Tag Archives: Tribute

Manic Street Preachers – My Tribute to Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair

23 May

I could write about Manic Street Preachers forever. Their music and lyrics mean so much to me; they taught me how to think, showed me the world in a different light and they sang about things I could relate to. They are the first band I truly loved, believed in, the first band I really understood.

The members of the band (Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore) were all friends since they were little and as they grew up, they shared opinions and had the same view on the world. Inevitably, they started expressing themselves through music. One has to find a way to express oneself; whether it’s art or music. They sang about ‘culture, alienation, boredom and despair’ which is actually a verse from their song Little Baby Nothing.

In 1990. Manics released an EP called ‘New Art Riot’ which featured four songs that finally gained them the attention from the press. With sharp sound, heavily influenced by The Clash, this EP proved to be merely a prelude to success which was later to come. Their next single ‘Motown junk’, released in January 1991, came as a confirmation of their dedication and persistence. Lyrics of the song show the boredom, saturation with culture, and want for something new, fresh, valuable ‘All you ever gave me was the boredom I suffocate in…’ / ‘…21 years of living and nothing means anything to me’.

Manic Street Preachers, a self proclaimed ‘mess of eyeliner and spraypaint’, were a band everybody loved to hate, whereas they hated every band in existence. With slogans such as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll suicide’, ‘Sensitivity’, ‘Spectators of suicide’ and ‘Culture of destruction’ on their customized shirts, they expressed their yearning to bring Rock ‘n’ Roll back to life. A band that started with hating everyone and everything, despising culture surrounding them and deeming everything worthless have indeed succeeded in bringing rock back to life, but perhaps they are now, sadly, the last true rock ‘n’ roll band. The Libertines were, in my opinion, the last truly honest rock band that makes you really believe what they are saying, but they have burned out, as was suspected for the Manics.

Manics’ original plan was to make a double album which would sell 16 million copies and reach Number 1 worldwide. After they would achieve their grand plan, they’d split up, declaring ‘The most important thing we can do is get massive and then throw it all away.’ Instead, they carved a two decade career and are about to release their twelfth album.

The first song I heard from the Manics was Little Baby Nothing, and, after hearing it for the first time I listened to it another ten times the same morning. The idea that influenced that song was cheap sex, that is, the sexual exploitation of a woman, and it’s no wonder that it features vocals of Traci Lords. Manics needed a symbol, somebody that could symbolize the lyrics; a woman who had power and intelligence and was used by men. ‘Your beauty and virginity used like toys/ Used, used, used by men /Little baby nothing, Loveless slavery, lips kissing empty, Dress your life in loathing/ Sexually free, made-up to breakup, Assassinated beauty…’

‘Moths broken up, quenched at last’ is an interesting line, knowing the poem ‘Lament for Months’ by Tennessee Williams which meant a lot to the Manics, especially to Richey Edwards, about the moths who are drawn to light which ultimately kills them, there’s that delicacy in moths.

Song ‘Love’s sweet exile’ has undoubtedly the best video, others videos I love are ‘From Despair to Where’ and ‘You love us’, but the lyrics truly display their alienation and despair, being misunderstood, surrounded by meaningless, suffocating trivial things that, despite their material value, all lead you to feeling void. ‘City reflections pour out misery’ is a brilliant verse; misery, woe and loneliness under the city lights, feeling an endless sorrow among the concrete buildings and flashy neon lights.

Motorcycle Emptiness, with its similar message, attacks materialism; hollowness of the consumer lifestyle offered by capitalism. Young people are expected to conform the capitalistic ideal: work, eat, buy, consume then die. Today’s world is sensationalistic, ineligible and empty; it’s all about money: how to get it and how to spend it. The late twentieth century gave birth to a culture of consumerism which is very hard to kick against once it’s rooted itself. The result: art, music and culture sluts; I can empathize with finding no value, because there is no value in modern world.

Song ‘So dead’ is a real gem, though it’s not a single, for its lyrics are haunting ‘You’re so easy to dehumanize’/It’s not that I can’t find worth in anything, It’s just that I can’t find worth in enough, It’s not that I can’t find worth in anything.’ I find this song a peak of Richey’s quest for value, it’s not that there’s no value, there’s just not enough of it. People are so damn easy to dehumanize; once they became rich or famous they seem to forget the problems of the less fortunate ones. People start endless wars, pretending it’s for the sake of people. The privileged few enjoy while the working class is starving.

