MP3: Manic Street Preachers Discography - Part Four: Gold Against The Soul (1993)
In 1993 the Manics were faced with somewhat of a problem. First of all, their debut album had not (as promised) sold millions of copies, allowed them to tour the world, headline Wembley stadium and split up in a blaze of glory. Quite the opposite in fact. It had done quite well, but not given them much of a mainstream fanbase outside of the indie world. So the problem was what to do next. Well for a start, Gold Against The Soul is much less political than its predecessor. It's also much shorter (thankfully). The tone is very different, far more melancholic, as if the band had done a shitload of growing up in the couple of years it had taken to write, record and release their debut. The sound of the record itself is an odd one, still containing some of the more Guns N Roses-esque metal flourishes of the debut, but moving into more grungey and alternative rock areas. This isn't entirely successful, and the second half of the record is slightly bogged down with unsuccessful experiments, so that in a way the album can be seen as a half way point (both in terms of sound and lyrics) between the glam punk explosion of Generation Terrorists and the post-punk despair of 1994's incredible The Holy Bible. It's a decent and unfairly maligned second album that often sparkles with moments of brilliance.
The album was recorded at Outside Studios in Checkendon, England with Dave Eringa, and was released in June 1993 to modest reviews. It reached number 8 in the UK album charts, after its preceeding single From Despair To Where, had crawled into the singles charts at a disappointing number 25.
Now despite all the doom and gloom, the album as mentioned, does get off to a brilliant start. Opener Sleepflower has long been a fan favourite, with a great opening riff and lyrics. Eringa's production is punchy and clean without sounding overtly commercial, and the bass in particular on this track has a lovely sound to it. It's clear again that the band have moved on lyrically, and where some of the tracks on their debut often felt like thrown together slogans without much connection, Sleepflower works pretty much perfectly. The opening lyrics are something of a precursor to this more depressive second part of the bands career: 'Morning always seems too stale to justify / Lament blossoms, hours minutes of our lives / Broken thoughts run through your empty mind / At least a beaten dog knows how to lie.' The songs got a very nice middle eight with some tatsy drum fills from a more confident sounding Sean, and when the riff jumps back in, it does so like a sledgehammer. This is really an album to play loud, especially when the stunning solo starts up. James again comes on in leaps and bounds at times on this album, especially (not that you need to be reminded) when you know that he composed most of the music and vocal melodies.
Next up is the first single, From Despair To Where. Again the opening lyrics are greeeeeat, and the inclusion of some organ on the verses is a nice touch. Particularly impressive on this song is how James uses small guitar hooks as part of his choruses. One of the criticisms that was made of this album, and often by the band themselves, was that they were forced by their record company to make more commercial sounding radio anthems, and this is perhaps evident on this song. However its not something that i've ever found too distracting, and the touches of commercial sheen that do feature (such as the great string accompaniment to the song) actually seem to add more than they take away. Perhaps the accusations of having a more commercial sound were exacerbated by the inconvenient and coincidental fact that the band were now using a slightly more mainstream image and incorporating some fashionable (at the time) influences from American rock.
La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) is one of the bands most loved songs, and rightfully so. For the first time, Nicky actually makes a reeeeally good contribution, with a classic bassline, and James droning guitar in the background adds so much without ruining the simplicity of the arrangement. A great lyric about war veterans, opening with 'Life has been unfaithful / And it all promised so so much / I am a relic / I am just a petrified cry / Wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir / The applause nails down my silence', the song was accompanied by a very good music video, one of the bands best. By the way, the title comes from Vincent van Gogh, who after a suicide attempt told his brother that "La tristesse durera toujours." (Sadness shall last forever). The single reached number 22 in the charts, impressive considering it was released after the album and did better than Despair, which had been released before.
Next up is one of the albums most metallic tracks, and a very very good one at that. Yourself opens with some stunning guitar interplay, very Guns N Roses, and seems to covering the same American Psycho/yuppie narcissist themes that the band also covered in their Easton Ellis influenced bside Patrick Bateman (look for that when I cover the bands bside compilation at a later date). The arrangements are very catchy, very economical, and perhaps its the fact that the albums early songs seem to use all their requisite parts so well that make the second half the album seem lifeless and slightly bloated. While i'm thinking, it also has another very good solo. That stuff is hard to play people.
Fifth track Life Becoming A Landslide was another single (the albums fourth), and reached a disappointing number 36 in the UK charts, the bands worst since 1991's Stay Beautiful. It's a shame really, because despite the perhaps overcommercialised sheen, it's rather a beautiful song. Some of the first unaccompanied acoustic guitar on a manics single, and although the chorus is perhaps too stadium rock, the lyrics of the verses are heartbreakingly good: 'Childbirth tears upon her muscle / Very first second a screaming icon / Babies in time barely even recognise / Words that once stroked now bruising tired lips / My idea of love comes from a childhood glimpse of pornography / Though there is no true love / Just a finely tuned jealousy.' It's a shame that the songs second verse takes on a more heavy tone, because although it gets the song moving more, it detracts slightly from the overall mood.
