By Rick Andrade
Photos by Walid Lodin
The music industry is in a death spiral and they’re flapping their wings, trying desperately to find ways to stay profitable. One seemingly inescapable trend is the endless proliferation of reunions and nostalgia tours, which makes sense – playing on people’s memories has always been a sure way to keep their interest and get them to pay.
When the Manic Street Preachers announced their lavish re-issue of their masterwork, The Holy Bible, skeptical fans could be forgiven for thinking this could be a cash grab from the fans who lost interest in their post-Richey catalogue. But anyone who knows the Manics, knows that this is not an effort they would undertake for money—it is simply what The Holy Bible deserves.
The story of The Holy Bible and its aftermath is one of rock’s greatest mysteries. Back in 1994, lyricist and guitarist, Richey Edwards, was in the grips of alcoholism, anorexia and self-mutilation, leading to a traumatic breakdown. But in addition to those demons, his mind was working at a lightning pace and his lyrical output was reaching heights rock ’n’ roll had rarely seen before. Ironically, those heights were reached by plumbing the depths of humanity: sex worker exploitation (“Yes”), capital punishment (“Archives of Pain”), anorexia (“4st. 7lbs.”), and the blackest cloud of all, the holocaust (“The Intense Humming of Evil”). Setting these lyrics to music would be an insurmountable challenge for anyone, but James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore managed to create a furious, complex and cathartic musical experience which equals the quality of the lyrics note for note.
The release of The Holy Bible and its subsequent tours would see Edwards descend quickly, and on February 1, 1995, the night before he and Bradfield were due to go on a promotional tour of North America, he simply vanished. His car was found two weeks later near the Severn Bridge, but all traces of Richey were gone. To this day, no one has any idea what happened to him, and after 13 years, he was finally declared dead in 2008.
As a result of this abrupt ending, it’s fair for the band to feel like the album was never given its full due in its day. Richey’s disappearance scrapped all plans for the album and North American audiences never had a chance to hear the material at the time. In fact, only a handful of songs have been played over the years. That’s why this campaign to re-release the album and play it front-to-back on tour feel so necessary. This feels like the final word on it and, as fans, we’re lucky to have the chance to hear it.
They brought the short tour to the Danforth Music Hall on Monday shorn of the extra musicians that would normally fill out their sound. It was just three remaining Manics, wearing Holy Bible-era related clothing (navy uniforms, camouflage) and surrounding the stage with the same netting they used to decorate the stage back in 1994. But instead of it feeling like a hacky throwback, it felt like a glorious celebration of that time. The band did a remarkable job of recreating the album—even down to the seamlessly-timed spoken word samples and note-perfect guitar solos from Bradfield.
And for someone who literally knows every word to The Holy Bible inside and out, it could still be startling to remember the darkness in these words, as phrases like “Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly, it heals”, “Six million screaming souls, maybe misery, maybe nothing at all”, and “All I preach is extinction” came hurtling out throughout the set. The band were almost apologetic about the material, worrying that it would bring down the audience, but there was no need to worry—the entire audience hung on to ever word.
After finishing the album recital with a frenetic “P.C.P.”, the band played a short greatest-hits set that began with two acoustic songs from Bradfield (including a tantalizing snippet of Rush’s “Closer to the Heart”.) The bleakness of the Holy Bible material created a glorious release in the second half of the set, with MSP classics like “Motorcycle Emptiness”, “You Stole The Sun From My Heart”, and the eternally astounding “A Design For Life”, having the crowd practically levitating.
For a band that has made such a point of highlighting their own disgust with humanity (beautifully illustrated in the working title for their latest albums: “70 Songs of Hatred and Failure”), one thing that often gets overlooked is the loved that radiates from the Manic Street Preachers to their audience, their legacy and, to each other—including their fallen comrade, Mr. Richey James Edwards. Though The Holy Bible has always had the reputation as a scabrous classic, the truth is that it was the sound of the Manic Street Preachers owning that negative power and claiming it as their triumph and nowhere is that more obvious than when they can get a crowd full of people shouting from the top of their lungs, “I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing.”