The act of nostalgia for a band revisiting a golden moment in a long history must be a deeply rewarding one. Especially when revisiting an album in which all of your creative faculties were particularly fervent; when an album of songs were recorded so perfectly and sequenced so exceptionally that critics and public alike saluted you. I have been present at such events; David Bowie performing his minimalist masterpiece Low, Primal Scream with their groundbreaking dance / indie crossover Screammadelica, and Shakin’ Stevens rockabilly pop classic Shaky. OK, so the last one didn’t happen, but I thought if I put it out there true nostalgia may come my way one day. So, now here we are, perhaps the least advisable nostalgia trip imaginable, the Manic Street Preachers have chosen to tour the excruciating, painful beauty and genius of The Holy Bible.
Released in 1994 into a Britpop fresh world, The Holy Bible gave voice to those who felt disenfranchised by Oasis style booze ‘n’ birds swagger, felt uncomfortable in Blur’s modish Fred Perry t-shirts, and just frankly didn’t feel like having a knowing wink with Pulp. This album gave a philosophy of life to those in pain, those feeling uncertainty, feeling both physically and mentally unwell, those who felt anger, and those who felt a tunnel visioned intellectualism, even a naive one, was better than none at all. When I say ‘philosophy’, I don’t necessarily mean ‘answers’, but sometimes when a human is engaged in thought it can lead to answers. It’s happened once or twice… believe me. Guidelines for pain, no advice, but empathy and a guiding light to those who feel as bad.
So, not really recommended content for a summer party in Cardiff Castle, then? Well, maybe. 10,000 Manics maniacs, rock fans, casual admirers, and everything else in between converged on Cardiff to witness the homecoming of The Holy Bible, for it was in Cardiff, in a small recording studio called Sound Space Studios, that this classic was born. The crowd’s anticipation is palatable. I’m not exactly sure if everyone truly understands what they’re about to witness and hear. There are certainly a large amount of drunken, aged britpoppers here who would have discovered the Manic Street Preachers via anthems like ‘Design For Life’ and ‘The Everlasting’, but there are equal, if not more, fans of the more intricate and interesting side of this strange and contradictory band. Three men take to the stage, older and more amiable than the Manic Street Preachers I saw on The Holy Bible tour in 1994, although Nicky Wire seems to have changed very little – or is it just the camouflage face paint? Amongst the album’s unique aspects was the use of sampled dialogue from interviews and news items guaranteed to evoke intense feeling. ‘Yes’ begins with such a sample and perhaps the most shattering opening lyric of any album: ‘For sale? dumb cunt’s same dumb question’. I will not claim that I know exactly what the lyric wanted to achieve, but this is feminism as it should be; direct, honest, and not necessarily delivered by a female. I will accept an argument that this is the best opening track to any rock album purely because I can’t think of any better. It is up there with ‘Five Years’, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Holidays In The Sun’, and ‘Taxman’.
The restriction put on a band when signing up to the performance of a whole album, track for track, is exhilarating to say the least. Nowhere to hide, biggest hits might be missing, the construction of the album cannot be maneuvered from or else every single fan will know. The fans today are no exception, they are buzzing at the prospect of hearing The Holy Bible in sequence. What strikes me early on is that there are no singles or hits on this album until track four and that is possibly the most maudlin hit of them all, ‘She is Suffering’. The opening salvo of ‘Yes’, ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart’, and ‘Of Walking Abortion’ are truly stunning. This is rock music at its best; testing, angular, violent, anthemic, dirty, exciting. ‘Who’s responsible? You fucking are!’, scream the crowd at the end of ‘Of Walking Abortion’. I truly believe that these people could make an anthemic album out of a collection of suicide notes. And I mean that as a massive compliment.
The rockers work great live with the obvious singles, ‘Faster’, ‘PCP’ and ‘Revol’, getting a great reaction from the crowd and sounding as fresh today as they ever have. These tracks are perfect for a June evening party, albeit an intellectual, Plath version of a perfect June evening party. What is truly stunning are the readings of those tracks you might potentially leave out of a set list should that choice be yours. But, with The Holy Bible being the album in question, it is the most difficult tracks that are the true heart and soul of this brutal record. I’m thinking primarily of ‘4st 7lb’, which illustrates beautifully the torment of anorexia; ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, a truly harrowing musical and lyrical picture of the Nazi death camps; and, perhaps the best performance of the night, ‘Archives Of Pain’, which begins with a sample of the words of the mother of one of Peter Suttcliffe’s victims. It should be noted that all three of these key tracks are, in either a show of judicial editing or abject cowardice, omitted from the BBC’s coverage shown later the same evening.
There are plenty of mentions of lyricist Richey Edwards tonight and you get the feeling that this was in fact a happy time for this band. A time when that perfect symbiosis between band members is balanced, equal, and at its most creatively inspiring. James Dean Bradfield certainly sings these songs with more passion and rock élan than the greatest hits set. He is in great voice. His guitar playing too is perfectly in tune to this material. This three piece version is absolutely stunning. This is the band I found national pride in and a band I don’t think ever hit the creative brilliance of this album again. In fact, perhaps the saddest aspect of the gig is that after the thrill of seeing The Holy Bible performed in its entirety, the FM hits set seems a bit tepid and formless. Yes, they introduce extra band members, string quartets, a miniature Stonehenge, but the content isn’t there. Yes, there is beauty that is largely lacking from The Holy Bible, but saying that the most beautiful performance of the evening is that album’s ‘This Is Yesterday’. This band simply don’t need strings to achieve beauty, they just need each other, that simple four piece, three of them playing to the fourth’s lyrics.
The Holy Bible remains the Manic Street Preachers’ defining statement, a true design for life, a lifestyle that questions, a lifestyle that embraces pain, soul searches but doesn’t expect answers, always completely inclusive of those who desire this path. A strange and wonderful helping hand into the darkness, adding a voice to the torments of the soul. The Holy Bible sounded stunning tonight and always will.