‘Another invented disease’, whose title is a deliberate word play on Aids, is referring to a conspiracy theory insinuating that the virus was created by American biological warfare scientist. Another song ‘Slash ‘n’ burn’ deals with the exploitation of the third world.

Quite a political first album.

NPG x87840; Manic Street Preachers (Richey James Edwards; Nicky Wire (Nick Jones)) by Kevin Cummins

Their second album ‘Gold Against the Soul’ had, as they said it themselves, the typical second album syndrome. The depth of its lyrics may have been overshadowed by the following album The Holy Bible, however I still think this album is decent, despite its more commercial sound. My particular favourite is From Despair to Where, a song that, according to Richey, refers to the western concept of despair which isn’t realistic because everybody has a good living conditions compared to the third world countries, but most of the people feel disappointed with their lives for they didn’t reach any kind of fulfillment of what so ever, they just feel let down. ‘Pretend there’s something worth waiting for/ There’s nothing nice in my head, The adult world took it all away…/Down pale corridors of routine…’

The nature of the lyrics also changes, showing introspective melancholy rather than political spark. I find singles the best songs on the album, such as ‘La Tristesse Durera’ whose title is taken from the last words of Van Gogh, and can be loosely translated as ‘the sadness persists’. However, the song is about a war veteran, suffocating in his own sadness, living in a new liberal society where he’s pitied and treated like a fashion accessorize, but still he’s forced to sell his medal; legacy of his fame from the battle for his country, only to pay the bills; survive in cruel reality that has no understanding.

Song ‘Roses in the hospital’ is, in musical aspect, inspired by the song ‘Sound and vision’ from album Low by David Bowie. This is such a thrilling thing to me for I love Bowie as well, and album ‘Low’ denotes the beginning of the ‘Berlin era’ (’77 to ’79), which I am particularly fond of. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Nicky loves Bowie’s work from ’77 to ’81. Nevertheless, song Roses in the hospital has some, to me, memorable verses such as ‘Want to feel something of value…/ Nothing really makes me happy…’ and there’s a reference at the end on the song ‘Rudie can’t fail’ by The Clash who had a big impact on the Manics.

The Holy Bible, released in 1994, is perhaps the most critically acclaimed album of their entire career. For me it was to dark and miss understandable when I first started listening to Manics, but I feel that with their first three album you just have to ripe to be able to fully appreciated them. That’s what happened to me; after the initial infatuation and rapture with Generation Terrorists, I started exploring the sound of Gold Against the Soul, only to end up loving The Holy Bible more than I could have ever imagined. Fact about this album is that the singles are not the best songs at the album; so you have She is suffering, Revol, Faster and P.C.P, which are all undoubtedly good songs, but songs such as Yes and Die in the Summertime are maybe even better.

The Holy Bible displayed yet another musical and aesthetic change for the band as they had started listening to their early musical influences such as Joy Division. The music shifted to a darker, post-punk, almost gothic sound. The lyrics, mostly written by Richey Edwards, are brilliant in their honesty, depth and genuine darkness, described by Sean Moore ‘as far as Richey’s character could go.’ Song ‘Yes’ was the one that caught my attention the most. Despite its focus on prostitution, the song’s meaning is much wider (‘Ev’rything’s for sale’). Everybody wants power, and money, that comes along, can buy everything, including a prostitute whose wishes and desires are ignored for she’s just an object of somebody’s lust. She feels like in a purgatory because someone will always say yes and confirm her sad, sad life. ‘And I don’t know what I’m scared of or what I even enjoy/ Dulling, get money, but nothing turns out like you want it to/ I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you, Puking – shaking – sinking I still stand for old ladies, Can’t shout, can’t scream, I hurt myself to get pain out/…Power produces desire, the weak have none.These sunless afternoons I can’t find myself.’ What value does it put on things if you can buy everything. What pleasure can arrive from something you’ve got only because of your money.

