Friday, 6 February 2015

06/02/15 - The Holy Bible

Last weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of Richey Edwards’ disappearance. Richey was the lyricist and rhythm guitarist with Manic Street Preachers, who went missing on 1st February 1995, his car later being found near the Severn Bridge. It’s not known where he went and what happened, and he was legally assumed dead in 2008.

Manic Street Preachers were and are an incredible rock ‘n’ roll band. Their debut album, Generation Terrorists, brashly demonstrated how a group of disaffected but talented Welsh youths wanted to be a politicised Guns N’ Roses – they even borrowed GN’R’s typeface for their logo - and for their second album, Gold Against the Soul, they shifted into a harder sound; massive guitars, massive drums, deep and penetrative lyrics, a duality of the beauty and horror of reality. Skipping to the 4th album (let’s come back to the third in a moment), Everything Must Go is arguably their best-known work, with some singles getting a lot of radio play – but it was darker than it seemed; released fifteen months after Edwards’ disappearance and featuring five songs that he wrote, the perceived commerciality of the album does a disservice to the gritty subject matter tackled throughout.

Richey was always a mercurial character, his highly political, emotional and honest songwriting cementing a legacy as a cult icon. The most widely-shared images of him came after an interview with Steve Lamacq in 1991, during which Lamacq questioned the band’s authenticity and values; Richey took a razor blade and deeply carved ‘4 REAL’ into the flesh of his forearm, calmly maintaining unflinching eye contact throughout.
He suffered from depression, was a frequent self-harmer, battled with alcoholism and anorexia, and checked himself into The Priory after the release of the band’s third album in August 1994. (Again, we’ll get to that one soon.)

In the last fortnight of January 1995, Richey withdrew £200 a day from his bank account, totalling £2,800 by the day of his disappearance. He and Manics singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield were due to fly to the US and were staying in a London hotel. James knocked on his door on the morning of the flight, got no answer, and found him missing; Richey had driven back to his flat in Cardiff, and in the following two weeks there were a number of unconfirmed sightings around Newport and the valleys, before his car was found at the Severn View services, apparently having been lived in. No-one knows what happened to him.

That third album, then. It’s called The Holy Bible, and around 70-80% of the lyrics were written solely by Richey. It eschews the American rock aesthetic of its predecessor by being clearly influenced by such bands as Magazine, PiL, Gang of Four and, in particular, Joy Division. It is extremely dark, but sublimely crafted and a wonder to listen to – it’s always been one of my very favourite albums, so we’re going to look through it track by track.
(It’s also worth noting, incidentally, that the Manics have to date released twelve studio albums [including Journal for Plague Lovers, in 2009, featuring exclusively lyrics written by Richey in the early 1990s], and are showing no signs of slowing down.) So, The Holy Bible

The first track, Yes, opens with a dialogue sample from the 1993 documentary Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns by Beeban Kidran, on the prostitution trade. (Dialogue samples feature on a number of tracks on the album.)
It’s a bold opener for an album, the first line being ‘For sale? Dumb cunt’s same dumb questions…’
James Dean Bradfield later said ‘I remember getting the lyrics to Yes and thinking “You crazy fucker, how do I write music for this?!”’ It’s a fair point – the chorus is pretty gritty:
‘In these plagued streets of pity you can buy anything,
For £200 anyone can conceive a God on video,
He's a boy; you want a girl so tear off his cock,
Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want’

…and so the mood for the album is set. This is not a collection of radio-friendly unit-shifters.
lyrics] [video]

Ifwhiteamerica… begins with a sample from a trailer for GOP TV’s Rising Tide show, televising a salute to Ronald Reagan, with Thatcher as a guest. “Tickets are $1,000 a plate, but you can see the event free on GOP TV.”
In a contemporary interview, bassist Nicky Wire explained that ‘it’s not a completely anti-American song, it’s about how the most empty culture in the world can dominate in such a total sense’.
‘Fuck the Brady Bill,’ screams Bradfield acerbically, referencing the law that instituted background checks on firearms purchases. ‘If God made man, they say, Sam Colt made them equal…’
lyrics] [video]

Of Walking Abortion
This one’s about right-wing totalitarianism. It opens with a quote from an interview with Hubert Selby Jr. – author of Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream – in which he says ‘I knew that some day I was going to die. And… I knew before I died, two things would happen to me: that number one, I would regret my entire life, and number two, I would want to live my life over again.’ It then launches into an incredibly deep and scary bass riff, counterpointed by some tinny, industrial guitar. Bradfield sounds fucking angry in this one, sneering the lyrics like it’s 1977.
The song closes with a repeated, shouted refrain – ‘Who’s responsible? You fucking are. Who’s responsible? You fucking are.’ It’s reminiscent of the closing of Rage Against The Machine’s Know Your Enemy, and it’s genuinely chilling.
lyrics] [video]

She is Suffering
This song is demonstrative of a certain conceptual conflict within the band. Both Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield have expressed concerns over the lyrical content, suggesting that it suffers from ‘man-coming-to-the-rescue syndrome’, although Edwards had always maintained that the ‘She’ of the title represents the concept of desire itself; ‘in other Bibles and holy books, no truth is possible until you empty yourself of desire.’
It is, either way, a beautiful song.
lyrics] [video]

