MP3: Manic Street Preachers Discography - Part Five: The Holy Bible (1994)
Here we go then. Much delayed due to my uselessness, but it's finally here. There are a number of reasons why The Holy Bible is as notorious as it is. Most big music fans, even if they think the rest of the band's catalogue isn't up to much, will still hold up the album as proving that the Manics, despite their bullshitting and the hyperbole, were still a band capable of greatness. It's their defining musical moment, the moment when the aesthetics, the lyrics and the music finally melded perfectly together and stayed that way for an entire album. It was no surprise that last year saw it re-released as a tenth anniversary edition, complete with bonus live tracks, demos and a DVD. Even if everything else the band did is forgotten, I think time will show that even in 30 or 40 years, The Holy Bible will still be remembered by big fans of music.
In every way it's a completely uncompromising and unforgiving album, as angry as it is bleak, as thrilling as it is intelligent and vicious. In places it truly sounds like no other record on earth, in part perhaps because the band had finally flung off their embarrassing influences and decided to listen to themselves rather than anything else.
Of course another important for the albums notoriety is the fact that it was the last album produced with Richey Edwards. His problems with anorexia, self harm and depression were growing to their worst state as he wrote the album's lyrics with bassist Nicky Wire, and after the album's release he would check into The Priory psychiatric hospital, missing some promotional work and live appearances at festivals. On the 1st February 1995, after a final UK tour, and on the eve of a promotional trip to America, Richey disappeared and was never seen again.
The album was released on the 30th August 1994. The first thing that is noticeable is how fantastic the artwork is. To my eyes the band never looked cooler, and their artwork never better reflected the music that lay inside it. The bands intense drive to make it the best album of their career meant that Bradfield would often spend 13 hours a day in the studio, and this determination would translate into both the albums lyricisms- full of military references, and the bands look for this album - military uniforms. The album begins with a long time fan favourite, Yes.
As with many of the albums songs, it begins with a sample of dialogue. On this song it's of a pimp, taken from a documentary on prostitution the band had seen on channel 4. The song itself deals with Edwards fear that he was only living to please others, and gaining no satisfaction from anything himself. The music is more post-punk influenced than anything the band had done before, heavy and driving without the embarrasing Slash like guitar lines of their previous albums. It's actually quite hard for me to try to talk objectively about the record, having listened to it so many thousands of times, but alas I shall try. It's no wonder that Yes, as mentioned, became a fan favourite, in particular appealing to the more fragile and obsessive of the fanbase: 'I eat and I dress and I wash / And I still can say thank you / Puking, shaking, sinking / I still stand for old ladies / Can't shout, can't scream / Hurt myself to get pain out.' Its pretty powerful, even if you're not familiar with the bands history. As a side note, I myself find it almost impossible to imagine what the album must sound like to someone who comes to it with no prior knowledge whatsoever. Does it have the impact that many of us big fans feel it does without knowing of the bands history? Another thing to point out is how impressive it is that James manages to twist Richey's lyrics into some pretty stunning melodies, and even often somehow makes them catchy ones.
Next up comes a track that has a very annoying title for bloggers such as myself. Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwouldfallapart starts with a sample that is perhaps slightly too long, and thus isn't as powerful as some of the other clips. Still the song that follows is so great that it hardly matters. Lyrically its stunning, with this passage in particular being a favourite:
Compton, Harlem, a pimp fucked a priest/The white man has just found a new moral saviour/Vital stats, how white was their skin/Unimportant just another inner-city drive-by thing
Morning, fine, serve your first coffee of the day/Real privilege, it will take your problems all away/Number one, the best, no excuse from me/I am here to serve the moral majority
The chorus of Cool, groovy, morning fine/Tipper Gore was a friend of mine is far more fun than it should ever be allowed to be, and along with Revol, this is probably the most easy going song on the record. However anyone expecting an easy ride is contradicted by the very next song...
Of Walking Abortion starts with two amazing things. First a quote from one of my favourite authors of all time, Hubert Selby Jr (writer of Last Exit To Brookyln, Requiem For A Dream). I actually saw Selby do a reading (plus signing where I met him) about a year before he died, and he actually repeated the line from this song during his discussion. Chills down the spine don't begin to describe it. The next great thing about the song is the stunning intro riff and that great static sound that follows the drums between the lines of the verse. I LOVE IT. After the verses comes one of the album's finest choruses. The absolute hatred of some of the albums lyrics is remarkable, particular in lines such as: 'Little people in little houses/Like maggots small blind and worthless/The massacred innocent blood stains us all.' Its clear that Richey (who wrote 70% of the albums lyrics) was going through something quite unimaginable, and I suppose its lucky(?) for us that he was able to express some of it through the bands music. The song ends with a fantastic chant of 'Who's responsible, you fucking are' that is aceness itself.
