01. Motown Junk (Single A Side January 1991)
02. You Love Us (Single A Side May 1991)
03. Stay Beautiful (Single A Side January 1991)
04. Motorcycle Emptiness (Generation Terrorists LP February 1992)
05. Little Baby Nothing (Generation Terrorists LP February 1992)
06. From Despair To Where (Single A Side June 1993)
07. La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) (Gold Against The Soul LP June 1993)
08. Roses In The Hospital (Gold Against The Soul LP June 1993)
09. Faster (Single A Side June 1994)
10. Yes (The Holy Bible LP August 1994)
11. Of Walking Abortion (The Holy Bible LP August 1994)
12. This Is Yesterday (The Holy Bible LP August 1994)
13. A Design For Life (Single A Side April 1996)
14. Enola / Alone (Everything Must Go LP May 1996)
15. Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky (Everything Must Go LP May 1996)
16. No Surface All Feeling (Everything Must Go LP May 1996)
17. If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (Single A Side August 1998)
18. Prologue To History (Single B Side August 1998)
19. The Everlasting (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours LP September 1998)
20. Ready For Drowning (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours LP September 1998)
21. Nobody Loved You (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours LP September 1998)
22. The Masses Against The Classes (Single A Side January 2000)
23. Let Robeson Sing (Know Your Enemy LP March 2001)
24. The Love Of Richard Nixon (Single A Side October 2004)
25. I Live To Fall Asleep (Lifeblood LP November 2004)
26. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (Single A Side April 2007)
27. Autumnsong (Send Away The Tigers LP May 2007)
28. Peeled Apples (Journal For Plague Lovers LP May 2009)
29. International Blue (Single A Side December 2017)
30. Still Snowing In Sapporo (The Ultra Vivid Lament LP September 2021)
When the Manic Street Preachers first escaped the terraced streets of Blackwood, looking for all the world like the aftermath of a car crash between the DIY stencilled clothing of punk and the leopard skin, glam look of the New York Dolls, they were greeted as either a bad joke or the ‘Future of Rock’n’Roll’ at a time when it still seemed perfectly possible for a group of callow youths from a South Wales mining town to actually achieve such a thing. Sure, their records were flawed, but in the early years it was precisely that and their incessant if naïve raging against the dying of the light that made them so compelling.
From their first moment together, Richey Edwards, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore were a beautifully confused throwback, ‘a speed band in an E generation' who thought like Chomsky yet rocked like the Clash, although I always thought they sounded more like vintage Generation X or even late eighties indie favourites the Mega City Four. Not that that it mattered. Whoever they sounded like, the Manics revelled in their self-determined, outsider stance, gleefully raining down alienation on the Madchester, baggy scene and shoegazing, the prevalent UK music genres of the early nineties. Invariably quotable (‘I will always hate Slowdive more than Hitler’ or ’You know the myth of Stagger Lee, that he would kill for a Stetson? Manic Street Preachers would kill for a Sega Megadrive’), the music press couldn’t get enough of them.
There are far too many stories to tell here, ranging from Nicky Wire’s love of feather boas and hoovering to Richey Edward’s self-mutilation or James Dean Bradfield’s offer to fight or fuck everyone in the audience. I saw them for the first time at a typically riotous show at Reading’s tiny After Dark club which epitomised the outrage and violence of that formative period when the Manics pronounced their own and youth cultures quest for change as useless. Ridiculous maybe, but even then I had to admire their courage.
Following a trio of remarkable singles (‘Motown Junk’, ‘You Love Us’, ‘Stay Beautiful’) that should have shut up the doubters once and for all, they planned to self-destruct after a multi-million selling debut album. Obviously, it didn’t happen quite like that, maybe because Generation Terrorists (1992) only sold 250,000. So the question was, what next? The answer was, it got serious. If the Gold Against The Soul (1993) era showed a stripped down quartet more attuned to the mainstream, then the confrontational militarism of The Holy Bible (1994) exhibited a blazingly intense and harrowingly bleak state of mind and music. From Nicky Wires battle painted face to Richey Edwards deeply personal lyrics and increasingly strained looks, the four of them were slowly inching towards their own heart of darkness, culminating in the December 1994 destruction fest at the London Astoria.
