“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.
“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.
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.
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 doesn’t happen often now and it seems clear that if the Manics were a young band in 2019 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. And one of the greatest albums we ever see their likes again in this endless shit-river of self-celebrating nothingness?
An edited /updated version of a 2014 article written for the 20th anniversary shows.