Song Faster is perhaps their best single and it’s one of the songs from this album I’ve first fell in love with. This song leads me to Manics’ melodies; they’re so thrilling, unusual but captivating. None of their songs sounds like something you’d expect from a song; riff, overture, chorus, the end. No, their songs sound so fresh, dynamic, strong, brutally honest, and, as I know that these lyrics were hard to write music for, I bow to James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore for making such brilliant, haunting melodies. Anyways, song Faster is the one whose lyrics stayed in my head for a long time. ‘I am an architect, they call me a butcher, I am a pioneer, they call me primitive, I am purity, they call me perverted/ I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing/ So damn easy to cave in, man kills everything.’ Perhaps the universal feeling of an artist; to be called primitive when in fact you’re a pioneer while the people surrounding you are actually primitive and their apathy and void are barriers for them to understand something far beyond their mind set.

Song ‘Die in the Summertime’ can describe what was going on in Richey’s head at the time, though he said it himself it was about an old man wanting to die with a childhood memoirs in his head. ‘Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals, Colour my hair but the dye grows out, I can’t seem to stay a fixed ideal.’ I can’t possibly express the rapture and enthusiasm when I hear James’ voice singing ‘…stay a fixed ideal’ for he sings the last word is such a striking way. He really succeed in conveying the lyrics to music in a way that it created a unified ensemble. ‘I recognize dim traces of creation, I wanna die, die in the summertime, I wanna die…’

Nicky is responsible for the song ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart’ which is not an attack on America, as some may suggest, but it’s about ‘how the most empty culture in the world can dominate in such a total sense.’ It’s crazy, when you think about it, how we let America be the standard in its so called culture and lifestyle, while Europe is a true ‘cradle of civilization’. I think we shouldn’t uncompromisingly accept everything America has to offer.


Another thing that I love about the Manics is that their songs display their interest in literature. In one interview Richey said that his two most influential books are A season in hell by Rimbaud and 1984. by George Orwell. He also showed interest in works of Albert Camus, Philip Larkin, William Blake, Primo Levi, Dostoyevsky, Mirbeau, Tennessee Williams and T.S. Eliot, to name a few.

I’ll quote Nicky saying ‘By the time I was 16 I’d read and studied the complete works of Philip Larkin, Shakespeare, all the Beat generation, every film.’ He also said that he’d been crazy about T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land which he had discovered at the age of sixteen. Though I love literature myself, Manic Street Preachers have indeed inspired me to read some of the book that they were infatuated with. I’m reading Kerouac’s On the road right now.

I think that music, art and literature must be amalgamated, and I’m delighted to see that happening. Manics’ connection to literature sorts them in the weird intellectual-punk breed of alternative rock ‘n’ roll. It’s something most exciting to me, to find out what influenced my favourite bands. Syd Barrett, for example, one of my favourite musicians, was influenced by the book On the Road and Naked Lunch and he also loved Rimbaud, but he was influenced by art too. Not to mention that a have a sentimental attachment to album The madcap laughs and I was wondering for a long time, what do the Manics think of it. Do they love Syd Barrett’s solo work or are they not fond of it so much as I am.

Still, I think that Syd and Richey have similarities. Their lyrics are quite different for sure, Syd’s are more introspective rather than concerning problems around him like Richey’s lyrics do (and I’m not saying that Richey’s lyrics weren’t introspective because they were: ‘4st 7lb’) In my opinion they are the two best song-writers in the rock music.

Moving to Manics’ post-Richey work. Their first album without Richey was Everything must go; the title being taken from a play by Nicky’s brother Patrick Jones. Even more interesting, the working title was Sounds in the Grass; named after a series of paintings by Jackson Pollock. I’m just so delighted to see connections between music and art and literature! My favourite song on the album is ‘No surface all feeling’.

Their next album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, was even more commercially successful and has many good songs. Though I love the song If you tolerate this your children will be next and You stole the sun from my heart, I prefer the song Socialist Serenade for its lyrics shows Nicky’s intellect and interest in politics. ‘What’s the point in an education/ When you have to pay for the privilege/ This side of the truth where no sun shines/ They don’t count the cripples and the blind/ I was thinking everybody had a chance (…) I can’t see the past anywhere/Anywhere.’  The song ends with words ‘Change your name to new/ Forget the fucking Labour.’ I just love how they can deliver their albums so intellectually and yet so good sonically.

