Journal For A Manics Lover – Cardiff Castle, September 1st 1998

Being called a “fucking squirrel” by James Dean Bradfield, aged 15, was a very special moment for me. Having chatted with me about my home town for a good five minutes, he was incredibly gracious as I kept flinging items in front of him to be signed. Sat in the confines of Cardiff Castle, having just been privy to, the still to be released, ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ on some truly massive speakers, I was in my element. The sudden appearance of James next to me marked the first time I ever felt what you might call star struck. Having won a competition to attend the launch of the Manics’ fifth album, I was more than a little giddy that evening. Furnished with an information pack which contained an A4 booklet with each of the tracks’ lyrics, page by page, along with a selection of press photos, already seemed ludicrously exciting to my teenage mind without the addition of an actual Manic to scribble all over them. It marked the culmination of three years ascending to fever pitch over anything and everything the Manics had released. I’d come late to the party, I’d only really known them as a three-piece, but I was totally hooked. They were my band, as they have been to so many people at various points over the last twenty years. They’d grown up thirty miles down the road from me, felt no pressure to fit in and were endearingly caustic yet frank in interviews.

For many months thereafter, ‘This Is My Truth…’ was my album of choice more often that not. It’s not their best, it didn’t top the majesty of ‘Everything Must Go’, but it defined a moment for me and listening to it today I found I could remember almost every word. A new Manics album was a proper event for me, whether I heard it sat in the same room as James or by doing battle with a dial-up connection and the nascent days of Napster, and I’ve realised today that that hasn’t really changed. As is transparently obvious to anyone who regularly reads this site and follows the associated Twitter feed, I’ve had ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ since the end of July. I had to write a review of it after only four days of, admittedly solid, listening. I’ve continued to play it furiously in the intervening weeks, still backing in its all-out power-pop glory and massive riffs. However, being able to pick up the various editions today, in person, from Spillers Records brought back all of those memories of pre-ordering ‘This Is My Truth…’ from Woolies to make sure I got an embossed cover and of diverting my dad from ferrying me to a university interview in London to Sister Ray to acquire ‘Know Your Enemy’.

manics_pfaym_cover

This tremendous set of songs, one of their best I would argue, is beautifully packaged and, out of all of the versions available, the 2CD set housed in a hardback book probably represents the best value for money, containing pages from Nicky’s scrapbook, early versions of lyrics and demos of the whole album on the bonus disc. This week, I intended to write at great length about this record and why I find myself slightly surprised at how much it means to me. As you’ll have noticed, Just Played is going to wear a slightly different outfit for the week. Should you dislike the Manics intensely, all will be back to normal by Monday 27th.

A Week With… 10. Manic Street Preachers – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

JP AWW 10

Listening back to this album, the first thing that strikes me is how sensible it all sounds. I remember being truly fired up by this band as a teenager, leaping around at their concerts and feeling like no other band was able to communicate with me in such a direct way. I don’t really hear that now. I hear well produced, excellently performed and quite beautifully sung songs which hold plenty of memories for me. I’m not particularly setting out to criticise this record, but when you consider that this band recently released ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, even ‘Send Away The Tigers’ before that, it all seems a bit incongruous.

this is my truth

I won a competition to attend the album playback for this record at Cardiff Castle. I was plied with promotional goodies, ushered into a large room with plenty of cheesy local radio Dee-Jays who all ‘loved their work’ and, having heard what seemed to me like a pretty splendid record, suddenly found myself sitting at a table having a conversation with James Dean Bradfield about my home town. He’d once dated a girl from there, as it happened, and, while that information was of no great consequence to either of us at that particular moment, he proved himself to be a thoroughly nice bloke, keen to put me at ease. Looking back, it may well have been the fact that the longer he spent talking to me, the less time he had to chat with the local media types that spurred him on, but I’d think no less of him even if that were the case.

I still have numerous signed items from that evening, including an A4 lyric booklet for the album, something which contains some of the Wire’s best and worst work. ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ and ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’ cover totally different topics but in similarly articulate ways but ‘S.Y.M.M.’ was simply never as good in reality as it may have seemed as an idea. For a start, the title was abbreviated, suggesting that the band already had some idea that it was more than a little toe-curling, but still pushed on regardless. Secondly, inspired though it is by the marvellous Cracker episode, ‘To Be A Somebody’, it never really seemed to know what it wanted to achieve and thus, as a result, it foundered on every level. Furthermore, it weakened what should have been a triumphant end to the album with the Richey Edwards tribute, ‘Nobody Loved You’.

There are some wonderful indie-pop moments on ‘This Is My Truth’, none moreso than ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, to which I used to, if you’ll forgive the nineties parlance, pogo wildly. The computerised drumbeat (sampled from a pinball machine, if my knowledge of Manics trivia still serves me well) is a marvellously hooky way to begin the song and ebb and flow of verse and chorus is the work of a master musical craftsman. ‘You’re Tender and You’re Tired’ is an oft overlooked pop gem, with its plaintive piano and luscious, swooping backing vocal ‘ah-ahhhhhhs’ too often brushed aside as insubstantial. It has, at times, been my favourite song on the whole album, while live favourite ‘Tsunami’ is only saved from the ignominy of being my least favourite by the presence of the aforementioned ‘S.Y.M.M.’ It jangles and it chugs but it just feels so forced and I’ve never been truly convinced that the lyrics sit all the comfortably atop the musical accompaniment. Previous conversations have suggested that this might be one for the ‘irrational dislike’ pile, but I’ll not be swayed.

The Manics were in their imperial phase, riding high on the astronomical sales of ‘Everything Must Go’. ‘This Is My Truth’ is, to be absolutely fair, the logical next step. In the context of the horrible mish-mash that followed, ‘Know Your Enemy’, it seems to have aged reasonably gracefully. But it doesn’t entirely stack up. There’s plenty to enjoy on there, but it’s over-long, over-polished and, at times, over-wrought. Lop a few tracks off, chop a few tracks down and there’d be little to moan about. I listen to it fairly infrequently and spending a week with it has, in some ways, reminded me why. There are simply better Manics albums on my shelf if I want to listen to them. More urgent, more insistent, more shambolic records than this mass-market, adult-rock outing. It is, dare I say it, the Manics’ ‘nice’ album.