Alphabetical CD Marathon: M (Part 2)

First of all apologies if this post seems shambolic. I wrote it over the weeks I was listening to all the albums by The Manic Street Preachers and some albums got repeated playing, one album came out while I was writing and then I had to go back and chop away at the post as it had turned into some kind of short story with a repetitive theme of worshipping the ground the band walk on. Strangely I wouldn’t say I am as big a fans of them as I was of Depeche Mode or Queen for instance, probably because I wasn’t there for them at the start and now feel somewhat of an imposter saying ‘ooh I love them’ – a bit like those supposed Supergrass fans who only bought I Should Coco after ‘Alright’ got to number one (about a year after the album had been released) and didn’t really like ‘Sitting Up Straight’. Anyway let’s not go all Led Zeppelin and ramble on too much.   Generation Terrorists (1992) One of the best debut albums ever made. The Manics certainly weren’t scared to set out their stall and build up their manifesto with the tracks. There is a story that has gone into musical history that the band wanted to make one brilliant perfect album and then split up – history laughs down its sleeve, but if they were to do one great album and then split I guess this was a good attempt. Okay the lyrics are quite silly at times but the guitar playing is great and a lot of the tunes are really catchy in a proper rock kind of way. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ remains the stand out track and was the point of reference song for those people trying to tell other people (like me) that they should be listening to the band, until of course they did ‘A Design for Life’. I also, rather predictably, like the other tracks that were released as singles and as with other Manics albums I like the fact that I keep hearing new things in the backgrounds of songs that I didn’t hear last time. I struggle to understand the lyrics because of James Dean Bradfield’s distinctive method of delivery, but that’s where the sleeve notes help.   Gold Against the Soul (1993) It took me so long to get into this album but now I’m in love with it. What is especially good on this album is the amount of fantastic guitar solos and general all-round great indie rock music. It is an album that I like to listen to as a whole instead of just skipping through my favourite tracks. That said here they are, and as usual they turn out to be singles (that I missed because I was too busy listening to Blur): ‘From Despair to Where’ was the first single off the album and I think it’s important because lyrically it turns inward in comparison to the rather naïve anti-everything lyrics of the previous album. It’s one of those songs that really talks to me and I felt blessed to discover in retrospect. The music of ‘Roses in the Hospital’ sounds to me awfully like a Bowie track but I like this indie anthem with its sweary Mary lyrics and the bit in the middle where the crowd is supposed to clap and sing along. I’m not so struck on the painfully long outro where James repeats ‘forever delayed’ and have never really understood the meaning of the phrase. ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’ is my undoubted favourite track which musically, in perhaps purposeful opposition to the title, seems to build from a sigh to a scream (or at least a shout) about the treatment of war veterans. What that has to do with Van Gogh cutting his ear off is frankly anyone’s guess.   The Holy Bible (1994) I remember listening to this at a friend’s house and looking at the album artwork and thinking ‘what the fuck is he listening to?’ I remember telling him it was utter shit and asking him to turn it off as it was giving me a chronic headache. I’m happy to admit I was a complete idiot and this is now probably my favourite album. There are no prizes for guessing where my love of The Manics started – yes the next album. The one that feels like it’s up there with Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits- hasn’t every household got a copy of Everything Must Go? I later bought the special edition of the Bible because it had been digitally remastered. I can hear slight differences in the tracks and it’s all good. The obvious differences became apparent when I listened to the US Mix of the album. I think the chap who did mixed Nirvana’s brilliant Nevermind album and he’s done an equally good job and apart from some unnecessary ‘wind blowing around’ noises on one track the vocals are cleaned up to be almost translatable without reading the lyrics in the sleeve. There’s not a bad track on the Bible and although it’s a bloody angry sounding album it is the one I reach for if I’m in the mood for a little manics – it never fails to deliver on an emotional, lyrical and musical level. I could waste a lot of time going through each track saying I like, I like, I like, but that would belabour the point – as would inventing a time machine, travelling back in time and hitting my younger self upside the head for not liking the album from the word go.   