Can it be 20 years since Manic Street Preachers released The Holy Bible? Is it possible some American gal could do this monumental record justice? I am going where angels fear to tread to take a look back at an exceptional album. Forgive me if I repeat things my esteemed British readers already know.
An almost mythic album, “The Holy Bible” will always be remembered as the last album with the original members of Manic Street Preachers. Richey Edwards was as we now know fighting some enormous demons which he, unfortunately, succumb to after the release. Severe depression, self-harm, alcohol abuse to self medicate his problems and Anorexia Nervosa were the names given to what plagued him. The title “The Holy Bible” was chosen by Edwards to reflect the idea, “that everything on the record had to be perfection.” Edwards’s search for that perfection and the pressures he place on the band and himself, certainly did nothing to alleviate the depression Edwards was struggling with and it is believed were a contributing factor to the tragedy that took place early in 1995.
The recording is considered the darkest album of Manic Street Preacher’s career. No surprise considering the status of Edwards’s mental health. Initially, the record disappointed on the charts reaching 6th on the UK charts and not charting at all in Europe and America. In hindsight this should not be a surprise considering the dark nature of the subject matter and that it was taken as a quite anti-American record. Time, however, has lent perspective and vindication. The album has sold over 600,000 records. NME placed it #44 on their greatest records of all time, Q placed it 10th on their list of best albums. The album holds a special place for Manic Street Preacher fans, many who consider it to be their best.
In 1994 the group was returning to their grassroots and was gearing up to get back to their “Britishness”. The band wanted to return to their first influences, which as always were impeccable, Magazine, Wire, Skids, PIP, Gang of Four and Joy Division. It was recorded in Cardiff Sound and Space Studios with Alex Silva doing the honours as a sound engineer and mixing by Mark Freegard. The studio work was painstaking and a remarkably long process. “She is Suffering” alone took them 4 weeks to finish. The band approached each song like they were writing an essay. Those essays dealt with some pretty non-rock topics; prostitution, abortion, Holocaust, British imperialism, American consumerism, suicide, childhood, serial killers, anorexia, political revolution and fascism. This disc was not meant for the easy listening crowd. Manic Street Preachers have always demanded their audience work at understanding their intent this album was no different. The band used the technique of dialogue samples throughout the album that was in keeping with the themes of the songs. There were also diverse musical styles used; British Punk, Post Punk, new wave, Industrial, Art and Goth rock.
A song like “If White America Told the Truth …..” examined “how the most empty culture in the world dominated entirely.” “Walking Abortion” sunk its claws into right-wing totalitarianism. “Archives of Pain” looked at how modern culture glorified serial killers, spawning more. Years after the release of the recording, Nicky Wire shared that the song “She Is Suffering” actually was not a favourite of the rest of the band, as they thought it was too “man coming to the rescue syndrome.” It was one of the few radio-ready songs on the album. Never a band that flinched from examining their own beliefs for cracks, “Revol” investigated relationships in politics and life and how they are doomed to fail. “P.C.P.” pointed out how Politically Correct followers thing they are being enlightened when they end up the exact opposite.
The title “4st 7lb” refers to the weight an Anorexia Nervosa sufferer can’t come back from, death is imminent. Was Edwards telegraphing that he knew the end was near? This song opens up to the listener a chasm of pain that Edwards was confronting personally. He is singing about his suffering from tragic body dysmorphia, seeing himself as obese, like the woman on the cover, all the while starving to death. “Mausoleum” and “The Intense Humming of Evil”, are for me the most moving of the songs on this album. Both were inspired by the band visiting Dachau and Belsen. These songs channel all the horror of those camps into music. Sounding like a warning bell to never let it happen again.
After the loss of Edwards, Manic Street Preachers went on with a very successful and highly respected career, earning respect for their ability to overcome the tragedy that might have finished off another band. Without the perseverance of the band, this recording could have become an example of yet another rock genius dying way too young. The ability of Manic Street Preachers to pick themselves off the floor and continue is a living tribute to their bandmate, ensuring that he will not be forgotten. It is hard to disconnect the tragedy from this his finest work.
The disc will haunt you as a listener and get under your skin. We all have our theories about why Edwards disappeared. As I listened to the disc I wondered if he simply felt he had said everything he wanted to say and could not see a reason to carry on with the weight of his pain, pushing him finally to the bridge. The comfort is that he lives on through this amazing record and the band he left behind. It is as perfect as he intended. If your encountering the album for the first time or have owned it for the last two decades, pause a moment to appreciate the genius that wrought this masterpiece.