Alright. One more time, just for the road.
The Manic Street Preachers are the ultimate rock band. Anything that it’s possible for Rock, in its classicist sense, to express, they did and by their continued existence, do so. Not that they created anything — there isn’t a single inventive bone in any of the bands’ bodies — but rather they surveyed the form, grasped its secret logic and recapitulated it as something between Parody and Archetype.
They are the ultimate band now as they’re the ultimate failure. Rock isn’t about gloriously perfect images of live-fast-die-young Jimi and Brian — that’s the Rock Myth, and like all myths has never had any real relationship with reality. Rock has always been about degradation, failure, fallings. Rock isn’t about success — it’s about tragedy. It’s about degradation of beautiful ideas.
The Manics, knowing pop-history back to front, set their aims on the most deliberate beautiful honest idea in Pop history. And then, catching people by the throat, slowly deflated themselves to the point where they can release a lumpen Greatest hits like this.
And by doing so, they express the essential failure of Rock to do anything of worth. If they didn’t exist, it’ll be necessary to invent a God to invent an antichrist to dribble gobbets of spunk into bored welsh smalltown cunts to begat ‘em.
This is their Greatest Hits.
Except it’s not, by either definition of the word. These aren’t the highest they achieved in chart success. The not-included Roses in The Hospital reached 15 which their biggest non-cover hit until Design for Life. At 27, Little Baby Nothing is a smaller hit than — for example — Revol. Let Robeson Sing from the final album was bigger than most of these, and be nowhere to be heard. And if you go for the alternate meaning of greatest, then these aren’t the largest artistic achievements in the Manics back-catalogue.
It’s just the Manics in beige, for Q-readers’ Christmas Stockings. And they’ll love it.
So then. By period.
Pre-Generation Terrorists –
Motown Junk: Brittle and broken Heavenly single, spliced onto the end of the album as the last twitch of a dead corpses’ cock, a desperate attempt an erection. Standing alone, it’s still an incendiary charge spitting alienation at Bez-walking proletariat. Standing here, like a Lemon-Bukkake, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
You Love Us: Here sans the Lust-For-Life riping ending, it’s a wafter-thin slice of major-key polished-up punk riffola, G’n’R guitar-work and Fall-esque Syntax. Weakened in its context as — well — underdog music sounds ludicrous on a winners pedestal. Imagine how Public Enemy would have sounded if the managed to create their Black Planet.
Motorcycle Emptiness: And still one of the most beautiful, graceless songs ever. Not contradictory. It’s on that axis that the Manics always worked. You always had the feeling that with their pre-fabricated edges and construction, the Manics were a band who genuinely wrote songs, in the same way I’d write a shopping list — their greatest achievements stink of deliberateness, of construction, or work. Nothing is ever easy. And this — well — this is a constructed machine made for the sole purpose of putting your soul on the rack and tearing it apart. Put it like this: If the skies open, and Armageddon started to rain down on us, I’d put on Motorcycle Emptiness, look up at the sky and await the end. Listening to it doesn’t make you forget your regrets — but rather magnify them, mount them and put them in a gallery. It makes your regrets seem worthwhile and beautiful.
Little Baby Nothing: Pop Song with Porn Star. The first and one of the best examples of the Manics ability to push depressive political epithets into comedy, and still keep a contradictoraly emotional punch. “You are pure, you are snow, we are the useless sluts that they mould. ooo-ooo-oooh!” perhaps only bested by the closing of La Tristesse Duera’s “The pain. will never go away. Baby, it’s here to stay-ay-ay!”. If you don’t grin at them — well — you’re probably one of /those/ sorts of Manic fan, and fan and can fuck right off.
Singles Missed: Repeat, Loves Sweet Exile, Stay Beautiful.
Somewhere between the two if you squint:
Suicide is Painless: Of interest primarily because it was their first top ten hit. And as gloriously silly as this is — its opening rendering of the M*A*S*H theme is a clumsy setup for the tumbling quoteunquote searing guitar ending — it should point us towards the already rent-open faults in the Manics’ opening fascade. And a reminder that it really was never as simple as the young-idealists-collapsing-towards-old-age-and-uselessness. Because the kids are useless too.
Gold Against The Soul:
Despair to Where: People have a tendency to forget Gold Against the Soul when talking about the Manics’ progress from despairing abyss-blossoms to populist champions. But — y’know — this was an absolutely straight ahead Adult-Orientated-Rock album, without the weirdness Spector-production flourishes on the better latter-day work, and often descended into dumb, brutish, bloated riffing.Gold Against the Soul is a straight ahead rock album. And Despair from Where — as it emerges from the “I wake with the same spit in my mouth — I cannot tell if it’s real or not” that ends its opening – is a straight ahead Rock classic.
La Tristesse Duera: And here’s another one. The contrast between the colossal power of the best of the singles included here, and touched on with the other two that are nowhere to be seen, on Gold Against the Soul borders on Frightening. This is — well — just about the only song written about the subject old age with the genuine sense of outrage it demands. The Manics never sounded as populist or as aggrieved. As a song, it propels itself between a string of lyrical and vocal flourishes that burn down the cenotaph and rubs funeral ash on withered faces. It moves with the irresistible momentum of age itself. It’s the second best thing the Manics ever did.