Next up comes one of the albums singles. She Is Suffering was actually the third single released from the album, coming out on the 3rd October 1994 and reaching number 25 in the UK charts. The first slow song on the album, it sort of follows the same path as Life Becoming A Landslide from GATS, but without quite the same sense of the anthemic that that songs production lent to it. Bradfield's vocal is wonderfully done, and although lyrically its not one of the albums better songs, the sheer verve and power of the performance is another to justify its inclusion. The solo in particular is very very good, and is highlighted well by Steve Brown's fantastic production.
Next up is one of the albums best songs, the almost completely faultless Archives Of Pain. The bassline is probably the best thing Nicky Wire has ever and will ever put down on record, and the PIL like guitar is also really well done. Bradfield's vocal really brings the lyrics alive, being as they are amongst the albums most vicious and cerebral. The fact that he is even able to sing a chorus like 'Kill Yeltsin, who's saying, Zhirinovsky, Le Pen, Hindley and Brady, Ireland, Allit, Sutcliffe, Dahmer, Nielson, Yoshinori Ueda, Blanche and Pickles, Amin, Milosevic' is amazing enough in itself, and indeed reading that chorus makes me wonder whether there is any other album in the world that manages to be so intelligent, displays that intelligence so well, and yet doesn't fall into the trap of being more intelligent than it is musically compelling. I doubt it. It also contains what is maybe my favourite verse on the whole record: 'Execution needed a bloody vessel for your peace/If man makes death death makes man tear the torso with horses and chains/Killers view themselves like they view the world they pick at the holes/Not punish less, rise the pain, sterilise rapists, all I preach is extinction.' Stunning stuff, and again topped off with a brilliant solo from Bradders. Thank the lord for his occasionally bearded, occasionally chubby face.
Next we have another of the records singles. Revol was the second single released from the album. It came out on the 1st August 1994 and reached number 22 in the UK charts. Its the only song on the record that I would have left off (or perhaps replaced with one of the albums singles wonderful bside - Too Cold Here or Love Torn Us Under for example). The lyrics are passable at best, James sounds a bit silly during the verses, and its only the punchy production (very nice guitar sound) that really impresses me much. Again Bradders does some nice guitar work as we come up to the finale, but its not enough to make me think that Revol is much more than a piece of better-than-average filler.
Luckily (kind of) the next song, 4st 7lb is one of the album's most stunning and yet most harrowing. Basically about dying of anorexia, its not as if I expected it to be uplifting, but any other artist would have perhaps tried to make the subject a tiny bit more palatable. No such kindness from the Manics, but the obvious honesty and heartfelt nature of the lyrics means that it comes over as deadly serious and truthful rather than merely deliberately subversive and controversial. Bradfield's guitar work is absolutely exceptional throughout, especially in the midsong guitar break. The songs second half and ending are also very well thought out and composed. Very very very very very good.
Next up comes another very depressing song, the first of two on the album that directly deal with the Holocaust. The band had (foolishly considering their pre-disposition for the morbid) visited a number of concentration camps during a trip to Europe the year before, and the influence of that visit can seemingly be felt throughout the album, which works as a treatise on the failures of modernity and its treatment of humankind. As one of the samples in the song (from J.G. Ballard, another of my favourite authors and who I happen to be writing my Masters dissertation on right now) states, the band wanted to 'Rub the human face in it's own vomit and force it to look in the mirror.' Considering the Holocaust connection (which isn't as explicit here as it will be in a later track, but was admitted by the band), the song is perhaps a bit too heavy for its own good. The same problem can be seen in one of the bands bsides, Comfort Comes, which has heartbreakingly fantastic lyrics and yet is hampered by a distorted composition that ruins their effect. However again the production and the melodies themselves are very very strong, and Bradfield's performance towards the end of the song is so good (the scream on that final line!) that the song deserves its place on the album.
So here we are then. Track nine. Faster. One of the bands most loved singles, and deservedly so. Great quote from 1984 to start things off, fucking amazing riffs and lyrics, overall 100% brilliant throughout. The video is also one of the bands best, a riff on the Costello Pump It Up band-in-a-room scenario, with the Manics looking stunningly cool as the lyrics flash up on the screen and we wish we were 10% as cool as they were then. The song was the first single released from the album, released as a double A-side with the albums closing track P.C.P.. It came out on the 6th June 1994 and reached a healthy number 16 on the singles chart. Its definitely in my top 5 Manics singles ever. Non stop excellence. Also notable was the bands Top Of The Pops performance for the song (see link below), in which James wore a balaclava over his face and caused the BBC to recieve a number of public complaints about the tastelessness of a rock star looking like a terrorist in front of impressionable children. Great stuff.
