Friday, April 08, 2005

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: BIBLE STUDY

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 8, 2005


Somehow I completely missed The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers when it originally was released in the mid 1990s. Though I peripherally was aware of this Welch band through the years, somehow I never checked them out.

One excuse I have is that until the recent 10th Anniversary Edition, this record never was released in these United States. The set includes a re-mastered original version of the album, a previously unreleased American remix, several bonus live and demo tracks and a DVD featuring live performances and a lengthy interview segment.

This one of the most intense, emotional, visceral, disturbing rock ’n’ roll albums ever made.

Some Manics fans have compared Bible to The Clash’s London Calling. True, there’s some good left-wing political screedery going on in songs like “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart.”

But I hear it more aligned with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band or Nirvana’s In Utero.

And yet the gloom of its darkest lyrics are offset by its melodic, even catchy accessibility -- high-energy guitars crunching happily as nightmares flow through the mouth of singer James Dean Bradfield from the damaged mind of lyricist Richey Edwards.

There’s even a bizarre and tragic mystery associated with The Holy Bible. In February 1995, soon before the album was to be released in the U.S., guitarist Edwards left his hotel room in London was never seen again.

His car was found near a bridge known as a jumping-off place for suicides. Most assume that was Edwards’ fate. But no body was ever found. And he didn’t leave a note. Unless you count some of the lyrics in this album.

In the years before his disappearance, Edwards was a self-destructive rock ‘n’ roll mess -- alcoholism and anorexia being among his chief symptoms.

The song “4st 7lb” (that means 4 stone, seven pounds -- or 87 pounds), included on this album is a terrifying description of a young girl in the throes of anorexia.

“See my third rib appear/A week later all my flesh disappears/Stretching taut, cling-film on bone/I'm getting better … Self-worth scatters, self-esteem's a bore/I long since moved to a higher plateau/This discipline's so rare so please applaud/Just look at the fat scum who pamper me so …”

In the interview on the DVD, Manics bass player Nicky Wire says that Edwards wrote about 75 percent of the lyrics on The Holy Bible. Wire wrote some of the more political songs, but he says he was fairly happy at the time -- he’d just gotten married and bought a house.

But the dark and stark lyrics were just flowing out of his bandmate at the time.

Images of dictators, serial killers, murders and cruelty splatter all over Edwards’ songs. “We are all of walking abortions,” he wrote -- and Bradfield wails it like he means it.

The self-loathing and deeply embedded cynicism is unrelenting:

“I eat and I dress and I wash/And I still can say thank you/Puking, shaking, sinking/I still stand for old ladies/Can't shout, can't scream/Hurt myself to get pain out …” (from “Yes“)

“Self-disgust is self-obsession honey and I do as I please/ A morality obedient only to the cleansed repented …” (from “Faster.”)

“The Intense Humming of Evil” with a nightmarish repeated industrial scaping noise as a sonic backdrop drop, deals with the “six million screaming souls” of the Holocaust, concluding with “Drink it away, every tear is false/Churchill no different/Wished the workers bled to a machine.”

Edwards’ disappearance caused the U.S. division of Sony to decide not to release the album in this country. I’m still not exactly sure why.

But be glad they finally did release it. No matter when the music was actually made, this record still sounds fresh. The wounds are still raw.

Also Recommended:

*Worlds Apart
by And You Will Know us By the Trail of Dead. O.K. maybe Bob Dylan can get away with doing a song about the Egyptian goddess Isis, but a hard rock band that starts off an album with such a tune -- especially with an eerie soundtracky female chorale and strings -- they can expect to catch a certain amount of crap for invoking hobbit-hugging ‘70s prog rock.

But while there are a few weird missteps on this album, there’s plenty to like about Worlds Apart.
This clearly is a departure from their previous work. It’s more melodic, less muddy and definitely more experimental.

There’s strange little touches like the muted trumpet in “Will You Smile Again?”, the chamber music interlude of “To Russia My Homeland,” the Billy Joel piano-ballad style of “Summer of ’91” (Sweet Lordy Jesus! There’s already nostalgia songs about the ‘90s?)

No, Trail of Dead hasn’t completely forsaken its swirling guitar rage that some said made them a Texas answer to Sonic Youth. You can hear it in “A Classic Arts Showcase” and “Let It Dive.”

Probably the most jarring tune here is the title cut. In some ways it sounds like a generic, neo-Green Day hoppy-poppy, latter-day punk tune. It talks about new music sounding all the same and jerks on MTV and soccer moms who raise their kids on television, American materialism, hypocrisy, blah blah blah. Pretty standard modern rock kevetching.

But in the final refrain, Conrad Keely sings, “How they laughed as we shoveled the ashes/Of the twin towers/Blood and debt, we will pay back the debt/For this candy store of ours.”

Never mind the Egyptian chants and Russian violins. There’s still danger along the Trail of Dead.

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