‘I was never looking to make a pop album,’ claimedRead more...
In 2004, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their nihilistic masterpiece The Holy Bible, the Manic Street Preachers treated fans to a deluxe edition which featured both the original and US mixes of the album along with a DVD of music videos and television appearances. Its reception had been so positive that two years later, once again celebrating a decade since the release of a landmark record, a special edition of their 1996 classic Everything Must Go surfaced.
For those who discovered the band in their early days and had watched them evolve and adapt over the years, when news that their 1992 debut Generation Terrorists would be reissued with original demos and a documentary twenty years after its initial release, fans were understandably excited, but 2013 would soon come and go and despite two decades having passed since their sophomore Gold Against the Soul had made its way into stores, there seemed to be little in the way of celebration and no discussions of a deluxe edition, making it the only one of their first four albums to be overlooked.
But this attitude has long been the trend when discussing Gold Against the Soul, the corporate follow-up to their loud and obnoxious debut. Whereas Generation Terrorists comprised of songs recorded over a long period of time that documented their initial rise to fame, their second album had been recorded in an expensive studio and, as a result, many felt lacked the angst and anti-establishment tone of its predecessor. To some, the title of its lead single, From Despair to Where, felt somewhat apt, with the anger and frustration now replaced by complacency and even conformity.
It was inevitable that Gold Against the Soul would be met with a certain amount of hostility and the Manic Street Preachers only had themselves to blame. Prior to the arrival of their debut, the band had boasted repeatedly in the media that they would release one phenomenal album that would sell sixteen million copies and then split, but when Generation Terrorists succeeded in moving only a hundred thousand, detractors were quick to shoot them down for having ideas above their station. ‘We set ourselves a high target so some people think we’ve eaten a lot of humble pie,’ frontman James Dean Bradfield told one interviewer while promoting their second effort.
When asked by Miranda Sawyer on the British TV show Raw Soup why they hadn’t split following the release of their album, rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards replied, ‘Because we’ve always been about hypocrisy.’ In truth, it was unlikely that the band would have followed through with their intentions, even if Generation Terrorists had succeeded in becoming multi-Platinum, but the Manic Street Preachers had always been about outspoken ideas and opinions, and this had had been just one of many claims that they would make over the years. Yet despite falling short of their intended figures, they had mastered the art of marketing by regularly riling up the British press with statements and insults that were designed to antagonise and challenge their audience.
Only seven months had passed since the release of the final single from their first album, Little Baby Nothing – a duet with former adult star Traci Lords – and the arrival of From Despair to Where, the first taste of what fans should expect on their highly anticipated follow-up. The critical reaction to Gold Against the Soul was somewhat hostile, particularly from the American press. ‘These Welsh combat rockers motor-mouth a fine manifesto,’ claimed Spin in their review, ‘but haven’t got a musical bone between them.’
By 1993 the music scene in the United Kingdom had begun to move away from the acid-induced vibes of the Madchester scene and had instead saw the emergence of such bands as Blur, Suede and other acts that would ultimately be labelled as ‘Britpop’ by the media. The Manic Street Preachers, however, refused to allow themselves to be pigeonholed with other groups and instead took their sound and image in a new direction. Gone were the angst-fuelled punk songs and colourful slogans, the raw production and youthful energy; instead, the Manics, it seemed, were embracing something more corporate and mainstream. ‘I think the only integrity should be the songs and the lyrics and everything else is just not worth worrying about,’ Edwards told Raw Power.
Rehearsals for the second album had begun in the summer of 1992, only a few months after the release of Generation Terrorists. This was a busy year for the Manic Street Preachers as they would release a total of four singles, commencing in January with fan favourite You Love Us and concluding in August with a cover of Suicide is Painless, the theme from the ’70s TV show M*A*S*H. Their rehearsals, which also took them to the House in the Woods in Surrey, would see them reunite with Dave Eringa, an Essex-based producer who had worked as an engineer for the band during their recording sessions for Heavenly Records in March 1991.
‘There’s just lots of faults on it, because there were lots of songs on it written when we were seventeen-years-old,’ bassist Nicky Wire told The Beat’s Gary Crowley, regarding the issues the band had with their debut. ‘It summed up twenty years of our life. Which we’re glad about, but we had to get it out the way to make the album we really wanted.’ Recording commenced on 25 January 1993 at Outside Studios in Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire, where The Cure had worked on their 1990 album Mixed Up. Far removed from Black Barn Recording Studio in Surrey, where they had recorded their first album, the Elizabethan home cost £1,500 a day to work in and came with countless distractions, such as a gym and swimming pool.
The comfort and isolation of the studio gave the band a much needed break from the constant publicity that been hounding them for the last eighteen months, which had culminated in an outburst made by bassist Nicky Wire during a show at the Kilburn National Ballroom in London the previous month, in which he had stated that he hoped R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe ‘goes the same way as Freddie Mercury,’ in reference to the Queen singer dying from AIDS the previous year. Despite being known for their controversial and confrontational opinions, Wire’s comments had been unwarranted and offensive, causing a media backlash against the group. It was time for them to withdraw from the spotlight and focus on their music.
