Following 2014's acclaimed Futurology, the stellar, anthemic 2018 album Resistance Is Futile reaffirmed the Manics' position as the UK's most resilient and enduring guitar band. As well as continuing to make brilliant new music, their ongoing series of reissues provides reminders of how they won that position in the first place. The latest album to receive the treatment is 1993's Gold Against The Soul.
For those who aren't already aware, this was the band's second LP. It followed the confrontational bombast of debut Generation Terrorists with a heavier and more polished sound, as they tried to figure out which direction to take next. As it turned out, this would lead to the raw, unsettling post-punk of The Holy Bible and the disappearance of lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards in 1995. The three-piece Manics carried on and surged their way into the big league, with the epic Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours selling by the truckload. The rest, as they say, is history. Gold Against The Soul pales in overall quality in comparison to all those aforementioned records, but it is certainly not an insignificant moment.
They wanted to sell 10 million copies of Generation Terrorists and then split. What a statement that would have been. When that (inevitably) didn't happen, it was time to find another way to justify their existence as a group. Gold Against The Soul would begin a pattern of the band usually reacting against their previous album as a means of moving forward. Feeling that the first album was perhaps a few tracks too long and a bit too heavy on the reverbed power-rock production, the follow-up was to be shorter, heavier and more polished production-wise. This approach made for a slightly hit-and-miss collection overall, which highlights both strengths and weaknesses. Luckily, through this process of trial and error, they figured out where their strengths lay, and the band were able to form their own essence adaptable to various different facets and styles, one of the vital ingredients that kept the Manic Street Preachers relevant for decades to come and still counting.
It's fair to say that the four-piece Manics were an alternative rock group, with more of an emphasis on the rock than there was from the mid-90s onwards. The heavier sound of their early years was probably at its most apparent on Gold Against The Soul. For sure it certainly gave of us some of James Dean Bradfield's finest guitar work, the electrifying riff of 'Sleepflower' being a classic example. 'From Despair To Where' is another eternal standout from the band's career, proving their unique gift for converting energy from pain into something joyous, uplifting and life-affirming, while the brilliantly dynamic 'La Tristesse Durera' repeats a similar trick, delivering another irresistible chorus and an ecstatic JDB solo. The gritty 'Yourself' signposts the way to the album that would follow a year later, and on 'Life Becoming A Landslide', heavy rock riffage is counterbalanced by the melodic release of its tender, introspective hooks as well as Richey's striking and bleak lyrical view of the world.
There's more superb guitar work on the intro, verses and bridge of 'Drug Drug Druggy' before the wheels come off thanks to its somewhat flaccid chorus. 'Roses In The Hospital' is the glorious sound of a band riding their own wave, a smart piece of stadium funk-rock with a twist of Bowie's 'Sound And Vision', before 'Nostalgic Pushead' delivers something not too unlike The Clash meets Van Halen, powering into a driving chorus. The frantic hard rock of 'Symphony Of Tourette' almost ventures into metal territory, with a somewhat overpowered yell of a chorus causing the song to veer off track. The magnificent title track encapsulates all of the album's strengths and wraps things up perfectly. A fine end to a flawed record with some timeless moments.
As with all of the reissues being added to Manic Street Preachers catalogue, this edition also collects the B-sides that accompanied the singles of the time. As was the case throughout their career, these non-album tracks would usually offer clues as to where the band would go in future. The wondrous 'Donkeys' finds them in a gentler, more serene mode that acts as a forebearer to their late 90's output, with Bradfield really finding the soul in his yearning vocal. Superb in terms of production, the militant 'Comfort Comes' is very much a prototype of the sharp post-punk they would explore next on The Holy Bible, while the gorgeous acoustic textures of 'Hibernation' wouldn't have sounded out of place on Everything Must Go. In contrast, and very much in keeping with the hard rock tendencies of Gold Against The Soul is the divisive 'Patrick Bateman', where no-nonsense guitars, generous doses of angst, and some highly questionable lyrics make for one of the band's most memorable, if somewhat infamous B sides.
Continuing to add to the touches of funk is the resigned sigh of 'Are Mothers Saints', which is elevated by another stunning JDB vocal, while the rip-roaring 'Us Against You' is a filthy shot of Guns N Roses-like punk. A quick thrash though McCarthy's 'Charles Windsor' provides one of three covers, alongside an inferior take on the Happy Mondays' 'Wrote For Luck', and a thrilling, raw live rendition of The Clash's 'What's My Name'.
A disc of demo versions of the album tracks contains some fascinating glimpses into how the LP might have sounded minus the slick rock production. 'Sleepflower' in particular has all its riffage intact, as well as some great percussion and drum work from the hugely underrated Sean Moore. Bradfield's full-throated vocal on an early version of 'From Despair To Where' is enough to send shivers down the spine, a voice that comes across as more youthful and naive on the demo of 'La Tristesse Durera', which also comes with some rather interesting backing harmonies. Other highlights include a rough, riotous live version of 'Yourself', the clearer emphasis on 'Life Becoming A Landslide''s harrowing lyrical content, and the reveal of a funk loop behind the title track, which also features some tasty low-slung bass from Nicky Wire.
We also get an almost-complete selection of remixes from the period. Ashley Beedle provides two big beat-flavoured takes on 'Roses In The Hospital', while the same song gets twisted into Orb-style dub techno on the Filet O Gang and ECG remixes. These are all pretty standard fare aside from a slow, booming and chaotic remake of 'LA Tristesse Durera' by the Chemical Brothers.
Across this 2CD edition of this remarkable band's second LP, there is much extra material worth splashing out on if you only own the original album. It is a shame that the vinyl version doesn't come with a second record featuring the B sides, but it does come with an affordable price tag. Flawed certainly, but with plenty of solid moments to make it an essential purchase.