MP3: Manic Street Preachers Discography - Part One: The First 3 Singles (1989-1991)
Okay then let's get going. If you scroll down a bit you'll see the introduction to this series, which will be reviewing the discography of the Manic Street Preachers in the same way I did for Pulp, with mp3s and videolinks and other good things.
The band formed in Blackwood, Wales in 1986, and was made up of schoolfriends James Dean Bradfield (guitar/vocals), Flicker (bass), Nicky Wire (lyricist/rhythm guitar) and Sean Moore (drummer). However this lineup would only last until 1988, and to my knowledge no recordings have yet surfaced of either shows or any demo recordings they may have made. In that year, Flicker left, Nicky switched to bass, and another school friend, Richey Edwards, joined the band. His contributions to the band were controversial, as he co-write all of the lyrics with Wire, designed the bands clothing, videos, artwork, and yet only audibly played on a very tiny amount of recordings and live shows. Most of the time he would mime guitar on stage, despite initial claims that he was a better guitarist than Slash. Due to his shy nature, stunning looks and obvious intelligence, as well as the fact that he wrote most of the bands more sensitive lyrics, Richey would go on to become something of an icon for many of the more obsessive Manics fans. More on that later...
After their first round of mostly underappreciated gigs, around this time (approx August 1989) the band recorded their first single, Suicide Alley, which featured an accompanying sleeve (shot by Edwards) which presented the Manics as the natural successors to the Clash.
The music itself is much in the same vein, with the title track being incredibly Clash like in sound, especially in regards to the guitar breaks between verses. Also rather amusing is how high, adolescent and undeveloped James' voice sounds in comparison to later recordings. The lyrics aren't yet that great either, sounding rather cliched, but I think you can still get a good sense of where the band would be going once they'd got a bit more recording and songwriting experience behind them. Bside Tennessee (I Get Low) would later be re-recorded for their debut album, and the early version on the single actually doesn't differ a whole lot from its final version. The lyrics are however a bit different, and the early version of the song seems to be far more of a love song than anything that would appear on their debut. Of course the band claimed at that point that they would 'never write a love song', forgetting that they probably already had.
As the bands live reputation began to grow (highlighted by acts of violence recalling the early gigs of Jesus & Mary Chain) and they began to send weekly press releases full of slogans and vicious attacks on contemporary culture to the music press, the band started to gain a lot more press attention and in 1990 managed to ink a one EP deal with the punk label Damaged Goods. The results are found on the still easily available New Art Riot EP, a listen to which makes clear just how quickly the band were able to refine their image and sound into its eventual direction.
The EP featured the bands first use of slogans on their artwork, with 'I Am Nothing And Should Be Everything - Karl Marx' acting as the first in a long long line of artist, politicians, philosophers and musicians quoted on the bands record sleeves. As for the music, it's a mixture of Clash like punk rock with some hints of late 80s metal. The band were huge Guns N Roses fans, and this influence would become very clear on some of the more soft-metal parts of Generation Terrorists. The EP's title track isn't musically amazing, and is hampered by some underdeveloped production, but it does show how far the bands lyrics had developed since their first single. Although lines like 'Paint mass suicide on the aspiration diktat' are trying a bit too hard to be clever, other ones, like 'Museums are dead take a new art stance', 'Wipe out aristrocracy now kill, kill, kill' and 'Hospital closures kill more than car bombs ever will' start to give us an idea as to the superpolitical sub-Brechtian wordplay the band would use on their debut. The second track, Strip It Down, is probably the EP's best, and was even played a few years ago at an instore gig to celebrate the release of the bands greatest hits album. Again its very hard to make out anything James is saying, something that occurs again and again and again throughout their career, as James attempts to twist Nicky and Richey's lyrics around a semi-catchy melody. Best line of the song? 'Decaying Flowers in the Playground of the Rich' probably takes it. Last Exit On Yesterday and Teenage 20/20 are more of the same really; the energy is obvious, and again its impressive how much James compositional skills have moved on since Suicide Alley, but there's still something missing, and this would become very clear when the bands next single would come out.
Here we have it. The first truly classic Manics single, and what a single it is. The obvious huge improvement between New Art Riot and this single is truly staggering, and the fact that Motown Junk wouldn't go on to feature on the bands debut album also goes to demonstrate their (perhaps naive) new sense of confidence in their writing abilities. The new Manics as heard here are the same band you hear on their debut album. Confident, stunning, exciting, confrontational. After the media hype experienced after the release of their EP, the band signed to Hall Or Nothing management and signed to a the small indie label Heavenly, in order to release this single. It came out in January 1991, and must have been a pretty amazing start to the year.
Beginning with a Public Enemy sample, followed by one of the bands greatest riffs (destined to forever cause havoc at their gigs), when the lyrics starts its obvious right away how Nicky and Richey had come on in leaps and bounds. Quotable lines abound, and the first verse told its audience exactly where the band came from:
'Never ever wanted to be with you
All you ever gave me was the boredom I suffocate in
Adrift in cheap dreams dont stop the rain
Numbed out in piss towns just wanna dig their graves'
Other lines of interest? How about: 'I laughed when Lennon got shot/21 years of living and nothing means anything to me' and'Stops your brain thinking for 168 seconds/Motown junk.' Both pretty great. Very over the top, very confrontational, very pissed off. The end of the song, with its claim that 'We live in urban hell, we destroy rock and roll' is just as good as its beginning, although a friends claim that it actually says 'We're living up a hill, we destroy rock and roll' has forever ruined it for me. And now i've ruined it for you. Sorry. James's solo is stunning, far far better than anything he'd done to date, and for the first time his vocals sound really REAAALLY great.
As for the bsides, they're not too shabby either. Sorrow 16 goes to show that even with their throwaway tracks the band had started to put in a hell of a lot more effort and skill than they had on New Art, and the heavy rock of We Her Majesty's Prisoners would act as a bit of a precursor for some of Generation Terrorists, and even features one of the bands first truly lovely lyrical images, in 'All we got unholy left-overs of a compromise/Leaving us like butterflies trapped in frost.'
So there we have it. Within a year or two of recording Suicide Alley the band had moved on from their heavily Clash influenced sound and were already beginning to write songs of such greatness that even their biggest critics actually had reasons to rethink their initial deridation of the seemingly insane Welsh upstarts.
Strip It Down (video)
Strip It Down (live 2003)
Motown Junk (video)
Motown Junk (live Reading 1992)
Motown Junk (live Sussex Uni 1992)
Interview (Snub TV 1992)
Interview + Motown Junk clip
And finally here are the songs, hope you enjoy them! Don't forget to comment, even its just to correct me if i've said something inaccurate. Until next time...i'm living in a blog, I destroy iTunes. Or something.
Discography: (click to buy @ amazon.co.uk)