25 Years Of 'The Holy Bible'

Manic Street Preachers' 1994 brutalist masterpiece

Thursday 22nd August 2019

By 1994, Manic Street Preachers had carved out a niche in the UK's music scene, breathing new life into rock 'n' roll with their Heavenly Recordings debut and their first two albums. The spirit of punk, the dynamic of rock 'n' roll and the aesthetic of glam garnered the four-piece Welsh band a cult following, critical acclaim and a healthy amount of controversy.

The recording of their third album saw the band reassess their influences and direction, rejecting the rockish influence of American alternative bands that had invaded the British airwaves and record shops, and looking toward more post-punk material such as PiL and Joy Division for inspiration.

Subject matter for the band's lyrics was similarly re-energised. Their adoption of military uniforms and song titles including 'Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwouldfallapart' channelled sentiment that seems as pertinent today as it did in the post-Thatcher-Reagan era, but there was more to 'The Holy Bible than political comments. The album's themes were varied, yet exclusively dark and brutal.

The songs referenced eating disorders, self-harm, depression, the Holocaust, the glorification of serial killers and other bleak matters, largely ignored in the British pop culture of the early 1990s. The Manics however, with their cult following were positioned to thrust their message onto Top Of The Pops.

The songs' challenging lyrical content was credited to Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire while the musical composition came from James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore. The resulting combination was an explosive set of songs. The Manics' channelled anger was an energy that made them stand out from other British bands on the eve of the Britpop era. The NME and Melody Maker were full of moody introspective music, but 'The Holy Bible' was different, turning internal conflict outward.

The album cover featuring a Jenny Saville painting caused controversy too. The painting seemed to visualise songs such as '4st 7lb' perfectly. Like the song, it tackled ideas of idealisation and perceived dysmorphia. Like the songs on 'The Holy Bible', Saville's paintings are often described as being uncomfortably intimate, and much of the album's tone can be attributed to Richey Edwards own personal issues.

Edwards' wellbeing had been a concern for the rest of the band during the album's recording, and the tone of 'The Holy Bible' became an outlet of his internal struggles. 'The Holy Bible' became the last album that the Manics would release as a four-piece band, continuing without Edwards after his disappearance in February 1995.

A quarter of a century later, Manic Street Preachers are still going strong, and still tackling issues that others either shy away from or can't get an angle on, but 'The Holy Bible' still stands out. Its perfect balance of post-punk and rock sensibility, combined with its brutal honesty, places it in countless lists of the best albums of the 20th Century. Despite not selling as well as some of the other Manics' albums, it has taken on a revered status to justify its title in the years since its release. With its oblique yet confrontational manner and its complex commentary, it can be seen as an ancestor to the work of bands such as Fat White Family or Idles and is as topical in this decade as it ever was in the 1990s.

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