“Around the time of The Holy Bible it was slightly disquieting the kind of stuff that would be attached to us in terms of some fans. I was never comfortable with that. (But) the actual recording of The Holy Bible is a great memory…” James Dean Bradfield, 2012
The current music scene is a land of plenty. In fact it is awash with detritus, choking on the kind of endlessly streamed, forgotten and regurgitated non-entities that would have made an artist like Richey Edwards laugh. Or at least grin momentarily. There is very little with which to become truly attached nowadays, so very few artists willing to make the bold moves that strike at the heart of music fans. If you imagine that surprise album releases or unlikely collaborations are inspiring then you are way off, son.
We are here to talk about ‘The Holy Bible’ or, as it would be better termed ‘The Fucking Holy Fucking Bible’ because it is actually a record of true import and impact and deserving of attention perhaps more than almost any other cultural artefact of the last twenty or so years. It was the album that turned some Manics fans into something worryingly more than fans, yet exhibited their brilliance more completely than at any other time in their lifespan. It struck at hearts and it did so uncompromisingly. Released on the 29th of August 1994 (Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ also came out that day) and showered with critical plaudits it became not only a calling card for the darkest aspects of the band but also a symbolic parting gesture for Edwards whose story does not require another repetition here. That Bradfield has good, happy memories of the recording is a good thing as its reputation for ugliness and horror has certainly painted the album into a corner of history that is deep in darkness.
By now of course you know that Manic Street Preachers have finally succumbed to their devoted followers’ wishes and set course for a series of live dates in the UK that will see them, as an ever-tragically stripped, ever repentant three piece, work through (one hates to use the word ‘perform’) ‘The Holy Bible’ in its entirety for the first time in their storied career. That the whole tour sold out in under ten minutes is unsurprising.
We can look at their most recent work – two albums in the past year or so which were markedly excellent (Rewind the Film a more placid proposition and Futurology, its enraged, energised cousin). The songs within are the kind of inspirational, beautiful material of which James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire have occasionally been capable since the departure of brother Edwards in ’95. This is now combined with the sort of middle aged easing into quiet meditation one can expect from a band well into its third decade. There is no particular need for them to reprise ‘The Holy Bible’ in a live setting. These boys are doing just fine.
Yet this, friends, is Manic Street Preachers and despite their professed collective reservation there was never a single doubt that that they would somehow electrocute this Frankenstein’s monster of an album and bring it back, however briefly, into the world, rebirthed without its’ primary creator. The Manics are utterly incapable of missing the rock n’ roll moment. It is in their lifeblood (yeah, yeah).
“I like to think it would be good, but 20 years is a long time. The attitude we had then – we weren’t singing about Parklife and stuff, we were singing about the holocaust, while the rest of Britain bathed in the glow of euphoria. To get that mindset in your head is pretty difficult. You have to be convincing. If we did it just to enjoy ourselves it would be wrong.” Nicky Wire, July 2014
‘The Holy Bible’ is a holy grail among many music fans. Those that dislike the pomp of the Manics’ early years or the Top Shop kit of their latter days almost always have a discreet but strong adoration of the album. The Magazine and early Simple Minds influenced musical frisson is unique among their releases and draws in those who otherwise may be dismissive. It is strange that such a hard, brutal record can be a musical unifier. Among devotees hearing its songs live is a rare treat and treated almost as, dare we say (dare, dare) a sacrament. To hear it in totality, in completeness in a live setting will surely be an act of circle completion for many. Fans who went to the actual, original album tour in ’94 and watched Richey tug pointlessly at a turned-down guitar will perhaps even see this as an end point. Closure of some kind.
For a country that was writhing in ecstasy, pawing at its own idiot reflection in the mirror and wanting to fuck itself during the early ‘90s, ‘The Holy Bible’ was a marker of truth, a drowning man waving a hand but not to save himself – more to indicate to you where you might slip into the water next. It is an album of history (‘The Intense Humming of Evil’), of disgust – both self (‘4st 7lbs) and absolute (‘Yes’) – an album of political confusion (the idea that the album presents an entirely leftist point of view is easily demolished when you, er, listen to it), a record of perfect devastation. Whatever Wire’s concerns were, they surely were negated by the possibility of recapturing a perfect, desolate, inspired moment.
The intellectual detail of the record and its presentation is too marked a feat to go into at length here, suffice to say that it is a piece of work over which true care was taken – and that care tells. The fact that they were a scraggy little Welsh band with two perceived failures of albums to their names (both their debut double ‘Generation Terrorists’ and its americanised FM follow up ‘Gold Against The Soul’ disappointed in terms of sales) that decided to call their next record THE FUCKING HOLY FUCKING BIBLE should tell you something about not only the people involved but also the scale of their intent. That their prophecy was entirely self-fulfilling is little short of a miracle – it’s like you calling your band’s album ‘The Best of The Beatles by The Clash’ and it somehow turning out that well. But more so.
It is vital, when such a thing crops up, to celebrate a piece of art that actually means something both to the observers and the observed. It doesn’t happen often now and it seems clear that if the Manics were a young band in 2014 they would never be given the opportunity to even make it as far as this masterpiece. Let’s face it, they would have been dropped before the glorious failure of their debut. Yet in a world in which “everything’s for sale” we are allowed, at least for a few nights, to look back at an achievement that retains meaning, that holds its content, a cup that is full and will not spill over. ‘Faster’s status as the greatest pop song ever performed is a constant, at least in this house.
Manic Street Preachers are the last great rock n’ roll band in existence and they also have the story to go with it. Look it up. It’s fucking fascinating. That they also have one of the greatest albums of all times in their back pockets and are ready to unleash it this December to a live audience makes one wonder – will we ever see their likes again in this endless shit-river of self-celebrating nothingness? Or might this be the last glimpse of true glory, intellect and wonder that we get to have as music fans?
“We actually feel the looming presence of the 20th anniversary of The Holy Bible. We’re a bit scared of it really”. James Dean Bradfield, 2014.