Manic Street Preachers - "The Holy Bible"
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
I don’t listen to this album anymore. It’s not because I don’t like it, or because it makes me feel uncomfortable, or even because the fourth word spat out by singer James Dean Bradfield is “cunts”. I just don’t need to hear it again.
Written and recorded in the midst of depression, anxiety and self-mutilation for guitarist Richey Edwards, combined with the recent death of manager Philip Hall, “The Holy Bible” ranks itself among the darkest records in rock and roll. Bassist Nicky Wire commented on the title: “It did feel like we were fulfilling some kind of prophecy”, and the resonance of this feeling was felt by many of the band’s teenage fans, both at the time and in the years to come.
Perhaps the most amusing story surrounding this record (OK, the only amusing story), is that the original lead single was album-opener, “Yes”. In fact, had it not been for the disappearance of the band’s chief lyricist and “guiding light” Richey Edwards, the band was fully prepared to release a song with the lyrics: “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” to the unsuspecting public. Airplay obviously not an issue for the band, then—but the decision was revoked in order for Richey’s band and family to deal with his disappearance.
“Yes” contains, of course, the most powerful lyrics Edwards ever penned, and not down to its gratuitous use of the French language, either. It’s the biggest clue Richey ever gave us: his state-of-mind played out on record, the seediness of Bangkok fused with the bleak, hopeless aspects of old age and Welsh public transport acting as both autobiographical metaphor and autobiography itself.
And, after this, “The Holy Bible” is an assault on everything that is, or has ever been, wrong. “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart” attacks America four-fold: Ronald Regean, racism, religious fanaticism and gun laws (“If God made man, they say/Sam Colt made him equal”), “Archives Of Pain” takes on fascism past and present, and “P.C.P.” takes on social paranoia in an England overrun with EU regulations and political correctness. Sure, the Manic Street Preachers had always rallied against socio-political evils (as well as making some pretty dumb rockers as well), but where “The Holy Bible” differed was in its music. It sounds as angry, as dark—as unrelentingly menacing as the lyrics.
“4st 7lb”—the album’s harrowing tale of anorexia (it is claimed that if a suffer falls below the title weight that they will eventually die from malnutrition), is perhaps the album’s most disturbing moment. Richey used other characters (in this case a teenage girl) as a thin veil to discuss his own problems (see also: “Die in the Summertime”), and so lyrics detailing a desire “to be so skinny that I rot from view” and recognising “such beautiful dignity in self-abuse” can be even more brutally revealing.
Indeed, the only form of respite comes two tracks later, in “This Is Yesterday”, a song presumably written by the relatively-stable Wire (who had just settled down with his new wife). It seems to act as both eulogy to, and apology for, being unable to help his friend out of depression. Softening musically and lyrically, one has to wonder if Richey would have appreciated the sentiment at all, or only seen such a song as mere distraction from his more pressing lyrical themes.
I bought this album long after the Cult Of Richey had become little more than a nostalgic foray into what was arguably grunge/post-grunge’s darkest mind. Indeed, the Cult itself was, by then, devoid of all meaning, all purpose (if it had ever had/served one): Richey Edwards despised nostalgia. His disappearance in February 1995 was perhaps not the ultimate statement of ambiguity one can only presume it had been intended; all the amateur rhythm guitarist’s fans had left now were photos, clippings from the NME and the records which, owing to his extremely limited capabilities as a musician, he only rarely appeared on.
But for many, just like Curtis and Cobain before, Edwards was something of a teacher. I was 13 when I first heard “The Holy Bible”, and I became consumed by it. I wanted to listen and learn—I wanted to soak up all of the things it could teach me about social disease, extremist politics and sexual confusion. My teachers weren’t teaching me anything I wanted to learn and somehow quoting lengthy, despairing diatribe from the sleeve notes filled the void. Back then, that actually felt like an attractive option.
While I may have moved on somewhat, I do still feel like I owe something to this record, and those who had a hand in making it. Unlike the throngs of fans that turned out for the Manic Street Preachers’ Greatest Hits tour in December 2002—covered in leopard print, mascara and spraypaint, the slogan “4 REAL” emblazoned (if only biro-ed) on arms—I feel like maybe I learnt the most valuable lesson of all from my experiences with “The Holy Bible”. That was to listen, absorb, digest—yes. Then put things into perspective, take your time, and move on.
Like I said, Richey Edwards despised nostalgia.
By: Colin Cooper
Published on: 2004-05-11