Classic Album: Manic Street Preachers ‘Everything Must Go’

Having released the bleakest record of their career, and quite possibly of the entire decade, with 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’, the Manics were reaching critical mass and it seemed something had to give. Chief tunesmith James Dean Bradfield was becoming worried that he wouldn’t be able to fit the increasingly polemical lyrics of Richey Edwards, permanent icon and sometime guitar player, to workable melodies. After poor sales of their bold third album, the band feared they might be dropped and, in February 1995, an American tour was looming on the horizon when Edwards disappeared.

Manics EMG

After several months of uncertainty, the band vowed to go on. Convening for a nervous get-together in a Cardiff studio, they attempted a run-through of a song called ‘A Design For Life’, assimilated from two different lyrics Nicky Wire had provided Bradfield with in the months after Edwards’ disappearance. Realising that they had something special on their hands, the Manics attempted to record, with Stephen Hague in the producer’s chair, but found the results to be mixed. Opting instead for Siouxsie and Associates producer Mike Hedges, revered at the time for his stellar work on McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes’, the band decamped to a French Chateau and got to work. Described by Bradfield as “the most idyllic experience the band has ever had,” the results were to reverse their commercial decline and redefine how the band was viewed.

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I Think I Found It. Again.

Nicky Wire really believes in his band. His passion is obvious, his fervour frequently unconstrained and his spelling frankly atrocious. He still writes messily spontaneous manifestos for each record, as if twenty years haven’t passed. He takes wilful potshots at the famous and revered and stands as tall as his knackered knees will allow as he proclaims his songs “so good every radio station will have to play them.” It is, unquestionably, all genuine. It’s often quite obvious that Nicky Wire is a massive fan of the Manic Street Preachers. Camcorder footage from the recording of ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ preserves last winter’s snow as it fell around Faster Studios in Cardiff, soundtracked by Wire clumsily, feebly but – crucially – enthusiastically singing an early incarnation of ‘Some Kind Of Nothingness’. Featuring a guest vocal from Ian McCulloch alongside James Dean Bradfield’s formidable pipes, it is one of the most magical moments on ‘Postcards’ and surely ranks amongst the best Manics songs to date. It embodies all of the pop swagger Nicky dreamt of when plotting this latest bid for recognition. Notes such as ‘Queen plating ABBA’ and ‘strings to break your heart’ make it quite clear that this is an album which is unashamedly commercial, unashamedly polished and unashamedly huge.

Nicky Scrap

Some Kind Of Nothingness’ is a beautiful meeting of minds, melodies and voices played out across an epic soundscape, bolstered by swooning strings and a gospel choir which stays just the right side of cheesy. It is perfect pop music and it’s something which the band couldn’t have done ten or even five years ago. It is the ultimate manifestation of a band truly at ease with itself. The spectre of ‘The Holy Bible’ hung over them for years; a long time fan favourite but a totem of trickier times, it was a far cry from the tinny sheen of ‘So Why So Sad’ and the cascading piano of ‘I Live To Fall Asleep’. ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ offered more in that vein and brought the spellbinding lyrics of Richey Edwards to a new audience along with the exorcising of a few musical demons along the way. It cleared the decks and firmly flung all baggage overboard. The confidence borne of the realisation that there’s no longer anything to prove doesn’t always lead to positive results, but on this occasion all is well. As the choir swells behind Mac bellowing ‘never stop, never stop, never stop, never’ prior to the final chorus of ‘Some Kind Of Nothingness’ the shameless pursuit of pristine pop is realised and the smartest gamble the band have taken in a while pays off in style. Though this song, and the album as a whole, will rub some people up the wrong way as a result of its fearless ambition, it has prompted a rebirth which had seemed so unlikely. ‘Postcards’, like ‘Everything Must Go’ before it, stirs something in me, triggers a casual euphoria and a day without it seems so very, very wrong.