The lyrics written by both Edwards and Wire for Gold Against the Soul were less about the anti-authority attitude that had fuelled Generation Terrorists and were instead more introspective and personal. Many of the songs on the album contained references to violating beauty or hiding away from the outside world, themes that would be taken to their nihilistic conclusion on the band’s third album. ‘We thought with the first album we’d get rid of the hate, get it out of our system. Unfortunately we didn’t get rid of that feeling, musically or lyrically,’ Wire confessed to Smash Hits.
It would be another three years before the mainstream finally embraced the Manic Street Preachers, as the arrival of their comeback single A Design for Life amid the media’s obsession with Britpop finally gave them some long-deserved credibility, but even with Gold Against the Soul, an album more melodic and professional than their first album, critics were not willing to take them seriously.
In the decades since its release the Manic Street Preachers have done little to remind fans that Gold Against the Soul even exists. Only four of the thirty-nine tracks included on the 2003 B-sides and outtakes compilation Lipstick Traces would come from those sessions, with two songs each from the Roses in the Hospital and Life Becoming a Landslide releases. Many now look upon the album as an ill-advised stepping stone between their cocksure debut and the revered genius of The Holy Bible.
But Gold Against the Soul is arguably the most overlooked and underrated contribution to the Manic Street Preachers discography, boasting a selection of tracks that, while occasionally suffering from overproduction, capture the best of both Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore’s musical abilities alongside the occasionally shocking and always-intriguing lyrics from Richey Edwards (then crediting himself as Richey James) and Nicky Wire.
The album’s finest moment came with La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh), a song the band and label were wise enough to release as the second single. ‘I retreat into self-pity, it’s so easy, where they patronise my misery,’ screamed Bradfield with conviction, while Wire’s bass and Moore’s drums provided a groove-laden rhythm section. ‘It had that epic sound that the Manics were to cultivate so well in the future,’ declared writer Martin Clarke in his 1997 book Sweet Venom.
Although the album may have been considered tame in comparison to their debut, there were moments of angst-fuelled rock littered throughout Gold Against the Soul, first with Drug Drug Druggy and then, more effectively, with Symphony of Tourette. ‘’Children can be cruel,’ she said, ‘so I smashed her in the fucking head,’’ Bradfield sneered with sadistic glee. Tourette’s syndrome would also be referenced the same year in a track by Nirvana on their final studio album In Utero.
While the album itself certainly has its merits, another reason that Gold Against the Soul would deserve the same deluxe edition as the band’s other early albums is due to the quality of B-sides that were released to accompany the singles. Although Hibernation, the sole new track on From Despair, was hardly going to win over new fans, the Life Becoming a Landslide EP remains one of their finest releases outside of the albums, with Are Mothers Saints deserving more respect and recognition than it has received, even being omitted from the B-side compilation Lipstick Traces in 2003.
One track on the La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh) single that had caused a sensation ever since inclusion in live sets during 1992 was Patrick Bateman, an ode to the deviant and psychotic protagonist/antagonist from Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial yuppie novel American Psycho, released to great notoriety two years earlier. ‘Columbia was apparently not happy with the content,’ explained biographer Simon Price in Everything, ‘and James, as he later admitted, wasn’t happy with the sound: ‘It’s far too metal. The lyrics are great, but the music?’’
Each of the deluxe editions that Sony has released to mark the anniversaries of the early Manic Street Preachers albums improved on the last. The Holy Bible was an impressive package, with the DVD including live performances from such TV shows as Top of the Pops and MTV’s Most Wanted, but Everything Must Go raised the bar with a documentary on the band’s comeback following the 1995 disappearance of Edwards, along with footage from the Reading festival and shows like Later…with Jools Holland.
Generation Terrorists went so far as to include nine music videos, two short films, more footage from Top of the Pops and another documentary. The reissue received far more critical praise than the album had done on its original release twenty years earlier. ‘There is an absolute fucktonne of bonus material available with this reissue, depending upon which version one buys,’ declared Drowned in Sound’s review. ‘The South Wales demos in general offer a fascinating and far from unpleasant window into a parallel world where the Manics hadn’t shot for the big time.’
With both Generation Terrorists and The Holy Bible represented with deluxe editions, it is time that the Manic Street Preachers allowed fans to fill the space on their shelves reserved for Gold Against the Soul. The 2011 compilation National Treasures has already included the four promo videos released from the album, but now these could be included on a bonus DVD alongside archive footage from 1993. During the promotion the band performed on such shows as The Beat and Raw Soup, while a documentary on the making of the record would be most insightful. So far the closest to a special editions fans have been able to obtain was the Japanese release that included five B-sides and six live tracks recorded in 1992.
Time allows us to revisit the past and re-evaluate its merits, something that these deluxe editions have achieved. A quarter of a century after its release and Gold Against the Soul stands as an album that was as imperfect as Generation Terrorists but marked an important transition to the band they would later become. And with a wealth of material in the vaults, this overlooked offering from one of Britain’s most provocative and unpredictable groups deserves to be rediscovered.