Their following album was ‘Know your enemy’ but I’m more fond of Lifeblood; their seventh studio album which features some great songs such as 1985, Empty souls and Glasnost, not to mention The Love of Richard Nixon. Emily is a song about a leader in the British women’s suffrage movement – Emmeline Pankhurst. The theme of the song reminded me of the song Suffragette city by David Bowie.

Send Away the Tigers, their eighth album, was seen as a return to the hard-edged, more guitar-driven sound. The band members have described it as a mixture of Generation Terrorists and Everything Must Go. My favourite song on the album is Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, not just because it’s a single, but because I love the strength and intensity of it, and the vocals of Nina Persson. The album sleeve features a quotation from Wyndham Lewis ‘When a man is young, he is usually a revolutionary of some kind. So here I am, speaking of my revolution’; in my opinion this quote would be more fitted for Generation Terrorists.

Their ninth album ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ is interesting because all the lyrics are written by Richey Edwards and before I listened to it, I was curious to see how did they write music for his lyrics. I love how it finally turned out, my favourite songs being ‘All is vanity’ (It’s not “What’s wrong?”/It’s “What’s right?”/ Makes you feel like I’m talking a foreign language sometimes.) and ‘Journal for plague lovers’ (Pretend prayer/ Pretend care/ Makes everything seem so fair.)

On the album Postcards from a Young Man, of which the Manics’ have said they’re going for a big radio hit on it, my favourite song is the one that shares the album title – Postcards for a Young Man. ‘I don’t believe in absolutes anymore/ I’m quite prepared to admit I was wrong/ This life it sucks your principles away/ You have to fight against it every single day/ These are the postcards from a young man/ They may never be written or posted again (…) It is like so many other things/ As distant as your former sins/ So sad and lonely and so derelict/ As the optimism that we once shared.‘Nicky just couldn’t be better at writing lyrics and James and Sean at writing music. I mean, their albums are like an escape to another world, much more interesting world.

I have not yet listened to their album Rewind the Film, but instead I’m more than just excited about the forthcoming Futurology. The songs I have heard by now sound promising, fresh and intriguing; Europa Geht Durch Mich, Walk me to the Bridge and Futurology.

Song ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ is, in my opinion, brilliant and it makes me proud of being a European. It can loosely be translated as Europe passes trough me which makes me think of all the beauty and glory of nature, history, art, culture and languages Europe has to offer. In modernistic way (since the title is Futurology) the meaning could be that Europe is united through European Union and in that way it passes through me, that is, every European; we’re connected on this little continent and we share the richness of history, art, music and literature. The song also features vocals of Nina Hoss, a German actress who starred in movie Barbara that was recommended by James Dean Bradfield himself on a concert.

Walk me to the bridge was the first song I’ve heard from their new album, on the 28. April; the day they released the video. I’m looking forward to their new album for I knew, once I’ve listened to this song, that it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to hear more of their new songs such as Sex, Power, Love and Money; the title sounds intriguing. But, back to this song.

Though the lyrics such as: ‘We smile at this ugly world/ It never really suited you (…) So long my fatal friend…’ undoubtedly remind me of Richey, Nicky said, well I might as well quote him:

‘People might have the idea that this song contains a lot of Richey references but it really isn’t about that, it’s about the Oresund Bridge that joins Sweden and Denmark. A long time ago when we were crossing that bridge I was flagging and thinking about leaving the band (the “fatal friend”). It’s about the idea of bridges allowing you an out of body experience as you leave and arrive in different places.’

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the song’s lyrics worth a thousand meanings. Still, this verse ‘The roads never end, the motion starts/ Reality gives no romance’ reminded me of something Nicky once said in an interview: ‘We’re romantic realists, we’re always aware we’re not blinded by too much flowery aesthetics. Our romance is always based on where we come from anyway. A desire to escape boredom.’

However, verse ‘Still blinded by your intellect’ is still haunting me and it doesn’t leave my head for it so reminds me of Richey, as if the Manics are still blinded by his intellect. Since Nicky has explained the true meaning of the song I can only say that I’m still blinded by Manic Street Preachers’ intellect.