Manic Street Preachers
Manic Street Preachers (often known colloquially as "The Manics", and not "The Preachers") are a Welsh rock band often associated with the Britpop scene, and were one of the biggest bands in Britain for a period in the late 1990s. They are best known for their wild early exploits, the mysterious disappearance and possible suicide of Richey James Edwards (Richey James, as he preferred to be known), as well as for a succession of strong iconoclastic albums and energetic gigs. Politically they are staunch socialists - a stance inflected by their working class upbringing in 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 - which was originally named Betty Blue (after the English title of French film 37°2 le matin) - was formed in 1986 by Oakdale Comprehensive (Blackwood) schoolfriends James Dean Bradfield (lead guitarist), Flicker (bass guitarist), Sean Moore, (drummer and James' cousin), and Nicky Wire (Real name: Nicholas Jones, rhythm guitarist and brother of poet and playwright Patrick Jones). For a short period Jenny Watkins-Isnardi joined the group as a singer, but left after a few months to be replaced by James. 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.
In 1988, Flicker left the band, which became a three-piece, with Nicky switching from rhythm to bass guitar, and 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 schoolfriend Richey James Edwards. Richey's contribution to the band was co-writing the lyrics with Nicky, miming guitar onstage (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. 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 & 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 fanbase. In music press interviews they attacked the indie press darlings of the day: Shoegazing bands (Chapterhouse, Slowdive (who they 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 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 the hospital and received seventeen stiches. Shortly afterwards the band signed to Sony Records and began work on their debut album.
Their debut album, Generation Terrorists, 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 five singles and sold 250,000 copies, but the band felt they had failed due to it not matching up to their own expectations (James 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. They 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", Richey'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.
The group's next album, The Holy Bible, released on August 30 1994, 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 bands 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. 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. The lyrics, about 75% of them by Richey, had taken on a poetic nature and were much more horrifying and disturbing than ever before. It was therefore compared to In Utero in almost every review, a not wholly unwarranted assessment as Richey, in particular, was listening to that album around that time.
Not long after, on February 1, 1995, Richey 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 nearby Severn Bridge service station. He has never been seen again, although unsubstantiated sightings have been common. Nonetheless, Richey retains a special place in many fans' hearts. The band was put on hold for six months and calling it a day was seriously considered, but with the blessing of Richey's family the other Manics went back to work.
The first album without Richey, Everything Must Go, contained four lyrics either written or co-written by Richey, was released to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The bulk of the lyrics were written solely by Nicky included 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, this time choosing a casual, lad culture image much like that of Oasis. 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". 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 accompanying music video, directed by WIZ, is regarded by many as one of the finest ever made. 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 western rock band to play in Cuba, (at the Karl Marx theater) and met president Fidel Castro, who declared that their concert was "Louder than War" (a title they used on a DVD of the Cuban trip). They made no mention of Castro during the concert but did dedicate "You Love Us" to Félix Savón who was also in the audience.
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 passed away in 1999). The first singles from the album, "So Why So Sad" and "Found That Soul", were both released on the same day. 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 pasport of international concert singer Paul Robeson and, with it, his freedom to travel outside the U.S.. 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 156584288X, 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. The album included the last song that was ever recorded when Richey 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. 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. Tony Visconti helped the band produce three songs on the album.
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 never before heard U.S mix and a DVD of live performances and extras including a band interview.
In the middle of 2005, the band released a free download-only EP entitled God Save the Manics on their website, featuring three previously unreleased tracks. And In September of 2005, the band contributed the new track "Leviathan" to the War Child charity album Help: A Day in the Life.
The band has yet to establish a sizable American audience, but remains popular in the UK, especially in Wales, Europe, and in many Asian countries including Japan.
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."
Both Bradfield and Wire have 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 bassist Nicky 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. There are currently no release dates mentioned for either of their respective solo outputs.
The band were set to play the "One Earth" environmental awareness concert hosted by "Climate Change Now" at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the 28th of January, but the date was later postponed much to the dismay of ticket buyers. It is thought that the event will now take place on December 31, 2006.
In late August, Bradfield is set to play at the 2006 V Festival in England, featuring such famed artists as Radiohead, Paul Weller, and Morrissey.