In comparison to their 90s contemporaries, the Manic Street Preachers have already been the subject of a number of well-respected books. Simon Price’s “Everything” written with the co-operation of the band is the most essential of these, but it only covers the first 5 of a (so far) 13 album career.
The thoroughness and academic approach of “Triptych: Three Studies of The Manic Street Preachers’ Holy Bible” make it a must-read for anyone who, like me, loves that album but it is exactly those properties that could be off-putting to the more casual fan.
With 2018’s “Riffs and Meaning” Stephen Lee Naish literally wrote the book on “Know Your Enemy.” That was the eccentric 2001 album that, in typical Manics style, the band chose to make as a follow-up to their radio friendly unit shifters “Everything Must Go” and “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.” In that book, Naish did a great job of contextualising the confusingly schizophrenic nature of an album that lost the band much of their audience but is beloved by many Manics devotees.
This new book is not, and does not attempt to be, anything like as comprehensive as his previous book or any of the others mentioned above. But what it does extremely well is guide the reader chronologically through every one of the band’s releases with intelligent comment and analysis. Naish’s excellent subject knowledge and enthusiasm comes across on every page.
The first chapter takes us from the band’s formation through those often-overlooked Heavenly singles & B-sides. Until I saw it here, I was unaware of Nicky Wire’s quote “If there’s one regret I have about the band, if only we could have done a mini-album on Heavenly.” Naish does a great job of explaining why many consider some of the Heavenly recordings superior to the tinny versions re-recorded for the subsequent debut album.
Richey Edwards’ disappearance is dealt with sensitively and without hyperbole. The subsequent chapter “Freed From The Memory” includes some thoughtful dissection of what made the Manics unique from (and better than?) other successful guitar bands in the “Britpop” era.
I particularly enjoyed the section on “Lifeblood,” an album that was poorly received by the press on its release and has been dismissed by the bandmembers themselves in subsequent interviews. But Naish, quite rightly, stands up for it and sets out the case for re-appraisal really well.
The wonderfully entertaining Manics podcast “Do You Love Us” gave “Postcards From A Young Man” a bit of a pasting and there is not much affection for that album from Naish either. As one of seemingly very few people who like it, I’m still awaiting the spirited defence of that album that kickstarts whatever the opposite of a backlash is. Maybe I’ll have to write that myself!
In the final chapter “The Blank Page Awaits,” Naish considers some possible next moves, always a tricky prospect when you’re talking about a band that have been around for 3 decades and have still never made two albums that sound the same! Naish presents some intriguing ideas in this “love letter to the future” but I really hope that one of his suggested projects, an instrumental album, never happens! As much as I love some of the instrumentals that the Manics have released on B-sides and recent albums, I’m not sure I could handle a whole album that didn’t fully utilise two of the band’s most brilliant assets! (Nicky’s lyrics and James’ voice)
This is the fourth book in the Modern Music Masters series, following up on previous books about Blur, Oasis and Pulp all written by Tom Boniface-Webb. I think it was a great move to hand the reins over to Stephen Lee Naish for this one. He has written an excellent biography which works very well for either dedicated fans or those seeking an introduction to the band and their music.
More Manic Street Preachers on this website:
- Live review podcast: Manic Street Preachers – “The Holy Bible 20” tour @ Albert Hall, Manchester 10th December 2014
- Chorizo’s 50 favourite Manic Street Preachers songs (August 2013)
- Chorizo’s 50 favourite Manic Street Preachers songs… again!! (May 2015)