Okay then. Are you ready for the bad stuff? After a run of 5 reeeeeally good songs, which is pretty impressive considering this is meant to be their worst album and thats half of the album, we get some of the dross. Whoever sequenced the album, and i'm guessing it was the band, really needed to realise which songs were great and which weren't, and to spread them out a bit further through the album. Drug Drug Druggy, for a start, has an AWFUL title. Bad bad bad. Good intro riff, but after that, sludgy funky metal that sounds SO 1993. Very very dodgy. The big push given by the production and the organs on the 'I can't face the sunlight and the dirt outside' part is good, but not enough to forgive the badly written chorus that follows. The Manics had promised that they'd never write a love song, but really writing a cliched drug rock song is almost as bad. Overall the song has faaaar too much of Metallica's Load / Reload period to it to do much for me. Bad Eringa. Bad Manics. BAD! Good solo though, damn their eyes. But don't let me being a sucker for a good solo fool you into thinking this isn't pure unadulterated arse.
Thaaaankfully, very thankfully, the band manage to pull one more absolute classic out of the bag. Roses In The Hospital is pretty darn sublime, was released as the albums third single and reached number 15 in the singles chart, the highest chart position of any of the albums singles. The reason? Perhaps because, like Stay Beautiful, it's one of those songs that the bands fans could interpret as being about themselves: 'All we wanted was a home / Now we are so strung out we wanna own / Like a leaf in the autumn breeze / Like a flood in January / We don't want your fucking love.' Unfortunately we also hear some of the first glimpses of Richey's self destructive depression in the lyrics, with 'Roses in the hospital / Stub cigarettes out on my arm / Roses in the hospital / Want to feel something of value / Roses in the hospital / Nothing really makes me happy'. It's an absolute classic, up there with Motorcycle Emptiness, and a wonderful live song too. The only shitty part is the bad drums/vocals part near the end, where the production on the drums is awful, and James going 'nanananana' in the background makes me want to die. Why why why why why why why. Thankfully the 'Forever Delayed' chant afterwards is almost as good as the All we want are the kicks chant from Motorcycle, so i'll forgive them.
The same cannot be said for Nostalgic Pushead, which is just...meh. A relatively catchy metallic mess. Lyrically alright, but melody wise it's not really that great. Especially when James puts on a silly voice for the 'They dig the new scene and their parties'. I know he's trying to sound stupid, but there's stupid and theres....stupid. It's bad. As is the silly synth riff playing throughout most of the rest of the song. Not even the solo can save this one. And it was all going sooooo well. Unfortunately, despite a great opening riff (which last for about 10 seconds), Symphony Of Tourette is similarly uninspired. The lyrics to the chorus are particular teenage: 'Children can be cruel she said / So I smashed her in the fucking head / Sorry dear that's the nature of Tourette.' There's being literal, and there's being toooooo literal. We get that its about Tourette's, but other than that, what does it do? Very little. Except for give us a bad metallic funk riff and a bad solo that sounds like Queensryche. And not the good Queensryche, metal fans!
Thankfully the band manage to pull things back slightly with an epic closing track that doesn't try to outdo the last albums' Condemned To Rock And Roll, but still works pretty well. The closing title track is one of the albums more purely political songs, dealing with Thatcherite Britain and the closing of the mining pits that had so affected the bands hometown of Blackwood. Not melodically brilliant, but moody enough to provide a suitable closer, its only the three bad tracks in the sequence before it that make the end of the album sound less interesting than it would have been had it been preceeded by something worthwhile.
Soon after the tours for GATS, Richey would be committed to the Priory mental home to try to solve some of the problems with depression and self-mutilation that were becoming more oppressive the further the band continued. After his release, the band would prepare to write and record what today is still their defining statement. More on that next time.
How about some videos? There aren't as many as there were for Generation Terrorists, but what there is is really good.
From Despair To Where (music video)
From Despair To Where (live on The Beat '93)
From Despair To Where (live on Butt Naked '94)
From Despair To Where (live Reading '97)
La Tristesse Durera (music video)
La Tristesse Durera (live on TOTP)
La Tristesse Durera (live Feile '93)
LA Tristesse Durera (live on Naked City '93)
Yourself (live on The Beat '93)
Life Becoming A Landslide (music video)
Life Becoming A Landslide (live '93)
Life Becoming A Landslide (live Glastonbury '94)
Roses In The Hospital (music video)
Roses In The Hospital (live on TOTP)
Roses In The Hospital (live on Butt Naked '94)
Roses In The Hospital (live Reading '94)
Interview on Gimme 5 Kids TV Show
Interview on Japanese TV
Hope you've enjoyed this post, sorry about how long it took, and as I said before, please leave me some comments! Here are some songs from the album...
Discography: (click to buy @ amazon.co.uk)