I feel I’d be remiss in my responsibilities as Cultural Correspondent for the Divided Queendom if I didn’t represent some of the misunderstood (or externally ignored) classics this country has produced. I’m at a loss to think of too many that aren’t globally renowned on at least a cult level, but there is one that’s never far from my mind as deserving of greater recognition across the Atlantic.
There are albums that you love that few understand – that plucky, under-appreciated gem that appeals to a select demographic finely attuned to its goofball sensibilities and idiosyncratic charms. Then there are albums that you are introduced to by a normally amiable acquaintance who, after quietly psychologically profiling you over a clandestine period of time eventually takes you to one side, fixes you with a funerary glare from under a sullen brow, perhaps even puts a hand on your shoulder to steady you from the shockwaves of the bomb they’re about to drop, and slips you a suggestion scant on stylistic or technical details – voids left by such trifling irrelevances are suffused with an air of almost religious reverence.
I say ‘almost religious’, because this is far more important than that.
This is ‘The Holy Bible’.
Released in 1994, the third full length from Wales’ iconoclastic Manic Street Preachers is somewhat notorious in the United Kingdom due to its morbid subject matter and doe eyed, self-lacerating architect Richey Edwards, for whom this undertaking would prove his undoing. The band would soon after graduate to widespread domestic acclaim in the wake of Edwards’ departure, but ‘The Holy Bible’ would scarcely be acknowledged by the swathe of fans that swarmed to stadia to sing along to it’s commercial and critically acclaimed successor, the cleansing and cathartic yard sale of Edwards’ leftovers ‘Everything Must Go’.
A perfect crystallisation of their early sloganeering, threats and intent ‘The Holy Bible’ is a coldly observed critique on the underlying putrefaction of humanity – the actualisation of an aesthetic that ultimately proved too cumbersome for the band to bear, wresting itself from it’s author’s control and taking his sanity with it. In February 1995 on the dawn of a promotional jaunt to promote the album in the U.S. and after various episodes of institutionalisation for self harm, addiction and anorexia, Edwards checked out of his London hotel, having maxed-out his cash card at ATMs daily for the preceding two weeks, and disappeared, leaving his passport at his Cardiff apartment and car at the Severn Bridge (a notorious suicide hotspot linking England and Wales) and was never seen or heard from again (intriguing but unsubstantiated sightings were reported in Europe and India in the years following his disappearance but have now petered out completely).
Edwards was legally declared dead in 2008, and without their catalyst the band lumbered on to critical and commercial success, but struggled artistically to elude their ‘Holy Bible’ half-life as Go-To band for any semi-educated Alt Rock fan with a half-formed liberal opinion. In 2009, the remaining members revisited Edward’s legacy, putting to music his parting gift to them – a ring-bound folder of a double album’s worth of lyrics and hand assembled imagery, with the resultant distillation ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ proving a surprisingly laudable return to old form, due perhaps solely to the man’s magnetism, intellect and artistry.
It now falls to me to tag in this column’s next contributor after the four of us have each completed the task once. While sequence dictates it should be Shawn, his intention was that it would be Russian Roulette, and so I see no option other than to consult the Magic 8 Ball….
Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.