on 4 July 2007
This album, along with 1996's 'Everything Must Go' brought the Manic Street Preachers firmly into the public consciousness, bringing them chart and commerical success, whilst alienating the Manics die-hard early-era fans in the process.
The reason for this is simple: the first three songs on the album are some of the most listener-friendly moments in the Manics incredibly colourful career.
This is not necessarily a bad thing - 'The Everlasting' is an undoubtedly beautiful and poignant slice of reminiscence, albeit far more glossy and highly produced than most of what the Manics have ever done, and a million miles away from anything on 'The Holy Bible'. Likewise, 'If You Tolerate This...' is glossy, complex and technically more advanced than the Manics roots, except that getting a song about the Spanish Civil War to number one in the charts is not only an act of great subversion, but completely in the spirit of punk, spitting in the face of conventionality. Polished it may be, but it is also undeniably thoughtful and intelligent. For this, the Manics should be applauded, regardless of the fact the many of their new 'lad' fans probably don't have the slightest clue what it all means. 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' is also one of the Manics most recognisable songs, infuriatingly catchy and radio-friendly, but filled with enough gusto to still be worthwhile. The only problem that I can see with any of this is the polished sheen that adorns these songs, and either that is the sound that the Manics were aiming for, or the sound engineers working on this album were at odds with what the Manics always represented.
'Ready For Drowning' though is as beautiful a song as the Manics have ever created, featuring gorgeous church organs and severely vulnerable lyrics, a true fan anthem. The response it always gets at concerts is rapturous and frequently emotional.
'Tsunami', another single from the album is also another one of the Manics more highly produced singles, attracting the kind of fans who turned up to gigs in checked shirts, bottle of beer in hand, so that they could abuse the more dedicated and open-minded of the Manics fanbase and shout abuse at the men who wore eyeliner. I have always thought that the problem with the Manics reaching a wider audience was that they attracted a new and laddish element to their fanbase, in many senses kicking their more authentic fans where it hurts as a result.
Despite that, more beautiful moments ensue on this album, in the shape of classic Manics melancholia, such as the moody 'My Little Empire' and 'I'm Not Working', which sounds oddly distant and detached. There is virtually no trace of the engaging, wonderfully articulated anger which was the Manics guiding light circa 1994.
'You're Tender And You're Tired' is yet another fraught-with-emotion, polished set-piece of a more grown-up angst, but one can't help but think that 'grown-up' doesn't fit well with the Manics. The 'growing old disgracefully' mood of 'Know Your Enemy' and 'Send Away The Tigers' are far more fun and genuine.
'Born A Girl', however, has to rank as one of the most beautifully, poignantly honest lyrics that Nicky Wire has ever written, a stunning and sweet lament over the femininity which has been central to the Manics repertoire since their inception, a femininity which at one point in the Manics career, looked all but lost. This song is vital in understanding Nicky Wire as a person, and the Manics as a band.
'Be Natural', sadly, is as far from vital as I could imagine, and reeks of being pure filler, featuring one of the most middle-of-the-road sounds that the Manics have ever created. The guitars, vocal and lyrics are so yawnsome that I nearly always skip this song when I'm listening to this album. 'Black Dog On My Shoulder' isn't much better, either, containing some truly dull lyrics from a man who is capable of genius. The music is also annoyingly pleasant and mainstream-friendly, and when dealing with the Manics, 'pleasant' is not a word which most of the fans I've ever met would want to associate with them. Aggressive, yes. Brutal, yes. Pleasant? No thanks!
Thankfully, things take a turn for the better on 'Nobody Loved You', one of the many songs which is allegedly about missing Manics lyricist Richey Edwards, featuring beautifully powerful guitar riffs and tragic lyrics which resonate sadness. This kind of emotion is the Manics at their melancholic best, and where they're most at home.
'SYMM' is the epic final track which had to be given a different song title for legal reasons. Inspired by an episode of Jimmy McGovern's 'Cracker', it speculates on the Hillsborough disaster and contains the characteristically risque lyric "South Yorkshire Mass Murderer, how do you sleep at night?" Also featuring a fantastic guitar riff, and a moody, sombre feel to it, it is a satisfying end to a generally great album.
Indeed, this album has many high points, and if only certain filler had been dropped and relegated to B-sides, it would have been an altogether excellent addition to the Manics back catalogue.