Manic Street Preachers

Everything Must Go (Reissue)

“For me, the new album had started there. It just had. Everything felt so balanced. We’d found our direction. This was something people missed at the time. We’d already wanted the music to breathe and be more free before Richie went missing.” There is much to admire about the detailed and sensitive repackaging of Manic Street Preachers most successful album (2 million copies sold, still in the top 5 of the UK album chart a year after release.) But, once the remixes, the most essential b-sides (‘Mr Carbohydrate’; ‘Dead Trees and Traffic Islands’ – both album-worthy), the Live at Nynex ‘96 disc (fashioned as the period demanded – all soft, lo-def video and exaggerated dissolves, but electrifying throughout) and the remastered album itself have taken over your life, head for the second DVD.

Freed From Memories, an hour long documentary on the making of Everything Must Go, directed by Kieran Evans (Kelly and Victor), is a sober and deeply moving reflection on the year that came to redefine the Manics. Framed by a conversation with James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore that sees grave reflection match genuine laughs as they unpick the days that follow Richey Edwards’ disappearance in in February 1995, it annotates the album with the kind of insight that can only come with time and no little courage. And as Bradfield talks of their new direction, that striving for balance, their desire to let the music breathe after the unflinching snarl of The Holy Bible, he and his band mates pause. It all comes back, as it must, surely, every day of their lives. In seemingly no time at all, the Manics were compromised, breached: from demoing new songs with Edwards to life as a trio, all in a matter of days.

The band recall their first practice session session as a three piece, three months after Edwards had disappeared, and how they confronted both the discomfort and the emerging, almost unspeakable possibilities. The Manics were still the Manics. Amidst the horror: resolve. They regrouped to explore songs that Edwards had written and co-written (five songs on Everything Must Go feature his lyrics) and found, almost inevitably, that the choice they faced was actually no choice at all.

Is it, twenty years on, their finest work? It’s to its credit that, after a lengthy period in which The Holy Bible had gained almost statutory hold on the title, Everything Must Go is now even allowed entry into the debate. Its startling overture, the exercise in “working class rage articulated” that is ‘A Design For Life’, had offered both reassurance and warning: the Manics were back but not as you knew them. Genuinely anthemic and powered by its elegant string arrangement, the album’s first single charted at number two and glued itself to the airwaves. Top Of The Pops became the band’s second home. The song’s ragged glory, its refusal to deny the beauty in the allegedly ordinary, as with much of the band’s underlying manifesto, chimed with too many hearts for the Manics not to stumble into megastardom. The die was cast.

Only the hardest heart would deny them the baffling riches that followed. Only a fool would choose not to understand. The Nynex show confirms not just the scale of their ascent but also the uneasy mix of their new fanbase: the leopard-print hardcore and newly tuned-in lads swarm on Manchester. (In his Melody Maker review of the gig, Taylor Parkes offered ugly evidence of this new, awkward fit, being called a “poof” in the toilets for daring to comb his hair.)

Still, the album is as alive as it ever was. Demographics be damned: Everything Must Go is as inclusive as mainstream rock of the era ever dared to be. It’s as socially engaged, unblinking in the face of history and sharply aware of the damage caused by power wielded by fools, as any album home to four top ten singles in living memory. The Manics breached the testosterone fortress of Maine Road in the heady summer of 1996, as they supported Oasis in their home town at the height of Britpop, and here they tweak and de-laddify the watery notion of The Big Rock Album with playful and fearless abandon.

If, on occasion, Everything Must Go wants for the brimstone vitality of its predecessor, it engages at depth by allowing the listener to breathe, too. For its occasional moments of restraint, it still manages a modest and beautiful triumph. The stinging title track matches ‘A Design For Life’ for depth charge rhetoric, that gear shift on the chorus still a heady thrill. “Shed some fear for the skin within”: Wire’s words are, in many ways, as brutally stark as Edwards’. Bradfield’s vocals are upfront, distinct from the backing. You can hear the room as they reverberate.

‘Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky’ is humanity’s unthinking cruelty couched in one of the band’s most quietly beautiful recordings. Bradfield had spoken previously around the time of The Holy Bible of his worry that he would struggle to contain Edwards’ words within song. Here, he manages it with guile and grace. No easy task to sing of the horrors of animal cruelty: “Here chewing your tail is joy.”

Elsewhere, Edwards’ lyrics are featured on album opener ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, the remarkable ‘Removables’ (a nod to Pixies in its shambling, acoustic verses?), the ersatz anthem ‘The Girl Who Wanted To Be God’, and ‘Kevin Carter’. The latter, with its choppy guitars and trim groove, surprises with a beat group swagger. With a huge chorus fashioned from no more than the name of the tragically renowned South African photo-journalist, it remains one of the band’s best-loved songs. That central section, with Sean Moore’s trumpet solo and the soaring instrumental passage that follows, is still a wonder.

A ‘bridging’ album, then? Perhaps. But to what? There were missteps later on, but not even the more openly commercial approach of This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours and Know Your Enemy could deflect from the band’s ever-alive watchfulness. And as the Manics explore their own history with tours celebrating both this album and The Holy Bible, they side-step lazy nostalgia. Their recent work (in particular, the thematically paired Rewind The Film and Futurology) speaks with a markedly youthful vigour. Few bands sit quite so comfortably within their own skin as present day Manics. Their artistic impulse as is sure-footed as it has ever been and we stick with them through love, yes, but also trust. How they dealt with the success that followed tragedy is a lesson in survival almost unprecedented in the music industry. “It did feel like not that we’d infiltrated the mainstream at that point, but taken it over,” reflects Nicky Wire on Freed From Memories. Inarguable. In 1996, distracted by circumstance and still shaken by its predecessor, we perhaps loved Everything Must Go with what we felt were forgivable reservations – loved it despite itself. But not now. Not now.

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