MP3: Manic Street Preachers Discography - Introduction
Okay so this series has been a long time coming.
For a number of years, being a fan of the Manic Street Preachers was one of the most important things in my life. Today I still recognise them as one of the most important influences on my teenage years and what i've done in the few years since they finished. But first of all, for the mostly non-British people who haven't really heard of the band, maybe a little explanation is required. The Manics haven't really had the effect on any other country that they had in the UK. Maybe that was tied into their lyrics being so tied into British history, or the obtuse nature of much of their output (which probably made them inaccessible to all but the more discerning listeners elsewhere and which perhaps only eventually managed to succeed here partly out of sheer luck and perseverence), or maybe it has something to do with the nature of the British music press and the Manics love/hare relationship with the media (for a number of years you couldn't escape irrate Manics fans in the letters pages of the NME and Melody Maker). Whatever it is, here's a tiny potted history for the uninitiated (longer historical gubbins will follow in the individual album posts when the discography actually gets going).
Those are just a few random points, perhaps to stoke interest in those who haven't heard of them, and perhaps also to remind those who have just how interesting a band the Manics were. Theirs is probably the most eventful and exciting British rock and roll story of the 1990s, a fact that today is often obscured by the fact that recently their output has been less than stellar. Their initial revolutionary, youthful and pissed off image could never live down the indignities of middle age and maturity. Indeed i'm often reluctant to call myself a huge fan nowadays, due to just how much of a contrast there is between the manics of old and the manics of now, but then that's also something that makes them interesting to discuss.
Pulp were a very easy band to talk about, i've always loved them and their music as you would a close friend. The Manics however are different. They're more like (dare I say it) some sort of twisted ex-lover. I can't really overexageratte the effect they had on my life. I first became really aware of them (as many people did) as a 12 year old in 1996 in the wake of the success of their Everything Must Go album. At that time I'd just started at my secondary school, an inner city all boys comprehensive (and not one of those mythical good ones). To be honest, it was pretty much 5 years of hell, and the fact that it was an all boys school obviously created a typical masculine system of pisstaking and bullying that emphasised stupidity and violence over everything else, and i'd say that that's what made the Manics so appealing. They were the antithesis of everything my hated school stood for. They were exciting, pissed off, completely anti-masculine, anti-racism, anti-conservative, and most of all incredibly intelligent. One of the only things that got me through school was actually working, and, although this sounds bad (because they were some great pupils there) the belief that in some way I was going to be a step above the thick bastards around me, and the intelligent outsider image of the Manics really had everything that I needed as I was beginning to discover rock music.
At the age of 13 I saw my first ever gig, the Manics at the Bournemouth International Centre (supported by Catatonia), and that took my obsession with music (and with them) even further. I'd go on to see them another 5 times (to date). For the uninitiated, most one of the great things about the Manics was that every thing they released, somewhat recalling Peter Savill's Factory designs, was made to be a complete piece of art. The band took the same amount of effort with every photoshoot, every piece of clothing they wore, every single sleeve, every video, and every press release as they did with the music and lyrics. The literary quotations inside the bands albums and singles inspired me to read Camus, Sartre, Levi, Marx, Burroughs, Nietschze, and so they're probably also semi-responsible for the fact that i'm just about to finish my Masters Degree in English Lit. Anyway after school I went to a separate college and actually met some other Manics fans. The first girl I ever fell for was a Manics fan, and some of the best and worst friends i've ever made I made because I was a Manics fan.
I say worst because the completely obsessive nature of Manics fandom (obviously tied into the fact that we obsessive fans felt just as much outsiders as the band - to some the Manics were the only thing in life they could relate to) often had its negative effects. As with any crowd, the depressive, insular nature of the band was reflected in the often semi-narcissistic and even solipsist nature of the bands fans, most notably seen in the worryingly common appearance of self-harm. Luckily I never fell too far into that sort of thing (cos pain hurts, obviously), but I was unlucky enough to feel the side effects. As I got into other music, and moved away from the Manics as their newer albums became less exciting and the band themselves lost the magic that had made them so wonderful in the first place, I suppose I became rather embarrassed by the obsessive side of Manics fandom. The glitter, feather boas, self harm and tiger print became the stuff of supercliche, parodied by sharply funny fansites like Random Thoughts. Of course there was also the fact that I got happier, made more friends, and started to forget about the hellhole that had been my school.
However a listen back to some of the Manics catalogue still brings back some of that excitement, and despite how many stupid things Nicky Wire says or how many mediocre albums they release, I don't think i'll ever really forget the huge effect that they had on my musical taste and on every other aspect of my teenage years. And despite my non-love for the feather boa, the unity found in the Manics fan scene could often be inspiring (especially at the gigs), and Manics fandom was also often just as full of incredibly friendly and caring people as it was full of insane ones. It's hard for me to see how a fan scene like the one the Manics had could ever exist again. People could perhaps suggest what happened with The Libertines, but I would say that a number of things were missing. First of all there was the intelligence, the wit, the fucked off bitterness and anger of it all. Second there was the fact that the press, more often than not, didn't give a shit about the Manics or their fans. For the Libertines, the NME were lining up to sell more issues by telling the fans exactly how they could be part of an underground scene (hmm yeah). In a way they were exploiting people who wanted to be 'part of something', and the same thing gets done for whatever other band the NME think will sell some more issues. When they arrived on the music scene, it seems like the Manics would never have performed in association with Wella for a Stella sponsored tour, or been guest VJ's on MTV2. The growth of the internet also means that fandom nowadays is far less about the joy of meeting fellow fans every few months at gigs, or finding a rare singles, or finding out a rare photograph. Now everything is accessible in minutes, and in some ways that's rather a sad thing.
I think i'm about ready to draw to a close for my intro. Sorry if its been disjointed, or confused (or long), but then the Manics were often the same. Looking back on their career, they've often been a mixture of the good and bad, the inspiring and the embarrassing, the perfect and the tawdry. You can take the piss of the BHS jumpers and awful statements about Michael Stipe, or you can remember the start of Faster, that beautiful riff from Motorcycle Emptiness, how damn life affirming A Design for Life is. If you take a good long look at the band, you'll probably discover that James Dean Bradfield is one of the most incredibly gifted musicians of the last 20 years, that the Manics were a once in a hundred years thing that rolled up everything thats fucking great about rock and roll. Sex, art, violence, sadness, anger, politics, and being fucking loud. To be a Manics fan whilst the aura of their early career was still around was something incredibly exciting, and to this day there probably isn't another band (except perhaps The Smiths) that I could really say really spoke as well and in such an articulate way to a certain sort of British teenager that didn't want to get pissed and violent every night and end up on working in burger king. And on that note, i'll finish.
I'll be posting the first entry in the discography tomorrow or Tuesday, and as ever, i'll be looking forward to everybody's comments, and I hope people will enjoy the series. Night night.
Discography: (click to buy @ amazon.co.uk)