It strikes me today that in 5 years I have written almost nothing about the band that are the most personal to me, the band who I first saw playing in a pub in 1990 and who regularly sell out arena shows. The band I have seen more times live than any other and who I have got tickets to see in Llandudno next year. The band who play a large part in the story of Mrs 1537 and I, our first ever gig together was on 15 October 1992, an early date for us. The band who I own the second most records by*. The band who I’d like to meet most in the world, because I know they’d be sweet. They’re so perfect, they’re even Welsh. The Manic Street Preachers.
I fell in love with their fiercely intelligent, passionate, funny interviews first, this and their ambitions set them way apart from their shambling drug-softened indie peers. I then decided to try out their music, which was a handful of 12″s only at that point where their ambitions of combining the Clash with Guns ‘n Roses and McCarthy were a long way from fruition – they talked a good fight but just weren’t good enough then. Of course they got there and far beyond later as their chops improved. Never a band to undersell themselves they promised to sell 8 million copies of their debut LP Generation Terrorists and then split up, it didn’t quite work out that way – thank Crom.
Now, unlike everyone else in the whole wide world my favourite Manic Street Preachers LP is their second one, Gold Against The Soul, other fans don’t like it, the band don’t seem to either**; they’re wrong, by the way. So I thought I’d look at the run-up to it via the medium of the 12″, always a good thing to buy with the Manics as they packed their releases with interesting B-sides^.
First up, the big tune from the debut LP, Motorcycle Emptiness – the tune that made folk realise that the Manic Street Preachers had some serious melodic talent and weren’t just a bunch of slogan-toting media-savvy Clash copyists. Put together from two demo tracks by producer Steve Brown (of Cult Love fame) it showcases a slower, more reflective, elegiac side of the band, with some beautifully judged guitaring from James. There’s a longing here that I have always loved, plus the overly wordy lyrics about the corrupting effects of capitalism never fail to make me smirk^^ and I’ve always loved the bridge, ‘All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us’.
The B-sides on this lovely picture disc? A measured semi-acoustic number called ‘Bored Out of my Mind’ that sneaks lines like ‘All the faces I love, their skin as soft as leprosy’, into a setting that would double as a rather gorgeous love song. It’s all topped off with a cover of ‘Under My Wheels’ recorded for the BBC’s Friday Rock Show, which is damned good fun too, the band’s rock roots showing through loud and proud.
Next up we have the Manic Street Preachers first UK #1, their cover of Theme From M*A*S*H released in September ’92 and recorded for a benefit LP for the Spastics Society. I had no idea before this that the theme had any lyrics^* but I’d always loved the music from the TV series. The MSP version has a certain studied grace about it, like a drunken guy concentrating hard to walk in a straight line and the lyrics are played totally straight, before it all gets rocked up like Survivor. I love it still but I may not be very objective here, possibly.
The B-sides are weird as hell, firstly we get Fatima Mansions version of ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’, which maniacs that they were is covered in a nightmarish lounge style with a prominent sample of a woman saying ‘I haven’t had an orgasm yet, you jerk!’; I don’t listen to this very often, I seek escapism in my music. The other track is great, called ‘Sleeping With the N.M.E’ it is a recording of the editorial discussion of the incident in which Richey James carved ‘4 REAL’ into his forearm with a razor during an interview with Steve Lamacq and it centres around whether they should print the gory photographs … you don’t get this sort of thing with Lionel Ritchie, often.
From Despair to Where was the lead off single from Gold Against The Soul and is one of my very favourite Manic Street Preachers’ songs. It came out in June 1993 and I rushed out and bought my copy in April this year, well Mrs 1537 bought the cassingle the day it came out. It is the Manics at their most classic sounding, I love the glossy rock sound they adopted here, James sings beautifully and the Hammond kicks the whole song up into the stratosphere. Plus who else can smuggle lines as pessimistic as this into a positive-sounding track:
There’s nothing nice in my head
The adult world took it all away
I’ve always been a real sucker for melancholy hidden behind upbeat music. The B-sides this time are a new track called ‘Hibernation’ and an original version of a track from their debut ‘Spectators of Suicide’. The latter doesn’t grab me as anything remarkable, the former is a beautifully played and sung, pessimistic reflection on marriage with music that leans towards all manner of landmarks like the Beatles and Rod Stewart, strangely enough. I find it really moving, not for the lyrics which I don’t relate to at all but for the melody. Another hidden gem.
So there you go I have dipped my toesies into the water and laid some of my treasures before you. I think they are a great band still but they were always a bit too European to ever cross over the pond successfully.
But what do I know? I’m just a feudal serf.
*23, not including 7″s (which I really need to catalogue one day).
**the LP’s before and after have had deluxe reissues etc, which is fine I’m happy being an army of one here. Plus it means my copy is worth far more.
^plus it’s far less taxing to review singles than LPs and I need to rest my annually shredded nerve-endings.
^^not nearly enough rock lyrics reference ‘feudal serfs in my view:
Life lies a slow suicide
Orthodox dreams and symbolic myths
From feudal serf to spender
This wonderful world of purchase power
^*let alone that they’d been written by Robert Altman’s 14 year-old son.