Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is The Holy Bible by The Manic Street Preachers.
News of the Manic Street Preachers playing ‘The Holy Bible’ in full for the first time has necessitated a look back at an album, which has remained undiminished by time. ‘The Holy Bible’ is a conundrum. Its lyrical content makes it a challenging listen that can be initially off putting, yet it features some instantly accessible rock riffs and hooks. The music pulls you in and then you digest the lyrics over months and years.
James Dean Bradfield has one of the trickiest jobs in rock music, putting music to the lyrics of Wire and Edwards. Building a Lego Taj Mahal blindfolded would often seem an easier task to perform. Bradfield even admitted to the scale of the task when Edwards handed the lyrics to Yes and Bradfield thinking “'You crazy fucker, how do I write music for this?”
Bradfield’s music shifted in style from the previous two albums ‘Gold Against The Soul’ and ‘Generation Terrorists’. The more incendiary and personal lyrical content required a move away from the Americanised modern rock sound of the first two albums. ‘The Holy Bible’ has a British post punk and new wave feel to it. It bridges influences from acts such as Joy Division, Wire and Gang Of Four. No other Manics album sounds as stripped back or dirty as ‘The Holy Bible’. However, reigning in the polish of previous efforts didn’t constitute any lack of memorable melodies or riffs, though there isn't any obvious radio friendly fare here.
Much of the lyrical content from Richie Edwards on 'The Holy Bible' is a bleak window into his state of mind at that time. Edwards was drinking heavily, struggling with anorexia, and self-harming. He was already in an unhealthy mental state during the recording of 'The Holy Bible', when news of a close friend’s suicide plunged him further into the dark recesses of the mind. Hearing the lyrics from 4st 7lb is extremely uncomfortable. It makes you squirm and reflect on what you are hearing especially when Bradfield utters “Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse” and “mother tries to choke me”. Over time they have gathered an extra desperation as we know now of the tragic disappearance of Edwards.
Yes opens with a spoken word section about prostitution (one of many spoken word pieces scattered throughout the album) before Bradfield’s familiar voice reels the listener in. As we have now become accustomed to the polished nature of most Manics material, the purposely under-produced music of 'The Holy Bible' catches you off-guard. On further consumption though, it feels like it should never have been any other way. The album moves from jagged art rock riffs (Of Walking Abortion, 4st 7lb) to gnashing post punk (Revol, Archives Of Pain, Faster) tackling the death penalty and exposing the sordid reality behind the military propaganda of European dictators as it goes.
'The Holy Bible' may not feel like the most obvious album to contain a ballad yet it contains the beautiful desolation of She Is Suffering, a song about shedding your desires to achieve inner peace. Lyrically it isn’t one of Bradfield's or Wire’s favourites. Subjects like the holocaust (Mausoleum, The Intense Humming of Evil) and politics (Revol, P.C.P.) are tackled with no ire being held back. Bradfield even requested a rewrite of The Intense Humming of Evil as it wasn’t to-the-point enough. While Edwards' contribution to ‘The Holy Bible’ remains significant, it’s important to note that Nicky Wire contributed about thirty percent of the overall lyrics.
IfWhiteAmericaToldTheTruthForOneDayIt'sWorldWouldFallApart and This Is Yesterday are mostly Wire’s work. Taking a pop at American culture was nothing new for the Manic Street Preachers (previously done on the more tongue in cheek B-side Dead Yankee Drawl) but this time it was more vitriolic; “Conservatives say there ain't no black in the union jack /Democrat say there ain't enough white in the stars and stripes”. When you consider the current unrest in the USA, the lyrics remain just as pertinent today as they did at the time Wire penned them.
Though age and experience have changed the Manic Street Preachers (mostly for the better), time passed can cause us to look back and reassess whether something was really as good as we thought. There was a worry that we were absorbed in a moment and that ‘The Holy Bible’ is of a time and period that is no longer as relevant. Digging ‘The Holy Bible’ CD from a pile of albums and blowing the dust of it reaffirms that this is not the case. ‘The Holy Bible’ jolts the senses, retains its power to question our ideals, and serves as a document into the state of a vulnerable mind.