7 Of The Best: Manic Street Preachers

Clash selects its favourite Manics tracks...
Manic Street Preachers

With a new Manic Street Preachers album on the horizon – ‘Rewind The Film’, the Welsh band’s 11th studio LP, is scheduled for a September 16th release (Clash review coming soon) – we thought the time was right for a look back at some of the very finest tracks from their 27-year (!) career.

With so much to choose from, naturally there have to be ‘casualties’ – omissions that, to some fans, qualify as absolute essentials. So, please, Manics followers: don’t read the below as anything except a deliberately curt, conversation-starting collection of tracks that have best connected to Clash writing types, namely Robin Murray, Gareth James and Mike Diver. All have followed the Manics across the years, and all have their own favourites.

Many of which haven’t made this 7 Of The Best, but the ones that have are…

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‘Suicide Is Painless (Theme From M.A.S.H.)’ (1992)

Toasting their 40th anniversary by recruiting numerous artists for a charity covers compilation, ‘Ruby Trax’, the NME – as ever – got more than they bargained for. In true contrarian fashion, Manic Street Preachers chose ‘Suicide Is Painless’ – released as a single backed by The Fatima Mansions’ take on ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ – and delivered an emphatic rendition of the M.A.S.H. theme tune. Beautifully arranged, it confounded critics who saw them as purveyors of schlock metal, and boasts one of James Dean Bradfield’s finest early vocals. RM

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‘Motown Junk’ (1991; reissued 2011)

The first Manics single to chart, reaching 94 in early 1991, ‘Motown Junk’ is both a foundational cut and one that’s resonated across its makers’ career, emerging again in 2011. Truly connecting with the music press of the time, its status as both a critical and fanbase favourite is undisputed, merging as it does the band’s scrappy, punkish early sound with iconoclastic lyricism that set something of a stall out for wordsmiths Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards. Its energy hasn’t faded at all since the song’s creation, and while it’s distinctly one-dimensional compared to later standouts, its proclamation of “we destroy rock ‘n’ roll” is a bold statement of intent from then-fledgling musicians. MD

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‘Prologue To History’ (1998)

Tucked behind the shimmering gloss of parent single ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, and having been omitted from the ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ album for not fitting its dour tones, lurks one of the band’s finest moments. Raucously angry, witheringly self-critical and delivered with a rough-edged swagger that seemed to have deserted them, ‘Prologue To History’ is an unfairly overlooked belter. GJ  

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‘Faster’ (1994)

The story of 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’ LP – the band’s disenchantment, physical exhaustion and Richey Edwards’ mental health issues – is so well told that it almost doesn’t merit repeating. On listening to the album again, what surprises is its more direct moments, the signs of Manic Street Preachers’ rockist heritage bubbling to the surface. Boasting some of the most unsettling lyrics to adorn a British rock single in the ‘90s, ‘Faster’ revolves around a fantastically contagious guitar riff – as emotionally draining as is it physically uplifting. Check out the airbrushed American edition for further proof: at its heart, ‘The Holy Bible’ is thrilling, shocking but ultimately a rock experience. RM

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‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)’ (1993)

It’s easy to overlook the Manics’ second LP, ‘Gold Against The Soul’, sitting as it does between breathless debut ‘Generation Terrorists’ and what is perhaps the band’s greatest LP to date, the aforementioned ‘The Holy Bible’. But ‘Gold…’ possesses several moments of transitional greatness, representing something of an evolution from punk to purpose, via classic rock tropes and ginormous riffs. It’s a direct, meat-and-spuds affair, mostly – but ‘La Tristesse Durera’ feels different. Its title translating, loosely, as “the sadness will go on”, it finds Bradfield singing from the perspective of a war veteran out of sorts with the new world around him. It’s a gently affecting number, which crashes in its choruses but sits back from the rock coalface in tender verses: “I am a relic / I am just a petrified cry… I sold a medal / It paid a bill” That wetness on our face? Um, yeah. It was raining, just now. MD

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‘Bright Eyes’ (1994)

All too often Manic Street Preachers are viewed as simply riffs and rhetoric, sloganeering and standpoints. Yet at heart the band is an intensely emotional experience, with ideas and feelings fused into a whole. When they want to, though, the group can also play it straight to devastating effect. Recorded at their fateful London Astoria shows in 1994, this solo turn from James Dean Bradfield finds the vocalist wrapping his lungs around Art Garfunkel’s played-to-death Watership Down theme, ‘Bright Eyes’. Yet it’s an incredibly engaging performance, with the simple rise and fall of those chords giving way to Bradfield’s soaring voice. Something that could easily fall into schmaltz is rendered in devastating effect thanks primarily to the band’s intensity, their ability to stare topics straight in the eye. RM

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‘A Design For Life’ (1996)

From despair, to here. There was nothing, then something. Something amazing. Perhaps the best single of the ‘90s to not reach number one, stalling as it did at two. The beginning of the second phase in the Manics’ career, ‘A Design For Life’, burned though it is by tragedy, is perhaps their definitive 45. Actually, let’s do better than that: even now, in 2013, this still sounds like one of the greatest singles ever. And there’s another lump in the throat… MD

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