Immortal Comeback

NME, May 1996

Sylvia Patterson


MANIC STREET PREACHERS: Wolverhampton Civic Hall

"... Five years on, and it's like the panda-eyed cartoon Clash of a thousand national guffaws never happened. From squealy guitar doodles to the official Most Interesting Band In The World. to flawed genius to despair to... Wolverhampton.

"A very good evening," hollers the emerging fluff-haired James Dean Bradfield, "this is called 'Australia'," and Wolverhampton's on the rafters watching its marbles scatter across the floor in rapturous oblivion. And this is a band, tangibly, at the zenith of their emotional and musical powers, James leaping in all corners, a man in complete control of his own hysteria, a little feller with the voice of a great big rock colossus made out of marble in the shape of a man called Atlas with the world held straight above his head. It is phenomenal. Our hair, everywhere, is vertical.

And that is before the plexus-twirling scream of: "Aye-yam-an-archeetect" from 'Faster"s opening, which moves two already-floored, huge-grinned chaps to perform horizontal air-guitar pyrotechnics with their legs in the air. And it's only the start of the greatest hits; the new songs already as beloved as anything they've ever recorded. 'Everything Must Go', its string-fuelled, passion-flamed "An' I just hope that you can forgive us!" paean to those who would deem, preposterously, a life post-Richey as betrayal, sweeps in with film score wibble-vision and everyone, naturally, starts blubbing. Such, indeed, is the instantaneous force of the new songs, you stop thinking, "Play the hits!" and greet 'Life Becoming A Landslide' and 'La Tristesse Durera' like two old pals you still love but are so comfortable with, they can't really compare to the magical, electrical shock of a desirable new. Which we have in 'No Surface, All Feeling', a string-flown winged angel of sorrow and hope. They've even added an extra layer of rapture out of "alienation, boredom and despair" in 'Little Baby Nothing' and refilled the fury tank on 'Motown Junk', by which time a semi-naked indie survivor from the front five rows has orbited through the stratosphere bawling, "This is the best gig I've ever seen in my life!"

When life is extraordinary, it happens at the polar ends, the extreme places where you know you're actually alive and, like Oasis, the Manics' magic ignites at either end of the taper: one end the full-on bluster-boomed rawk abandon, the other end the mesmeric all-encompassing cloak of the perfectly beautiful. And when the siren-swirled guitar of the beautiful end we all call 'Motorcycle Emptiness' lights up the eyes of a partial nation, we think about the gap on the left-hand side of the stage for the very first time.

Two years ago, at Reading, it was chilling, depressing, a metaphorical and actual reminder of our probable doom. Today, the left isn't even empty any more; it's filled up with everything Richey ever stood for, which was and is The Truth, the man still with us in his words, and right now in the words to 'Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky', the beautiful one about the horror of zoos, or the one about the horror of any life in entrapment.

The Manics, in loss, have gained more than surely even they ever knew they had. On the other side of despair, then, behold the invincible."