The Manics' third album is the scariest, darkest record you'll hear this year. Surprise surprise. If Richey weren't so f***ed up, says Simon Price, they wouldn't so brilliant
I suppose I know the Manics as well as any journalist is permitted to.
James, the intense, enigmatic Marlon Brando/Travis Bickle gentle bit of rough, his mumbling shyness punctuated by unexpected lucidity. Sean, observing it all with amused resignation, knowing that, although he writes half the music and can theorise into the small hours with the rest of them, he's always be the funny little drummer bloke. Nicky, Mr Controversial on stage, offstage a teetotaller who loves an early night. But the other one... I hardly know him at all.
"He's a boy, you want a girl so tear off his cock/Tie his hair in bunches, f*** him, call him Rita if you want."
Some moths ago, I decide that Richey James (I'll respect his desire not to be "Edwards") is the best pop star in the world. His immense beauty (that methadone-glossy hair, that hungry jawline, the sparkle of destiny in the eyes) doesn't do any harm. But in simple terms, it's like this: the other three Manics don't seem to take this rock'n'roll thing - livin' on the edge, being 4 Real, etc - entirely seriously: it's a game, something to exploit. Richey believes it. Lives it. I, for one, don't think this make him a fool. I've read about (and occasionally witnessed) his "Hammer of the Gods" excesses. The groupies, the Thai prostitutes, the venereal disease, the litres of Vodka, the self-mutilation. But the expression in those coal-black eyes isn't decadent joy, but almost duty. I've seen him drunk, but never undignified, never pissed. Trembling but still fearsomely articulate.
"I eat and I dress and I wash and I can still say thank you/Puking - shaking - sinking - I still stand for old ladies."
I don't hold with the "cry for help" theories. There's nothing exhibitionist about it. Richey cuts and bleeds and drinks and cuts some more at home, alone. Armchair shrinks might speculate that Richey's razor scars and anorexia reflect a wish to keep some vestigial level of control over his life. But f*** psychoanalysis. The nation's mental hospital are filled with unrecognised clairvoyants, misunderstood seers. I've known more than one. Depression is a sickness; too sensitive for this world Richey may be, but he is not insane.
"I hurt myself to get pain out... Scratch my leg with a rusty nail/Sadly it heals."
So steel yourself against sympathy, against platitudes about "human tragedy". The Preachers, of all people - apostles of Monroe, Plath, Cobain - know that their self-destruction is a requisite of our voyeuristic, vicarious love. You have to f*** up. We must think of Richey - stigmatic martyr - in terms of the iconic. It's what he'd have wanted.
I say all this because "The Holy Bible" is the sound of a group in extremis. At crisis point. Hurtling towards a private armageddon. It's Richey's album.
"I am an architect, they call me a butcher/I am a pioneer, they call me primitive/I am purity, they call me perverted."
I knew something had changed the minute I heard "Faster". Suddenly the stakes were higher. The Manics were playing for dear life, rather than just worrying about units in America. And "Revol" was just f***ing weird. Bubblegum metal on helium. Still can't tell if I like it, but - Christ.
"When I was young, PC meant police constable/Nowadays I can't seem to tell the difference."
It has been suggested that Manic Street Preachers will never get a bad review from me. So allow me to say how much I hate "She is Suffering", a future single. Like "Little Baby Nothing" (James as heroic white knight, comes to "rescue" a prostitute), it displays the Manics' queasily ambiguous attitude to women. The "She", apparently, is "desire" (oh, please), but I just think of Tears For Fears' "Woman in Chains". Allow me to wonder how a band as pop-literate as the Manics can't avoid clumsily replicating the intros to The Jam's "Eton Rifles" ("4st 7lb") and the bastard Wonder Stuff's "Give Give Give Me More More More" ("Mausoleum"). Allow me to question the arrogance implicit in Richey/Nicky's impenetrable mental shorthand (obscure allusions, crucial verbs omitted, asyntactic gibberish), even if you do always get the general idea. And as for that Police Constable line, words fail me. And now I'm scraping the barrel.
"The Holy Bible", then. It's biceps of tungsten, veins ready to burst. It's metal under unendurable torque. It's gothic and, quite often, literally goth (they've been overdosing on Joy Division and Alice in Chains lately): "This is Yesterday" and the genuinely chilling Auschwitz elegy "The Intense Humming of Evil" could be easily Cure or Bauhaus.
It's about everything. The Holocaust, gun control, suicide, dictatorship, anorexia ("4st 7lbs", Richey's story told through real-life supermodels, vomits its dinner over Voodoo Queens' laughably superficial "Supermodel"). It's pumped up on anabolic steroids and sedated on Prozac. Some cocktail. It's the end of the world as we know it. Apocalypse now. It's terrifying.
Apparently there was once a book with the same title. But you needn't worry about that. It's 1994 and Manic Street Preachers are the only band that matters. This is one f***ed up record. Enjoy y'all. Goodnight.
Get well soon, y'c***.
Three of Manic Street Preachers play the Main Stage at Reading Festival on Saturday, August 27
[Originally published: Melody Maker, 27 August 1994]