Too Gloomy For The U.S.A.? Get the Japanese version; it's got incredible bonus tracks.
By Johnny Walker (Black)
It remains disconcerting that this, the band I've previously raved about in these pages as being "The Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band In The World," can't make commercial inroads in North America, even as they continue to conquer the U.K. and Continental Europe. The semi-official word on this latest Manics album is that it's "too gloomy and sad" to release in North America -- as if the bloody Dow Jones and NASDAQ might suddenly plummet if the latest lamentations of a gaunt pallid poetic Welshman named Nicky Wire (formerly Jones) were unleashed with the gale force lung power of singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield behind them. We're just so happy over here these days, as the consumer-mad continent wallows in the Bill+Monicablowjoba**lickabyss (see the Starr Report footnotes for details), so contemplation of anything beyond the cheesy and superficial strikes us, some of us -- those who recently voted Monica Lewinsky as one of the "10 Most Important Women In America" in a Gallup poll being likely among them -- as not really worth our precious time.
Come to think of it, however, given the current surrealistic aura permeating Washington, D.C., and therefore, thanks to CNN, most of the world, maybe the Manic Street Preachers have more relevance here now than ever before. This is the band, after all, that wrote the tune "Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart" on 1994's wall-to-wall rip-snorting moral treatise The Holy Bible (if you don't own it, run, don't walk, to the used CD shop now -- it's the album that answers every musical and intellectual challenge the Pistols and the Clash ever laid down). It really does seem as if the song's author Richey James (or Edwards, or "Manic"), who disappeared in 1995 (and who was rumored to have been spotted recently, washing dishes in a remote area of the world), was psychically surfing further along the time-space continuum than most of us when he plucked those words out of the air. Then, having given us that, as well as other fiery treatises such as "Of Walking Abortion" and "She Is Suffering," he left for parts unknown.
The following Manics album, as fate would have it, 1996's excellent, award-winning Everything Must Go, was the band's commercial breakthrough, at least in the U.K. and Continental Europe and Japan and just about everywhere but North America. While the band's unique chemistry (Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore compose the music, while James and Wire -- now just Wire -- write the lyrics and strike the appropriate poses) remained unaffected on that album, due to a surfeit of Richey leftovers like the existential, Pink Floydian "Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky." On this latest Manics endeavour, This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, the band is now truly a trio for the first time. This means that Richey's missing Dionysian element, his Ginsbergian poetic spew of radical ideas ranging from Sade to Foucault have been replaced by the Apollonian Nicky Wire's (this man loves vacuuming, for gawd's sake!) more traditional influences: he's still defiant and righteous, only in a more restrained, T.S. Eliot / W.H. Auden kind of way.
All of this makes for a fine, if a bit more polite version of the Manics than we've seen so far. The band's #1 U.K. single, "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next," is as addictive as any Top 40 bubblegum anthem, yet rife with thought-provoking commentary: "Bullets for your brain today / But we'll forget it all again / Monuments put from pen paper / Turns me into a gutless wonder" are sentiments with which Nietzsche circa "The Use and Abuse of History For life" might admire, thus underlining this band's true subversiveness. Friedrich on Top of the Pops!. The set's opening track "The Everlasting," sets the overall gloomy tone for the proceedings, which draw on '80s influences such as Joy Division (Wire has name-checked that band's "The Eternal" as a key source for TIMTTMY), with echoes of other classic anthemic Brit-rockers like The Jam pervading winning melodic tracks like "Ready For Drowning" and "Tsunami," all of which reveal Bradfield's unerring ear for the Great Pop Hook. Meanwhile, the low-key "My Little Empire," a personal fave, is an exquisitely drawn, unflinchingly honest lyrical portrait of Wire's neurotically reclusive lifestyle: "My little empire / I'm sick of being sick . . . I'm tired of being tired . . . I'm bored of being bored . . . I'm happy being sad." He means it. Like Kafka did.
Two other tracks impress: the briskly neo-folky "Black Dog On My Shoulder" hearkens back to the late Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog," that old black hound a mere euphemism for the depression that haunted and haunts both men, and a topic which permeates TIMTTMY: it hurts to hear just how much Nicky Wire misses his old comrade-in-arms Richey, and his outright paean for him, the appropriately rocking "Nobody Loved You," strikes just the right tone: "Let me turn down all these lights / And sit with me then you can hold me tight / Give me some more of your carrier bags / and let me dream of a new autumn light," Bradfield sings, as usual lending man expert interpretative vocal touch to Wire's fragile words. Ironically, on his finest song to his lost bandmate and best friend, Nicky Wire truly comes into his own here as a fine poetic lyricist.
Finally, my only gripe with TIMTTMY is the inclusion of a few too many slow-burners, like the all-too obvious S.Y.M.M, when brilliant, maniacally rocking Manics tracks like the classic Mott The Hoople-ish "Prologue To History" (in which Wire takes on Richey's Holy Bible cut-up lyric method and wins!) and guitar-driven hard rockers like "Montana /Autumn/ 78" are limited to B-sides, while the equally smoking "Socialist Serenade," a potshot at British Prime Minister Tony Blair (that's Slick Bill's li'l buddy over thar who bombs Saddam when he's told like a good feller) and his "New Labour" government is relegated to a Japanese-only pressing. "Forget the fucking Labour / Robin Cook's gone running wild / He's licking too much pussy." Wire via Bradfield expounds like a true heretic in the midst of "Cool Britannia" on "Socialist Serenade." Now if only Cool Britannia and the rest of us could hear these tracks for a reasonable sum.
All of which proves, at any rate, that the spirit, at least, of Richey James Edwards "Manic" is alive and well in the Manic Street Preachers of 98/99, whether he's washing dishes in Havana or lying at the bottom of a river; a little more of that spirit included here would have turned a very good album into a great one. Thus, those truly interested are advised to hunt down the aforementioned extra tracks and make your own Manix classic.
(Sonicnet Rating: 5/5)