Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manic Street Preachers

The Holy Bible (1994)


In August 1994, while much of the music world was still reeling from the loss of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers would release The Holy Bible the capstone, and the finest album, of the Richey Edwards era their career. Whereas their debut, Generation Terrorists had been a band promising a planned self destruction after taking the music the music world by storm, which would never come to pass. This would prove to be an album that captured the collapse and eventual self destruction of Richey Edwards the band’s chief lyricist and rhythm guitarist.

The first thing one notices, when listening to this album is that while the band hadn’t completely shed the influence of Guns N’ Roses, they had brought the punk and post-punk influences they’d hinted at previously to the forefront of their sound. Whereas their debut and its follow up, Gold Against The Soul had masked the intellect of their music with a certain degree of rock-and-roll pompousness, this album embraced that intellect and shed the ego of their previous endeavors replacing it with Super-Ego in the truest Freudian sense of that term.

While the opener “Yes” takes on prostituting oneself and in a larger sense consumer culture as a whole. The first track that grabbed me on this album was “IfWhiteAmericanToldTheTruthForOneDayItsWorldWouldFallApart.” The song title itself, is a reference to a quote from standup comedy legend Lenny Bruce and the song is, perhaps, one of the most scathing looks at American culture to be released in the nineties. Backed by raging guitars, James Dean Bradfield laces a vocal around Richey Edwards’ and Nicky Wire’s lyrics that references everyone from River Phoenix to Tipper Gore and incorporates the title of a Paul Gilroy book into the lyrics “Conservative say – There ain’t no black in the union jack. Democrat say – There ain’t no white in the stars and stripes.” Lyrics that perfectly capture both Gilroy’s point as well as the overriding theme of the song, racism exists across political boundaries. The song closes with what would today, in America, be seen as right wing sloganeering when Bradfield screams “Fuck the Brady Bill, if God made man as they say Sam Colt made him equal,” what on the surface appears to be blind support for an armed populace becomes the idea that an armed revolution by the racially oppressed could destroy what was, and still largely remains, a power structure controlled large by white people in a nation that is growing more racially diverse than ever.

Throughout the album, you’ll find various references to where this band was headed at this point. From audio clips at the start of songs from Hubert Selby Jr. to the Nuremberg Trials to lyrical references to various serial killers and dictators, feminists such as Valerie Solanas, novelists such as Dostoyevsky, and even British comic book serials like “Nemesis The Warlock, 2000 AD” the album is steeped in references to things that are wholly intellectually and still startlingly diverse. Which perhaps is why this album never caught on in America, while many of America’s alternative and punk bands were idealistically on the same page as The Manics, what had been labeled as Generation X was still seen as and, to some degree, self identified as a generation of slackers.

All that being said, this album may also capture despair better than any album of the nineties, while people can look back on Nirvana’s In Utero and see things as Cobain beginning to unravel. As I grow older and my peers have children I have begun to realize the fears and neurosis Cobain has on that album are those of a young first time parent and someone moving from the early-mid twenties into their late twenties. With one of the most harrowing references to Anorexia Nervosa I’ve heard put to music on “4st 7lb” and the references to self-mutilation on “Die in the Summertime” you get the sense that while Richey Edwards and Kurt Cobain both joined the Forever 27 Club. Kurt Cobain’s path was explained through survivor’s guilt after the fact and Richey Edwards’ was captured on record.

That being said, the darkest track on this album has nothing to do with mental illness. It details The Holocaust and was inspired by a trip the band took Auschwitz. Opening with the aforementioned sound clip from the Nuremberg Trials, the song only gets darker from there. Featuring a sparse almost industrial feel provided by drummer Sean Moore, the song creates not a sense of anger at what took place. But, a description so telling it can only leave a listener with a sense of uneasiness that most bands can never create. And many people, myself included, would argue this band would never create again.

This album ending up foretelling the end of the first era of The Manics’ career and of Richey Edwards’ life, less than six months later Edwards’ car would be found near a bridge known as a popular location for people wishing to commit suicide. While it would be thirteen years before Edwards would be declared presumed dead, for The Manics they had to make a decision to quit or persevere and move on. The band would rework their sound and show that in addition to being a ferocious rock band, they were also very capable of writing inventive and intelligent pop songs … in the best sense of that word. The issue with this album, like so many, is that the mythology that surrounds it is enormous and runs the risk of overshadowing the album itself which would be a shame as it is one of the best rock album to be released in the nineties.