Richey Edwards disappeared in 1995. I remember seeing something about it on the news, but not being a huge Manics fan at the time it didn’t really have much of an impact on my life. He was obviously a troubled individual. I like to think that the theories that he didn’t commit suicide and is living incognito somewhere aboard (maybe Australia) are true, but I doubt it. The ‘4 Real’ incident demonstrates how committed he was and I don’t think ‘running away’ was really his style. Anyway I don’t know, nobody knows and I won’t make any more stupid comments here.   Everything Must Go (1996) Like a lot of people I think ‘A Design for Life’ is a fondly remembered anthem from my student daze, and surprise surprise this is the single that changed my opinion of The Manics around by 180 degrees. However I’m not convinced that it is actually the first album that I bought – I think this was This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours which I’ll come to in a moment. The reason being is that their singles were available on indie compilations at the time and I was a skint student remember. As well as the singles, I really like ‘The Girl Who Wanted to be God’ and opening track ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’. They always seem to do cracking opening tracks.   This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998) was a number one album in the UK – the only one The Manics have had and the first album I bought. Yes, I was really late to the party. The only reason I bought it was that I bought a Minidisc player (yes! At one point I had three of the things!! And about 200 recorded discs but only the one original – talk about failed formats!) and there was an offer on in Dixons (remember Dixons??) where you got a free MD album. The choice was pish so I opted for The Manics because I kind of liked the cover. Anyway I could describe this album as life-changing but perhaps that’s a bit strong. It certainly compounded my interest in The Manics and prompted me to buy up the back catalogue – the 4 previous albums on CD from Our Price (remember Our Price!!). The reason it is so significant in my life (apart from prompting me to part with money from my new job in IT) is that it spoke to me in a way that only Depeche Mode and perhaps some Queen songs had done in the past. I could associate with every song on the album and it saw me through a messy split up with at least one girlfriend. I bought it on CD a month or so later so I could listen to it in the car but I listened to it most in my room with the lights out, tears in my eyes and a can of lager in my hand. I launched myself down a spiralling hole of self-pity with gay abandon and this album was the soundtrack to that descent into depression. There was certainly a black dog on my shoulder. I hit the bottom of the hole on New Year’s Eve of that year and spent the next few years climbing out of it and trying to forget the girl who had pushed me over edge. The songs still haunt me, but it’s all water in a well now.   Then silence… my life moved on and I moved house, met a new girl and I stopped listening to The Manics for a while. Until…they released ‘The Masses against the Classes’ in 2000. Yes I know it’s a single and I’m only supposed to be talking about albums in these psots but… wow! It got to Number 1 in the UK and I worshipped it. Played it to death in fact, but it meant the dust was blown off The Bible and I tried to convert my latest beau to the dark side of the force. But she was more into No Doubt and Counting Crows so what can you do?   Know Your Enemy (2001) They really should have included ‘The Masses against the Classes’ on this album, but didn’t and I guess it makes it more of a treat when it comes up on iTunes or when I’m listening to a compilation. This album doesn’t really stand out for me. The singles were good and there’s some solid album tracks such as ‘The year of Purification’, ‘My Guernica’ and ‘Royal Correspondent’ but I think I was emotionally drained by the impact of the previous album and kind of lost my connection with the band (and the rest of the world if the truth be told) for a while.   Forever Delayed (2002) A greatest hits collection which I bought from Sainsbury’s (remember Sainsbury’s??) and made me fear that the band were splitting up. The order of the songs is not chronological and as a result it’s a bit odd. Also the remixes on the second CD are generally awful apart from perhaps those by The Chemical Brothers.   Lipstick Traces (2003) This seemed like a low-key release and the piss poor album sleeve seems to back that up. I got this from Sainsbury’s too after the demise of pretty much every music shop in town and prior to HMV’s brief flirtation with our locale. Despite the low key packaging it is a really good collection of B-sides, extra tracks, live spots and cover versions with some gems.   