Next we enter the reaaally depressing section of the album. The first half or so has so much anger and momentum to it that the lyrics don't sink in as being as truly horrifying as many of them are, but as the album slows down towards the end, things get a lot darker. This Is Yesterday starts things off in a slightly more fragile way than the rest of the record, being the only really mellow (sort of) song, and certainly one of the best. I've always thought that many of James' solo acoustic performances of the song were better than the album version (I think Sean's insistent drumming behind most of it puts me off), as they allow the loveliness of the lyrics to come through. The solo is one of the best things about it, and one of the only moments on the album where, despite the awfully sad lyrics, we get a sense of hope or catharsis. It's only about ten seconds long, but seems to express that even if things were incredibly desperate for certain members of the band, at least the expression of sadness for that fact meant that they were still somehow alive. You'll have to forgive me waxing lyrical, I'm typing this late at night.
The next song however isn't half as forgiving. But then what would you expect from a song called Die In The Summertime? It's a song I could never get into for the longest time, but that I now realise is probably one of my favourites. The transition from the end of the verses into the chorus are really nice, and the chorus itself sounds really stunning (again thanks to James putting so much damned effort in). Oh and need I mention that there's a really good solo? And that the guitar sound is again, faultlessly great sounding. Why on earth producer Steve Brown isn't more prolific I don't know, I would have thought that bands would be lining up to get some of the magic he so clearly demonstrates here.
Okay so next is the albums most harrowing song, The Intense Humming Of Evil, which is another Holocaust based song. It's hard to comment on it really. It works very well, has some truly beautifully sad lines, and doesn't even come close to feeling exploitative. Overall it's a very successful piece. It's quite odd listening to it now, as it was only a year ago that I found out that my grandfather on my father's side had been one of the soldiers that had liberated Belsen and been involved in burying the dead, and so is thus somehow part of this song. It's strange to think that in spite of the seemingly almost over the top nature of this albums nihilism, everything in it is somehow drawn from reality, and historically connected to people living now.
Okay so thankfully the band decided to spare us a little bit and end the album with something a bit faster and a lot less heavy going. P.C.P. is a nice quick punk romp that recalls some of the best parts of the bands debut album. Its nothing incredible, but again its done with such verve that, along with the fact that its a relief to hear something fast after the last three songs, its quite a welcome ending.
So there we have it. It's a record that makes you feel really quite wiped out by the end. As I said before, I find it quite hard to listen to now, because it feels so tied into my own personal history, and because i've heard it so often. I probably listened to it every other night for about a couple of years, and so again as I said its rather hard to be objective. Hopefully you lot can give me some opinions in the comments below.
After the release of the album, and the disappearance of Richey, things seemed to have come very much to an end for the band. Little did fans, and probably the band themselves, realise how big a comeback they would make such a relatively short time afterwards. More on that next time. Meanwhile here are some videos. The best ones are highlighted with an asterisk.
Yes (Promo Video, 10th Anniversary)
She Is Suffering (Promo Video)
She Is Suffering (Live Butt Naked 1994)
She Is Suffering (Live acoustic on TV)*
She Is Suffering & 4st 7lb (Live acoustic)*
Archives Of Pan (Live Cambridge 2005
Revol (Promo Video)*
Revol (Live Reading Festival 1994)
Revol (Live Cambridge 2005)
4st 7lbs (Live Southampton 2005)
Faster (Promo Video)*
Faster (Live Top Of The Pops)*
Faster (Live Glastonbury 1994)
Faster (Live Butt Naked 1994)
This Is Yesterday (Live Manchester 1997)
P.C.P. (Live in Nonaltola 1994)
P.C.P. (Live Butt Naked 1994)
P.C.P. (Live Glastonbury 1994)
Judge Yr'Self (Promo Video)*
Live in Newcastle 2005 - Clips of Revol, Of Walking Abortion, Archives Of Pain
Interview on Japanese TV, 1994
Interview on Naked City, 1994
Manics in Bangkok, 1994
Interview at Reading Festival, 1994
Richey Edwards Last Ever TV interview - Part One / Two / Three / Four
And here are some songs from the album. Enjoy.
Download: Manic Street Preachers - Archives Of Pain - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - 4st 7lb - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - This is Yesterday - MP3
Download: Manic Street Preachers - Die in the Summertime - MP3
Discography: (click to buy @ amazon.co.uk)