Singles Missed: Roses in the Hospital (hence the “Forever Delayed” lyric that begats the title”) and Life Becoming a Landslide (Hence no “There is no pure love, just a finely tuned jealousy”, but otherwise forgivable).
The Holy Bible:
Faster: To advertise the Holy Bible, Sony booked a double page spread in a music paper and simply printed the whole album’s lyrics in small type across it, and everywhere my teenage brain looked I saw ideas bombarding me, a concept rush up with the best rap-flow in terms of restless imagery. And I was sold. And for the best part of a Decade, Holy Bible’s densest moment has been the closest thing I’ve had to a hymn to autonomy I have. It sounds nothing less than Scripture written in fiery script.
Singles Missed: Revol, PCP, She Is Suffering and — well, it /was/ going to be a single – Yes.
Everything Must Go:
Design for Life: The Comeback Single and the one, in the rockumentary of the Manics life that will eventually be made, the first public playing of which will be the final scene, before fading to black and a montage of magazine and press headlines. As songs go, probably the best socialist sing-along of the nineties. Except for Common People.
Everything Must Go: The Spector wall-of-sound re-appropriated for an apology for something ninety-five percent of other bands do on every album. Moments hit as hard as anything else in their canon — the desperate gasp of “Happy!” emerges half way through like Christ on a Cross calling out to Pops while his ribs are folding like a concertina — and their Exit Music for their very own own.
Kevin Carter: Chris Evans liked it. It was released. It’s an album track. Fuggetaboutit.
Australia: Entirely explicably loathed by Manics fandom — it sounded like backing music for a Football round-up even before it entered that particular world — but fuck ‘em. If the Manics were ever genuine about Entryism, they could have tied Marx and Monroe to straight guitar pop with similar effect. While the song’s about emotional cowardice — as if Springstein had wrote “Born to Run Away” — sections look up with the say-eyed bravery of a widow.
This is my Truth, Tell me Yours:
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next: The sound of something going very wrong. Passable simple-minds aping expansive, cold European styled rock about the cold bodies of Welshmen in South-European fields. At the time, was mildly hailed for Being Number One and Being About Something and Having A Long Title. Which was what all the Manics was about, yes? Kinda. But this was the Manics reduced to Zippatone, the cheap ink on cheaper paper unable to hold all the meanings. Everything drained away leaving — well — leaving what chose to hold. S’right.
You Stole The Sun From My Heart: Which you could never say about this, which can only be described as the sound of someone following through. Notable for being The Manics Do A Love song, with the lack of emotional subtlety leaving you wonder how on Earth Nicky Wire manages to stay coupled-up for all these years.
Tsunami: About something Nicky Wire saw on TV. Sounds like something Bradfield heard on the radio. Some drums. A song so forgettable I have to keep on looking at the beginning of the paragraph to actually remind myself what I’m writing about.
Kill Your Enemy:
The Masses Against the Classes: Which might as well be called “We’re Still Relevant and Political! And how come when I lick my lips I can taste Castro-Jizz?” for all the incisiveness it brought to the table. That said, when the lyric twists in the end from “I’m tired of giving a reason/when the future is what we believe in” to “I’m tired of giving a reason/When we’re the only thing left to believe in” you can’t help but appreciate the level of heroic delusion. And heroic delusion is the foundation stone of all enterprises worth anything.
So Why So Sad: Come the end of the year, I’d forgotten the Manics had actually released an album in 2000. Or was it 1999? Honestly. Haven’t a clue. One of the reasons was songs like this. Manics do Motown. As roaraway Pop success as — oooh — the time the Manics wrote Kylie those singles.
Missed Single: Let Robeson Sing.
There by the Grace of God: Basically, a more artistically accomplished Another Day In Paradise with the wide-throated yelping of Collins replaced by a sombre underground insistence. Quiet. Contemplative. Melancholic. Tends to dwell on the isn’t-it-cold-out-there-the-poor-mites than the mugged by tramps high on booze-drink aspects of homelessness. Can’t help but think there was a time that Wire would have suggested concreting over cardboard city though.
Door to the River: This articles taken me weeks to write. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to the album. And I still can’t recall a single thing about this. Another review described it as Folky, so I’ll reiterate that. Folky, apparently. Actually, I’ll go listen. Give me a sec. Yup. Kinda Folky.
And that’s it. 20 rock/pop records by a nineties rock/pop band who blew it. Like me.
I’ve blown it.
A greatest hits album review is an chance to take in the expanse that the band operated on, and give a final word on them, the point where anecdote and experience turns into history. All I’ve discussed it as Product, zeroes and ones on a compact disc, vocal performances and lyrical touchstones.
This is a failure of a rock review. But, as I said at the start, failure is what Rock is all about, and dealing with the contradictions of the Manics in any other way than what I present before your eyes now, would be a betrayal of their carefully planned route from Saviours to Antichrists.
Watch: Icarus and Lucifer embrace and plummet away from us, trailing feathers and greasy smoke.
Remember: Those who sing along with the Abyss just leave behind sing-alongs. And then we leave them behind too.