The Manic Street Preachers are celebrating their history with both the release of a new singles album called National Treasures and a one-off live show in London where they will play all of those singles. So it seemed like a good time for me to look back and review them all…
Motown Junk – 10/10
A perfect introduction to the Manic Street Preachers, it’s packed with energy, anger, great hooks, daft posturing and a lot of spunk. One of their best songs even all these years later.
Stay Beautiful – 9/10
Quite surprising that it pipped others to be first single off Generation Terrorists, but I really like Stay Beautiful, not least for the punktastic bass work by Nicky Wire in the background. Effortlessly brilliant.
Love’s Sweet Exile/Repeat – 7/10
The drums at the start of Love’s Sweet Exile and the vocals on the refrain are a bit dated (even for 1991), but it’s still a fun song anyway and the controversy-baiting Repeat shows the Manics at their most punk. Short, sharp, stupid, but still good.
You Love Us – 10/10
Another instant classic, the guitars are perfect, the chorus is perfect and the arrogance is self-prophetically infectious. I definitely prefer it to the earlier Heavenly version, largely for the outro and memories of James Dean Bradfield rocking it out on stage.
Slash ‘N’ Burn – 9/10
I’ve got fond memories of this too from my first listen to Generation Terrorists (having only heard Motorcycle Emptiness) and discovery that, yes, I really did like the Manics. A great album opener and a great single too.
Motorcycle Emptiness – 10/10
How they waited until the fifth single to release this I’ll never know. The first Manics song I ever heard (on a Chart Show Rock compilation album) and it’s still my favourite. It shows a different side to the band than had been seen before, with Bradfield/Moore’s songwriting capabilities going well beyond simple power chords.
Suicide Is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H) – 9/10
A non-album single, but a classic too. Obviously it’s hard to go too far wrong with a song as good as the theme from M*A*S*H, but the Manics get their version spot on, particularly when the guitars kick in.
Little Baby Nothing – 8/10
Having shown they could do a ballad, the Manics plunder their debut again for a SIXTH single, this time showcasing their pop chops. Sure, it would have been nice to have got Kylie on-board, but Traci Lords does fine and it’s a really nice song.
From Despair To Where – 10/10
The Gold Against The Soul era was kicked off perfectly with this awesome and confident single. If there were any doubts about whether they should have really called it day after one album, From Despair To Where showed what a mistake that would have been.
La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) – 9/10
At the height of their late 90s success, Nicky Wire referred to GATS as ‘a bit stadium rock’, but it’s hard to square that with the sophisticated rhythm and timeless melodies of La Tristesse Durera. It’s also one of their best songs lyrically.
Roses In The Hospital – 9/10
Another of those that sounds a little bit dated in its production and I’ve never been keen on the backing vocals behind the refrain. However, there’s more than enough quality to overcome those issues and it gets extra marks for shoehorning in a random Clash reference towards the end.
Life Becoming A Landslide – 9/10
One of the most lyrically mature of the early Manics songs and one of the best of their entire catalogue, Life Becoming A Landslide sometimes feels a little bit overlooked, but in many ways it points towards the radio-friendly-anthem era they would reach a few years down the line.
Faster/P.C.P. – 10/10
Before that, into the void. The Holy Bible is obviously the Manics’ best album and Faster is obviously one of their best songs, indeed it was chosen by them as their best single in the NME recently. P.C.P. isn’t one of my favourites, but doesn’t drag down the perfect score for Faster.
Revol – 9/10
Utterly bonkers, but utterly thrilling too. Bradfield is at his best barking out the crazy lyrics and the music sounds suitably atmospheric and threatening, all of which makes it a shame that the band don’t seem to like it much at all.
She Is Suffering – 10/10
The Holy Bible was never an album likely to be full of pop hits, and by its standards, She Is Suffering is almost commercial. But it’s a much more subtle and beautiful song than that, and Bradfield’s guitar work is as impressive on it as any of his more flashy efforts, purely because it’s so underplayed. I love it most because it’s the kind of song that the Manics shouldn’t be able to do and they do it so well.
A Design for Life – 10/10
The first new single after I got into the band partway through 1995 and a lot had changed since the last one. Down to a three-piece and emotionally raw, they put their energies into the perfect comeback song, matching lyrical content with anthemic musical backing to launch themselves into the stratosphere.
Everything Must Go – 8/10
To me, it’s always felt like a little bit too much was thrown into the album title track, with all that it represented for the band. The production is obviously Phil Spector-ish and it’s a catchy song with a real emotional core, but it’s always left me a little cold and seemed a bit too musically similar to A Design For Life.
Kevin Carter – 7/10
A punchy rhythm and Sean Moore’s trumpet spectacular are basically all that’s going on with Kevin Carter musically, with the lyrics coming from what Richey left behind. For me, it was always one of the weaker tracks on Everything Must Go, but it was catchy enough to still be a hit.