Lifeblood (2004) There’s something not quite right about this album and it starts with the shiny blood slicked body shots on the cover. There was a three year wait after Know Your Enemy for a studio album and I was pretty disappointed with the tracks apart from the singles. I guess, if I was being generous, ‘1985’ with its typically pretentious lyric about God being dead, Morrissey and Marr is another good opener, and ‘To Repel Ghosts’ and the closer ‘Cardiff Afterlife’ are worthy of note, but I’ll keep it short and sweet – not a big fan of this album.   Send Away the Tigers (2007) After the mediocre Lifeblood this album was a breath of fresh air and a lot of people said it was a comeback album. Here’s what I had to say about it on Amazon. So has this initial enthusiasm wavered over time and repeated listening? Well no not really. I stand by what I said, although at the time I hadn’t heard the US version of the Bible which helps a lot with the muddy vocals and I am guilty of overplaying the Welsh card a little! I gave it five stars and said it was “Awesome!” Comparisons to the Bible might have been coming on a bit strong, but I meant is that I enjoyed it as much as that album not really that it sounded anything like it. If I had to pick some choice tracks I would go for ‘The Second Great Depression’ a glorious anthem based around moody lyrics based on hindsight of an emotional low – something that I easily connect with, ‘Imperial Bodybags’ which despite the subject matter is a jaunty little number which could have featured on Generation Terrorists with some lovely crunchy twangy guitar riffs, ‘Rendition’ with its rock attitude and mixture of tempos, and of course the infinitely catchy ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ – The Manics’ version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Love in Itself’. There’s a lot of energy in the album, for instance the riff on ‘Autumn Song’ is almost Guns n’ Roses in its rock bravado (I’ll ignore the curiously catchy but very lame ‘what have you done to your hair?’ lyric), and it’s a breath of fresh air after Lifeblood.   Journal for Plague Lovers (2009) Despite my reservations over the way this was marketed (we found some of Richey’s notes and now we’ve made an album of them) I love this album. I bought the special edition with the penguin book hardback format and the extra CD of demos (which are really cool) and then bought the normal CD later too as it wouldn’t fit on my Ikea CD shelf with my other disks. It’s not The Bible Part II as some mentalists have claimed, but it’s pretty bloody good. I proper fucking love ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’, ‘Me and Stephen Hawking’ and ‘Virginia State Epileptic Colony’. The album contains everything you would want – some really uniquely weird lyrics, great music, great singing (with the exception of cringe-worthy and embarrassing ‘William’s Last Words’ – no wonder it was the last track) and a return to a much harder rock in comparison to Send Away the Tigers.   Postcards from a Young Man (2010) I must say I have really struggled to enjoy this album. I thought it would be a grower rather than the instant hit that Journal was for me, but it just isn’t. Sadly there’s not a lot I can do about it and I really don’t think it’s all my fault. There just aren’t enough noteworthy tracks on the album. There are some tracks where it sounds like the band are trying too hard to sound up-beat (for instance on ‘The Descent – (Pages 1 & 2)’ and ‘I Think I Found It’) and other tracks where it sounds like they’re just not trying at all (‘Golden Platitudes’ that I just wish would end sooner than it does and ‘A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun’ despite some rather nice guitar playing). ‘The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever’ has some truly awful vocals by Nicky Wire which make me hit the next track button as soon as I realise that it’s that song again and his late vocal appearance on ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’ really doesn’t help the weak single. ‘Auto-Intoxication’ perhaps a leftover from Journal, and the Ian McCollough duet ‘Some Kind of Nothingness’ in comparison are really good tracks in an otherwise inconsequential album. I am not a big Echo & The Bunnymen fan but I can see the significance of this duet for people who are. I imagine they get the same ‘hairs standing up on the back of my neck’ feeling that I get whenever, as a HUGE Cardigans fan, I hear ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ after months of not hearing it.   