The Great Leap Sideways

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by Roy Wilkinson

Manic Street Preachers
The Holy Bible

They couldn't... could they? Yes. The Manic Street Preachers' third album is a headlong plunge into self-immolation. And it might be a little too close to home...

Was it really that "terrorist" mask that had the grannies jamming the switchboards when the Manics played 'Faster' on Top Of The Pops? After all, they must have seen it all before. Early '80s Brit metallers Samson featured a similarly-attired drummer who played inside a cage. He was called Thunderstick. Oh no, what really scared the OAPs was that the Manics had finally got round to writing the kind of searingly abrasive punked-up rock their early interviews always promised.

Recorded in a dirt-cheap Welsh studio, 'The Holy Bible' sees the Manics moving back to their roots. But that's not to say they've abandoned the FM rock dimension. Instead they're recast as a ruthlessly-efficient scrapyard car-crusher, compacting careening arena rock into murderously concise packages. Clearly a notion as cataclysmically original as grafting Thin Lizzy onto Sylvia Plath wasn't one to be thrown away overnight. But, while 'The Holy Bible' is still substantially about welding philosophical tracts to swaggering riffs, it's also a great, disgusted leap sideways.

If the 'Gold Against The Soul' LP was about stadium rock and picturesque desolation, this is about post-punk rock and much more disturbing brands of desperation. The proto-goth guitar of Magazine and Banshees-period John McGeogh is everywhere here and, from the grotesque Jenny Saville portrait on the cover to the anorexia of '4st 7lbs', the album's full of bodies distorted, twisted and, sometimes literally, wrenched out of normality. "You want a girl so tear off his cock," suggests the insidiously singalong 'Yes', while 'Archives of Pain' advocates an even more abrupt treatment: "Tear the torso with horses and chains." Perhaps inevitably, they pursue this dimension to a grimly logical conclusion with 'Intense Humming of Evil', a song about the Holocaust and its conveyor-belt obscenity of mass bodily destruction.

If you thrilled to such worldly gauche lyrics as 'Love's Sweet Exile' ("We blur into images of state coercion") you may be a little disappointed here. There's the occasional flourish, as on 'Faster' and 'IfWhiteAmerica' ("Big Mac: smack: Phoenix R: Please smile y'all/Cuba, Mexico can't cauterise our discipline"), but compared to the past these words are almost colloquial in their swearword-riven fury. Take 'Yes': "For sale? Dumb c***'s same dumb questions."

Amid all the references to coma, carcasses, "walking abortions" and dying in the summer, sits the spectre of Richey, holed up in a private clinic, having drunk too much, eaten too little, and cut himself for reasons varying between dramatic gesture, a surrogate for screaming out loud, and something "sexual". Let's hope he realises that, with a record of such unsettling, morbid resonance as The Holy Bible no further gestures are required. Not at all. [Rated 4 out of 5]

[Originally published: Select, October 1994]