So much has already been said about the Manic Street Preachers‘ fourth LP Everything Must Go, it really is quite hard to come up with anything new to say about this incredible piece of work. It’s been 20 (how many?!?) years since its release, and the difficulty of its recording, compiling and eventual release was not lost on us then and certainly isn’t now.
For its 20th anniversary, the Manics have released a lavish box set including a remastered Everything Must Go CD plus b-sides. A 180gm heavyweight vinyl version, a 40 page booklet and a CD and DVD of their pivotal 1996 Manchester Nynex Arena gig. When I say pivotal, this is a slight underestimation of the enormity of crowds they were starting to pull around the time of its release. This was the period when the Manics went from playing noisy music at small club gigs to arena venues and this wasn’t just down to the disappearance of Richey Edwards. This was down to the fact that among its 12 tracks, there were at least 7 chart worthy belters, 4 of them immediately capturing the attention of the record buying public and sending them all into the UK Top 40 (god rest its soul). Combined with their already impressive back catalogue, there wasn’t anywhere else they could go really.
It was a brave release. Something that must have taken enormous strength of character to record and put out into the world, and I’m sure none of this was taken lightly. In hindsight, re-grouping and carrying on without Richey was the only thing that they could do. Richey may have been their main lyric writer up until then, but the space left was ably taken up by the other three members. Being the outspoken Welsh people that they were, there was no way they would shrivel up and fade away.
The album is sprawling in its lyrical content, its musical variety and sheer magnitude. Laced with a constant sense of triumph through tragedy: the added strings and sweeping orchestration on tracks like Everything Must Go, A Design for Life and the majestic Kevin Carter, the sound is big and beautifully matched by the quieter tracks on the album. Tracks like Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky‘ is a perfect example of the beauty of the music that just James Dean Bradfield can conjure up on an acoustic guitar, yet the lyrics (by Richey) are about the abuse of zoo animals. An indication of his state of mind? Maybe, but this is one band that have never shied away from broaching difficult, unsavoury topics that on the one hand may be psychological reflections. And yet on the other can be just very angry songs about our fucked up world. The grand title song hints at capitalism for God’s sake! And Kevin Carter? A beautiful song about a war photographer who took his own life because of the inability to pay bills, rent, child support, but more significantly, his inability to cope with the psychologically traumatic act of photographing horrifying things around the world. Beautiful, yet ugly.
The nagging Interiors (Song for Willem De Kooning) is about the American Abstract expressionist who, whilst suffering from debilitating Alzheimer’s disease, continued to paint even though apparently he often couldn’t remember painting certain pieces. De Kooning’s final few years were also tainted with controversy as his daughter became his main carer and was accused of keeping friends and family away from the painter as she encouraged him to continue to paint and sell work.
The band would release another De Kooning inspired record on their 2002 ‘best of’ release ‘Forever Delayed’. The previously unreleased ‘Door To The River’ was again a beautiful paean to this great painter. The story of this painter was obviously important to all members of the band. An artist who was trapped? Whose very own artistic expression was curtailed by his mental health, but who also possibly felt used by opportunists?…
This album may be seen as difficult and pivotal and heartbreaking and important, and by jingo it is all of these things and then some! But, when you take everything into account, this album is/was a turning point for three massively talented, artistic individuals to build on tragic circumstances and to move forward in the most positive and respectful way possible.