date at Melkweg, Amsterdam, Netherlands (19th June).

In support of the album the band will also play summer festivals including WDR Rocknacht in Cologne, Germany (14 April), Rock Ness in Scotland (9-10 June), Greenfield festival in Switzerland (15th June), Hultsfred Festival (Sweden), the twin festivals of Hurricane and Southside in Germany (22-24th June), Glastonbury Festival in England (Sunday 24rd June), Fflam Festival in Swansea, Wales (13th July), Summer Sonic Festival in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan (11-12 August) and V Festival in England (18 and 19 August).

A free download of a song entitled "Underdogs" from the new album was made available through the Manic Street Preacher's website on 19 March, 2007. The first official single released from Send Away The Tigers will be "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" which features Cardigans vocalist Nina Persson, available on 30th April, 2007. The album leaked on 17 April 2007.