Australia – 9/10
A delicious burst of Generation Terrorists-era energy that comes at a perfect time in the album and works fantastically well as a single. Full of a Springsteen-esque yearning to escape, it’s a perfect end to the EMG era and I also love the Camper Van Beethoven cover in the B-sides.
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next – 10/10
A brave return for a band who now found themselves one of the biggest in the country, they gave it a cumbersome name, lyrics about the Spanish Civil War and stripped away the indie anthem sound. And it still got to Number 1 in the charts. And it’s still a really great song.
The Everlasting – 9/10
The backlash against the post-Richey band began here really, with critics and die-hard fans citing this as evidence of them losing their ‘edge’. However, it’s a beautiful song that works perfectly along the weary lyrics. I loved it at the time and still do.
You Stole The Sun From My Heart – 6/10
This, however, I don’t love. It has the definite feel of a throwaway indie rock hit added to an un-poppy album at the behest of nervous record company execs. Simple and repetitive both musically and lyrically, it’s disappointing.
Tsunami – 9/10
Much better, with an almost impossible tempo to it and fantastic string accompaniment to make for a pretty much perfect pop song, albeit one with a very unusual subject matter.
The Masses Against the Classes – 10/10
To end the 90s, the Manics bounced back with a rollicking and authentic-sounding return to their punk roots, obviously designed to both appeal to the disenfranchised fans while simultaneously slagging them off. And it’s fantastic.
So Why So Sad – 9/10
A pretty successful attempt by Bradfield and Moore to bring some Brian Wilson production values to the Manics sound, as a new century brought increasing experimentation. It’s another example of the band doing the kind of song that their critics would say they weren’t capable of. And doing it very well.
Found That Soul – 6/10
For me, Found That Soul always came across as a lightweight version of Masses, an attempt to show that they could still rock, but with a fairly plodding effort that’s closer to pub rock than punk rock.
Ocean Spray – 8/10
Much more impressive, this was the first single with lyrics written by Bradfield and it makes for a refreshing change with an emotionally stark song about the death of his mother. It’s also really good, with the mix of light and dark done so well.
Let Robeson Sing – 9/10
Another very good single from the very patchy Know Your Enemy, it’s very much lifted by a great use of a sample of Paul Robeson, easily the best sample used by the Manics in any of their songs, which is saying quite a lot.
There By The Grace of God – 7/10
Taken from their first greatest hits collection, this is a decent enough song. Nothing fancy, but it does the job.
The Love Of Richard Nixon – 5/10
Lifeblood is my least favourite Manics album and this lead single demonstrates why. It’s a very strange song, both lyrically and musically and doesn’t work particularly well in either sense. Somehow it got to Number 2 in the charts too…
Empty Souls – 6/10
A much more obvious single than its predecessor, it’s also still quite weak and dangerously Coldplay-lite. It also loses points for the unneccessarily provocative ‘collapsing like the Twin Towers’ line.
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough – 8/10
My feelings about this one are slightly mixed. A large part of it borders on the simple repetition of You Stole The Sun From My Heart and irritates me, but then it kicks into life with both Bradfield and Nina Persson on soaring vocal form. A good pop duet that falls just short of great.
Autumnsong – 7/10
For me, this song epitomises Send Away The Tigers, because it’s largely ok, it sounds like it should be a really good song, but there’s not enough substance to make it that. Plus it steals the guitar line from Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Indian Summer – 7/10
You can pretty much read the above sentiments to describe this song too, but without the Guns ‘n’ Roses bit.
(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love – 9/10
With no singles released from Journal For Plague Lovers, this was the first new single in a while from the Manics and it was a great way to return with their best rock anthem in a long time.
Some Kind Of Nothingness – 8/10
Another very good single from Postcards From A Young Man, this duet with Ian McCulloch is suitably catchy and entertaining, so it was a surprise that even a performance on Strictly Come Dancing (seriously) failed to prevent it being the first Manics single in almost 20 years not to reach the Top 40.
Postcards From A Young Man – 9/10
The title track from the album fared even worse in the charts, another surprise given how commercial it was (certainly compared to some of the material higher up in this list, but it’s another great song from a band who were definitely in top form again.
This Is the Day – 8/10
Another single that didn’t make much of an impression on the world, but added new material to the National Treasures album, it’s a cover of a song by The The. I think the Manics are an excellent covers band and I think this is better than the original because the guitar refrain works so well.
Pop music's great lost album has finally come home. SMiLE (or Smile, as I'm going to call it to save effort) was going to the record that changed everything and confirmed Brian Wilson as the greatest songwriter and producer America has ever known. Instead, it became the 1960s' Icarus Moment, as he soared too close to the sun and came crashing back down to earth. Over 40 years later, does it live up to its reputation?