Richey’s subsequent disappearance on 1st February 1995 has become a cause celebre for those in thrall to rock glamour, yet inevitably that tends to omit the human cost of that inexplicable event. Ironically, despite the expensive Fender Strat strapped to his groin and his status as the Manic Street Preachers de facto leader, Richey could barely play a note so contributed nothing musically. Nevertheless, to many of their early, more partisan followers, the groups story divides neatly into the ‘Richey’ years and the ‘Success’ years, the former being infinitely preferable to the latter. And yet, to this day, the same currents, the same restless intelligence, continues to run in an unbroken line between the two.
After the initial chaos surrounding Richey’s disappearance, seven months later James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore reconvened to record their version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ for the War Child compilation. Given its unhappy personal context, the songs cheeriness was astonishingly evocative and a clear message to the world saying ‘we still exist.’ They returned fulltime with the markedly different ‘A Design For Life’ the following year. The post Richey comeback single that exceeded all expectations including their own, never mind the catchy rugby-club-singalong chorus, Nicky Wire’s words made explicit an affiliation with Wales they had previously rejected, its proud insistence on learning and education at odds with the inbuilt alcoholic annihilation of British youth. The positivity of the sentiments sign posted an escape route from the nihilism that had stopped the group dead in its tracks. After Richey it was no longer possible to cling onto the illusions of adolescence.
From Everything Must Go (1996) on, the Manics rediscovered their national identity. They’d thought it didn’t matter but it did, the cover of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998) featuring them on Black Rock Sands near Porthmadog, one of North Wales’s most beautiful beaches. With lyrics and sentiments reflecting recent Welsh history they reconciled their past and present on what is arguably their greatest album. As despairing in its own way as The Holy Bible, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was clearly a record made by a group confused and grieving for their missing friend while not being entirely sure where they fitted in the musical landscape of the late nineties. The first time Nicky Wire would write an entire album by himself, his words pushed James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore to create the most delicate and sparse arrangements of their entire career, the funereal beats and retro futurism yielding many of their finest songs.
Uncomfortable and perhaps a little guilty about their ever increasing popularity, in 2001 the Manics attempted a return to their core values by becoming the first western group to play Castro’s Cuba and by revealing the spiky and confused Know Your Enemy (2001), a genuine if flawed attempt to recapture something of their past. The cultural and political references kept coming on the undervalued Lifeblood (2004), still different, still important and containing ‘Cardiff Afterlife’, their long delayed reaction to Richey’s disappearance.
The yo-yo nature of their albums has continued ever since, with the predictable ever diminishing returns of a group close to entering their fourth decade together with fourteen albums of original material to their name. For most of the twenty first century the Manics have alternated fairly regularly between mainstream, radio-friendly albums like Send Away The Tigers (2007), Postcards From A Young Man (2010) and Resistance Is Futile (2018) and arty, avant-garde affairs like Journal For Plague Lovers (2009), Futurology (2014) and Ultra Vivid Lament (2021), the more sedate and acoustic Rewind The Film (2014) the only one not to fit in anywhere.
These days the Manics are a modern myth, a group with a famous history and a celebrated present. For all their success they still retain something of the angst and grief so prolifically mapped by their missing member. The rewards of fame have been predicated on this pain of loss. They have retained their contradictory nature, yet their future is still as up in the air as it has ever been. Schizophrenia, contradiction, paradox and uncertainty, these are the only valid responses to the fragmentary chaos of the modern world. The Manic Street Preachers still leave me uncertain, which means they still leave me thinking, and that is their ultimate triumph.
Fully revised and updated edition of a piece originally written in June 2006.