National Treasures (2011) Ah-a! This is the greatest hits collection I was waiting for. It differentiates itself from Forever Delayed by saying it contains all the singles and they’re in chronological order which is just dandy! Siggy isn’t a big fan of the albums and so this is a good one for me to have in the car when we’re driving to Wales because she doesn’t mind some of the singles and I feel that eventually I can brainwash her into perhaps listening to the whole of a studio album sometime. There’s not a lot to say about the album – the artwork is great and I love the cheeky title. The one new track ‘This is the Day’ is another uncharacteristically upbeat incident which sounds like a The The song and is a precursor to more jaunty numbers on Rewind the Film.   Rewind the Film (2013) Just like Journal… I bought the special edition with the penguin book hardback format and the extra CD of demo and live tracks (which again is great to have) and again bought the normal CD later to fit on my Ikea CD shelf. At the moment I love the title track featuring vocals by Richard Hawley (from The Longpigs who I actually really liked ‘back then’ to the point of recording their album off a friend) it reminds me a lot of ‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed. I’m a sucker for a Welsh accent and so the ever so catchy ‘Sullen Welsh Heart’ featuring Lucy Rose is a great opener and even though I’m not properly Welsh I totally connect with the lyrics. I’ve noticed that the twice-repeated lines in a lot of the songs on this album encourage you to sing a long – it’s a sneaky song writing device but I like it. I didn’t like ‘Show me the Wonder’ when I first heard it, but I quite like it now although it smacks of someone getting over excited watching Prof Brian Cox on the telly box. Still it’s better than most of the tracks on the second half of the album, but before we get there we get to listen to some more great guest vocals on ‘4 Lonely Roads’ from Cate Le Bon. ‘(I Miss) The Tokyo Skyline’ annoys me because most of us haven’t seen the Tokyo skyline and to say you miss it is a little like bragging in my opinion also the mention of Lost in Translation is quite lazy – I like the traditional sounding instrumentation though. ‘Anthem for a Lost Cause’ sounds like it was written by The Beautiful South for Tony Christie to sing at a pub lock-in karaoke session but James manages to overcome the blaring horns and the backing vocals, and don’t get me started about those vocals by Nicky… I could go on about the other tracks but despite their faults I have actually enjoyed listening to this album over again and as usual my initial cautious criticism has slowly being replaced by respect for the evolution of a band who formed almost three decades ago.   Futurology (2014) Having not seen anything on the web, Amazon, or TV about this album I stumbled across it in Tesco in total ignorance of its existence. I snatched it off the shelf, ran to the self-service check out, ignored the unexpected item in the baggage area, paid my £9 and then ran home giggling. At which point I was shocked and bemused by the songs held therein and was driven to tweet about my shock and bemusement. I didn’t like to say any more than that at the time and I knew that I was in the ‘M’ stage of my CD marathon so could reserve judgement until I had listened to it some more. Futurology follows the trend set by Rewind… in letting other people have a go at singing and having more instrumental periods, however they have reintroduced some of the intellectual pomposity of previous albums and this time it seems to have German influences. The title itself smacks of pretentiousness and would be more suited to a Muse album (but I like Muse too, so who the hell am I trying to kid – I actually enjoy Googling things like ‘geht durch mich’ and Mayakovsky to find out what the fuck they’re going on about). The duet with Georgia Ruth Williams is great on ‘Divine Youth’ and the harp adds a lovely lilting element to the song. ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ and ‘Sex, Power, Love and Money’ have a glam rock / militaristic momentum which makes me giggle but I’m not sure either track is really going to resonate with me in years to come. The sentiment of ‘Let’s Go to War’ is very similar to Fischerspooner’s ‘We Need a War’ and to be honest I’d prefer to listen to the Fischerspooner song (and how pretentious are they?!). ‘Between the Clock and the Bed’ features a distinctive voice that had me and Siggy saying an unabbreviated WTF? When we heard it. Yes it’s Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside taking a vocal turn, and his voice complements James’s rather well imo, but it does give the song an unavoidable Eighties vibe.   So I knew I was in trouble when I got to ‘M’ as it was going to create a lot of writing for me and it is a real struggle to get things down in words about an artistic medium that is not visual – it goes straight from speaker to ear and then to heart and mind. All I can say in summation is that my life would be a much worse place without the music of The Manic Street Preachers, but Nicky Wire should not be allowed to sing on any more of their albums!

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