After the Sublime Discography, here’s one for the next gig I’m going to, Manic Street Preachers.
Generation Terrorists – 1992
While I can’t pretend that ‘I Was There From The Start’, Generation Terrorists is still the first Manics album I ever heard, having been tempted by the wonder of Motorcycle Emptiness on a Chart Show Rock album. I still remember sitting in my parents’ car outside Northwich Library listening to a rented CD and having a huge grin on my face during Slash ‘n’ Burn, knowing that this was going to be something awesome. So I’ve got a major soft spot for pretty much everything on here. Sure, there’s the odd duff track (Repeat Stars And Stripes being one), but there’s so much energy and so many great songs that it carries you through from start to finish. If they really had split up after one album, this would have been a fine manifesto to leave us with.
Gold Against The Soul – 1993
Of course, they didn’t split up at all, and were back a year later with another album, albeit one with a more hard-rocking approach than their debut. Nicky Wire used to write GATS off as being ‘a bit stadium rock’, but as opener Sleepflower has worked its way into their set and their new album is even more stadium rock than this, he’s presumably had a rethink. Classic singles, lots of guitar riffage, plenty of swearing on the awesome Symphony Of Tourettes and you’ve got a really good second album.
The Holy Bible – 1994
The first time I heard this, having progressed chronologically through their albums in the space of a couple of weeks in the summer of 1995, I wondered what the heck had happened. The comparatively cosy rock sound of the first two albums had suddenly taken on a much sharper edge and I wasn’t sure I liked it. At first. Soon I was able to appreciate that The Holy Bible is actually an incredible album with hardly a weak moment and a fantastically atmospheric collection of intense lyrics and music. Where they would have gone from here with Richey onboard is hard to tell, but whatever he was going through certainly resulted in a great album.
Everything Must Go – 1996
When the Manics returned two years later, they were a very different band, as you’d expect after what they had been through in the intervening time. The clothing was toned down, the haircuts were neater and the music was much more palatable for a mainstream audience, and EMG delivered the kind of success they’d dreamed about when they said they’d outsell Guns ‘n’ Roses. Well, they still didn’t do that, but you know. So, with all the epic hit singles on here, EMG is a classic, right? Not really, actually. Sure, it’s a triumphant return and there’s lots of great songs, but there’s too many tracks that haven’t really stood the test of time (Removables, Interiors, The Girl Who Wanted To Be God) for it to be held up with The Holy Bible.
This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours – 1998
After the enormous success of EMG, the Manics were criticised by older fans for steering even further into the middle of the road with their follow-up, but while TIMYTMY is a world away from their work with Richey, it’s still a mature, reflective and mostly impressive release. Having a #1 single with a song as unwieldily-titled as If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next was quite and achievement and there’s lots to enjoy, with some lovely production on songs like Tsunami and Black Dog On My Shoulder. But still, finishing with a song as bad as S.Y.M.M. was a mistake.
Know Your Enemy – 2001
Having followed up TIMYTMY with the rollicking The Masses Against The Classes single, the Manics found themselves at a crossroads for their sixth album. Like Neil Young before them, they were too awkward to be comfortable in the middle of the road, so aimed for the ditch instead. Unfortunately, while his ‘ditch trilogy’ produced three of the best albums ever made, the Manics just ended up stalling. Know Your Enemy has got some really good singles on it, like So Why So Sad, Ocean Spray and Let Robeson Sing, but the album as a whole is a mess and comes across as being the work of a band unsure of what direction to go in.
Lifeblood – 2004
Three years later and the Manics returned with more of a sense of focus and a new kind of sound. ‘Elegaic pop’ they called it, and that fits the music perfectly, with the lush keyboard-led production making for some of the nicest-sounding songs they’ve ever released. The problem was that the songs themselves were a little disappointing. The first half of the album has just about enough decent tunes (1985, Empty Souls, A Song For Departure) to carry through, but the second half falls flat and ends up being a bit, well, dull. If Know Your Enemy was their ‘midlife crisis’ album, this is their ‘comfortably middle-aged’ album.
Send Away The Tigers – 2007
After two albums that were poorly-received by critics and the record-buying public, a ‘back to basics’ approach was required for Album Number Eight. With a catchy lead single duet with Nina Persson, SATT was pitched as being somewhere between Generation Terrorists and Everything Must Go. Unfortunately, it ended up being not as good as either of them, and not much of an improvement on the last two. The main problem seemed to be that most of the better songs sounded like they were missing something, usually a chorus, while some of the less impressive songs (I’m Just A Patsy) rank amongst their career lowlights. Not quite a return to form, then.
Journal For Plague Lovers – 2009
This, however, was. Making an album entirely based on lyrics written by Richey, and given to Nicky before he disappeared, seemed to reinvigorate the Manics musically, making their best album in a decade. Getting the legendary indie producer Steve Albini onboard certainly helped away, resulting in their spikiest album since The Holy Bible. But it’s more than just a much-delayed sequel to that, and isn’t anywhere near as intense. Surprisingly, the best song on the album is sung by Nicky, the heartbreakingly sad William’s Last Words. Sometimes you have to look back to go forwards.
Postcards From A Young Man – 2010
This is the album that Send Away The Tigers was meant to be. Full of poppy choruses, catchy guitar hooks and brimming with confidence, PFAYM may not have beaten Phil Collins in the album charts, but it leaves the Manics sounding as good as they have in a long time. It seemed to take them a long time in the 2000s for them to be comfortable in themselves, but Postcards has that kind of feeling to it and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.