Journal for Plague Lovers

Manics mine richey’s last words for a return to the heart of darkness

Five days before his mysterious disappearance in February 1995, 27-year-old Richey James Edwards, the troubled Manic Street Preachers rhythm guitarist and chief lyricist, handed each of his bandmates a file of new lyrics and artwork. The Manics were midway through recording Everything Must Go in a Surrey studio at the time. Five of his songs were ultimately used on the album but, as it gradually sank in that Edwards probably wasn’t ever coming back, the band subsequently left the rest of the material alone (though they honourably continued to pay his share of royalties).

Almost 14 years after his disappearance, Edwards was officially declared “presumed dead” last November. Soon afterwards, the Manics posted the following message on their website: “All 13 songs on the new record feature lyrics left to us by Richey. The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them. The use of language is stunning and topics include The Grande Odalisque by Ingres, Marlon Brando, Giant Haystacks, celebrity, consumerism and dysmorphia, all reiterating the genius and intellect of Richard James Edwards.”

Right, so the Manics ninth studio album is obviously a fairly heavily charged and emotional affair. But is it any good? Actually, for the most part it is. Despite featuring songs with such dated sounding titles as ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’ and ‘Me And Stephen Hawking’, it’s probably the Manics best work since The Holy Bible. In many ways this album sees them coming full circle. It’s no coincidence that the ugly cover art is by Jenny Saville, whose work also adorned the cover of their 1994 masterpiece.

In Utero producer Steve Albini was behind the desk in Wales’ Rockfield Studios, so it’s unsurprising that they occasionally sound like Nirvana here (‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’). Occasionally they’re more like Nirvana-lite (‘Marlon J.D.’). However, there’s a softer side to this record too – ‘Facing Page: Top Left’ is a memorably melancholic acoustic number.

The titles leave no doubt that Edwards wasn’t a happy camper (‘Doors Closing Slowly’, ‘All Is Vanity’, ‘Pretension/Repulsion’). It closes quite chillingly with ‘William’s Last Words’: “Leave me go, Jesus, I love you/Yeah, I love you, just let me go/I even love the devil, even though he did me harm/Don’t keep me any longer cos I’m really tired/I just wanna go to sleep and wake up happy.”

Of course, now that the ghost of Richey Edwards has finally been laid to rest, the question is where to next for the Manic Street Preachers? Only time will tell.

 

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