Bought by Nicholas for Dave
The reason I chose this album for Dave was twofold. Firstly, because I was half cut on St. David’s day and thought it was the perfect day to give someday a copy of the finest rock album ever to be exported form Wales. Secondly, in giving somebody the album, I get the opportunity to explain why I love this album – which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
In 1966, John Lennon received staunch criticism for proclaiming that “The Beatles were bigger than Jesus”. With that in mind, try Googling “The Holy Bible” and you will find Wikipedia’s most popular result not being an article about God’s written word, but instead an article all about what is, for me, the finest work of The Manic Street Preachers.
Here’s its importance in British music culture. It is the last known album (mainly) written by Richey Edwards. I’m not going to start another Richey worship article, or start another debate as to whether he’s hiding in a monastery in the Canary Islands, but instead focus on the fact that these lyrics are the plain, bare soul of a genius. In my opinion, he who writes "Here’s a boy, you want a girl? So slash off his cock, tie his hair in bunches and fuck him, call him Rita if you like" is not only a fantastic summary of the consumerist ‘anything goes’ nature of red light districts and sex tourism, but also a Black Mirror type insight into our own fascination of TV shows like “Hookers, Hustlers, Pimps and their Johns”. Interestingly, an excerpt from that 1980’s TV show actually features at the start of Yes
How important is the record? Let’s see… extreme and stark emotional feelings are often what makes an artist his most vulnerable, and naturally, their most interesting. Think about that scene in Submarine when 15 year-old Oliver Tate confesses to his classmates that he is contemplating suicide. Everybody gawps at tragedy - it’s human nature.
How did it happen? According to the DVD which accompanies the deluxe version of the record, Nicky Wire was getting married and lyrics weren’t at the front of his mind. Meanwhile, Richey Edwards was entering a very dark place, coupled with reading three books a week, encompassing the realms of prostitution, suicide, anorexia, suffering, capital punishment, racism (it would be rather terse and disrespectful to use “etcetera” here, so I won’t).
So, the standout track for me is Yes - I remember reading an NME interview in the early 90s where Richey Edwards had become slightly unnerved by watching British sex tourists leering over Thai hookers, some even boasting “I think this one fancies me”. Interestingly, expanding on the Black Mirror theme, Edwards later confessed to paying for some Temperence Street, Manchester style relief.
The guitar riff is like an extended version of that brilliant fill-lick which James Dean Bradfield added between the riff-chord changes of Motorcycle Emptiness (the chugga chugga bit, basically !) How James manages to sing this song’s off beat syllables, backdropped to the chugga-chugga chop up riff must be worthy of a musical thesis itself. Clearly, the track’s recording is made in parts, however he still bends everything out in synch live.
The chorus goes through a preliminary stage which uplifts the music bright light stadium rock territory then frog leaps back to the main riff with a Paradise City style clangy guitar bridge. Just wonderful. And the lyrical highlight in my opinion; "And 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”
As with every other track on the album, the essay written by Richey (and in some cases Nicky Wire) has been musically crafted by the genius that is James Dean Bradfield. As I understand the process, once the lyrics gave birth to JDB’s music, the arrangement, tweaking and polish are finalised by the rest of the band. This is an important point, as many don’t realise how gifted a musician Manics’ drummer Sean Moore is, in his own right. A classically trained trumpet player, Sean has added trumpet pieces to several Manics’ songs in addition to the more obvious brilliance of churning out drum patterns and fills that would give many of his erstwhile contemporaries mental trauma on a Rachmaninov 3 scale.
Recording of this album was conducted in a dirty studio in the back streets of Cardiff, namely Sound Space Studios, literally the polar opposite of opulence that was the setting for their second album, Gold Against the Soul. Given the content of the album, most speculators comment that this studio was the perfect “dirty place for a dirty album”.
As with all reviews I write, I should apologise for my poor English. If you want to read how MSP reviews are done properly, please check out Simon Price’s book Everything, which is easily the best rock biography written. Anybody who can cross quote Camus, Nietzsche and Einstein with accurate relevance to a rock book is genius themselves. It also brings a fantastic insight into MSP backgrounds and repeats all the best Nicky Wire “shout outs” (my favourite has to be Michael Stipe-gate).
I warn you now, dear reader, that this is going to be a review overflowing with praise. The Manics are my favourite band of all time, and The Holy Bible is my favourite Manics album. If Water & Solutions by Far didn’t exist, this would actually be my favourite album of all time. Thus, when this arrived in the post, I knew that I was going to have to work hard to ensure I didn’t veer into ‘gushing fanboy praise’ territory. I’m not sure I’ll succeed.
When I bought this album at 14, I knew of its reputation, but I had no idea how different the Manics of 1994 sounded to the Manics I knew - the Manics of 1996. I couldn’t believe the same band had written an album on which the fourth word sung on it was “cunts”. On which the band covered such topics as prostitution, anorexia and serial killers. On which a song posed the question “Who’s responsible?” before replying “You fucking are!”. Buying this as a child of the Britpop era, where the bands I liked generally wrote upbeat guitar-pop, this was a massive culture shock. It’s the first album where I remember re-reading the lyric booklet over and over, feeling slightly uneasy as I did so. I had no idea what the lyrics to Revol actually meant, but they made me want to know, whilst reading 4st 7lbs was deeply unsettling, like I was intruding on someone’s deep personal thoughts.
Despite this very much being known as a “Richey album”, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good without the contributions of Sean Moore and James Dean Bradfield. As the musical wing of the Manics, it fell to the two of them to craft a song around the lyrics they were given. Sometimes this results in them having to quickly cram a lot of words into one line, other times they have to stretch it out to fit the music. This does lead to some unusual line readings (see Die In The Summertime, where Bradfield is forced to sing “Childhood pic/ tures rah-deem” in order for the lyrics to scan), but it’s a testament to their songwriting nous that an album so dark sounding can simultaneously be quite accessible – Bradfield’s way around a well-structured pop chorus being the reason his solo effort The Great Western was a far more enjoyable listen than Nicky Wire’s I Killed The Zeitgeist. While the defiant lyrics of Faster ensure it remains an indie disco statement to this day, it also needs the soaring chorus provided by Moore and Bradfield.
Due to scratched discs, missing copies and the 10th anniversary boxset they released, this is the 5th version of The Holy Bible I’ve owned (and curiously, it skips in the middle of PCP just like my first copy did). Listening to it again, it may be totally familiar to me now, and no longer as shocking, but it still remains an absorbing album.
Picking a standout track almost feels a fool’s errand here, as it is prone to changing on a regular basis, but I’ve settled on Mausoleum