I quite enjoyed Britpop. Though my tastes always gravitated heavily towards the American underground scene, I was also as excited as the next 16 year old when I saw the first Oasis performance of Supersonic on The Word. I was into Blur. I LOVED Pulp. I liked the jangly Rickenbacker-driven sound of the first Bluetones album. I'll even admit to having danced to Menswear, pissed up on 2-4-1 pints of Cider in Birkenhead's Stairways nightclub. I'm not proud of that fact, but there it is. However, enjoyable as much of it was, fun as much of it was, that's all it ever was to me; fun music that fitted a certain time and certain situations, but, ultimately, for the most part, pretty disposable. Which is fine. But there was another album, released in the same month as Oasis' seminal 'Definitely Maybe', that affected me on a much more profound level.
It's fair to say I loved the Manic Street Preachers from the off. Their sneering, aggressive, political punk rock aesthetic. The dark intellectualism of their lyrics. They were intelligent, sexy and confrontational. And in Richie Edwards, they contained an obvious figurehead for disaffected youth. Alas, debut album 'Generation Terrorists' was something of a letdown. The lyrical bite of early singles and EP's remained but, musically, the album was at times glossy, safe and, at 18 songs, way too long. For every moment of brilliance like the timeless 'Motorcycle Emptiness' there was a disposable track like 'Tennessee'. Follow-up effort 'Gold Against The Soul' continued the theme, with only a handful of songs standing out in what was a laboured, overly commercial work. It seemed the early fire had quickly burned out.
But then, in August of 1994 they released 'The Holy Bible', and everything changed. This felt like the album I had been waiting for. I was 16 at the time, and these songs of self harm, eating disorders, depression, anger and confusion felt like they were written about me. Written for me. Kurt Cobain and others of the era had articulated teen angst beautifully, but there was something so much more direct going on here (as Bart Simpson once said, making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel). Not only did this album capture perfectly all my depression and self-loathing, it also captured my anger, hatred and frustration at the outside world. 'Little people, in little houses. Like maggots small, blind and worthless. The massacred innocent's blood stains us all' James sang on 'Of Walking Abortion'. 'Who's responsible? YOU FUCKING ARE!' This summed up the rage I felt when I looked at both my own generation, who seemed apolitical and apathetic, and the complacency of the baby-boomer generation, now middle-aged and comfortable.
Like most 16 year olds, I also thought I knew it all, and that I was smarter than everybody else, so the line 'I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter' made me punch the air in triumphant defiance. And how many other bands of the era would so openly sing about self-mutilation with lyrics like 'scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heels'?
I don't want to turn this into a 'Definitely Maybe VS The Holy Bible' article as I liked both albums at the time, but there's no doubt which one was more important to me. When Liam sang about Cigarettes and Alcohol, it seemed like celebrative call to rise above the drudgery of the working week, whereas to me, cigarettes and alcohol were simply further instruments of my ongoing self-harm. Noel wrote about living forever, Richie wrote about starving oneself to death. 'Definitely Maybe's cover was a glossy shot of the band looking cool in Bonehead's flat, 'The Holy Bible' featured Jenny Saville's triptych of an obese woman. Songs about living forever and being a rock'n'roll star, compared to songs about the holocaust, our fixation on serial killers, anorexia and imperialism, with samples of Hubert Selby Jr and J.G. Ballard thrown in for good measure. There's no doubt which struck a chord with at least one particularly messed-up 16 year old.
Upon release, though not initially a massive commercial hit, the album was received as an instant classic by many critics, but within six months, Richie Edwards, who had contributed around 70% of the album's lyrics according to Nicky Wire, disappeared, and probably threw himself off the Severn Bridge. This inevitably lent the album a feel of a last will and testament, not only of Richie, but also of the band itself. And in a sense, it was, at least of the band as we knew it. Two years later they returned with the Spector-esque 'Everything Must Go', to huge commercial success. The band had changed (how could they not after what they'd been through?) but the legacy of The Holy Bible is undeniable. A twentieth anniversary album tour sold out, and the album features in the all-time greatest album lists of everything from The Guardian to Kerrang! Perhaps its greatest legacy, though, is what it represented to many teen, and older, outsiders.
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