Archives of Pain
My favourite track on the album, this is an astonishingly brutal piece of work.
It opens with a dialogue sample from the mother of one of Peter Sutcliffe’s victims from a report on his trial (‘I wonder who you think you are? You damn well think you’re God or something. God gives life, God taketh it away, not you – I think you are the Devil itself’), before launching into a low-bass/high-guitar intro from the same family as that of Of Walking Abortion.
It’s about the glorification of serial killers, about mankind’s fascination with people who kill. The chorus is a pretty clear statement:
‘Kill Yeltsin, Hussein,
Zhirinovsky, Le Pen,
Hindley and Brady, Ireland, Allitt, Sutcliffe,
Dahmer, Nilsen, Yoshinori Ueda,
Blanche and Pickles, Amin and Milosevic,
I give them the respect they deserve…’

Also, the guitar solo toward the end is fucking incredible.
lyrics] [video]

A cheery little ditty about failed relationships here. Wire and Bradfield admit to not being totally sure what it’s about, but the over-arching theme is clear: ‘revol’ is, of course, ‘lover’ in reverse. Richey’s lyrics list a series of famous and controversial names throughout history, despatching each one with a short and often insulting dismissal:
‘Mr. Lenin - awaken the boy,
Mr. Stalin - bisexual epoch,
Kruschev – self-love in his mirrors,
Brezhnev - married into group sex,
Gorbachev - celibate self-importance,
Yeltsin - failure is his own impotence’

lyrics] [video]

4st 7lb
Probably the album’s biggest tearjerker, this deals candidly with the subject of anorexia – 4st 7lb being the weight at which death is considered medically unavoidable.
It opens with a dialogue quote from Caraline Neville-Lister (subject of a 1994 documentary on her struggle with anorexia; she died shortly after broadcast), it’s formed from a set of devastatingly descriptive lyrics over a thrashing post-punk track that counterpoints the subdued loneliness of depression with some incredible musical lashing-out. A genuinely hard song to listen to, and yet one so brilliant that I just want to play it over and over. The latter half of the song slows right down to a muted ballad, a painfully transparent metaphor for the anorexic’s lack of energy and momentum in the time before death.
lyrics] [video]

This was inspired by the band’s visits to the death camps at Dachau and Belsen.
‘Wherever you go I will be carcass,
Whatever you see will be rotting flesh,
Humanity recovered glittering etiquette,
Answers her crimes with Mausoleum rent.’

Speaks for itself. A masterfully crafted song too, rocks very hard indeed. Probably my second favourite track on the album.
lyrics] [video]

This was the lead single from the album, and Nicky Wire reckons he’s got no idea what it’s about. (Richey claimed it was about self-abuse.)
It opens with a sample of John Hurt in the film adaptation of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and closes with another repeated, shouted refrain: ‘So damn easy to cave in. Man kills everything.’
lyrics] [video]

This is Yesterday
A bittersweet and simple song, this is about how people look back on their youth and see it as a glorious, halcyon period.
‘Someone somewhere soon will take care of you,
I repent, I'm sorry, everything is falling apart,
Houses as ruins and gardens as weeds,
Why do anything when you can forget everything?
I stare at the sky,
And it leaves me blind.
I close my eyes,
And this is yesterday.’

lyrics] [video]

Die in the Summertime
Following This is Yesterday, this track comes as a bit of a shock; the former lulls and soothes, while this eases you to the surface for around fifteen seconds before turning all the dials up to eleven. The two songs act as twins, with the theme of this one being a pensioner wishing to die with memories of childhood in his mind.
lyrics] [video]

The Intense Humming of Evil
By far and away the darkest song the Manics have recorded, this was also inspired by their visits to the concentration camps. It opens with an extract from a report on the Nuremberg Trials, the lyrics are devastating, and the vicious sound of the track sends shivers down your spine. As genuinely scary as a song can be. For maximum effect, listen at full volume with the lights off.
lyrics] [video]

An astonishingly upbeat track to follow The Intense Humming of Evil, P.C.P. is an embodiment of just how much James Dean Bradfield loves The Clash.
Wire explained in a contemporary interview that this track is about ‘how political correctness followers take up the idea of being liberal, but end up being quite the opposite’.
It masks a scathing indictment of society being eager to be seen to be doing the right thing, whilst using ‘political correctness’ as a veil for their own flawed agendas, as an upbeat punk song - which is a rather wonderful way to close an utterly spellbinding album.
lyrics] [video]

Richey Edwards may not have had a significant hand in the musical craft of this album – in fact, he reportedly slumped in a corner of the studio, exhausted, and drank throughout – but as a scrapbook of his literary work, this album stands as an incredible epitaph for one of our generation’s most gifted and troubled poets. That it’s set to some earth-shatteringly magnificent music is a huge bonus. If you don’t already own The Holy Bible, you should. And don’t just download it, actually buy it – Richey's artwork and liner notes are all part of the package.

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