A waltz about the working class, a jazz riff on a trumpet to accompany the story of a war photographer who killed himself, Sylvia Plath at the disco and a harp-assisted stark account of a caged, mistreated animal. Yes, this was the ‘commercial’ smash that elevated Manic Street Preachers to populist heights. While ‘Everything Must Go’ might have room to breathe musically, it was hardly the light to the shade of its predecessor, ‘The Holy Bible’, that popular mythology has forever decreed. It arrived at the perfect time, with guitar music virtually unassailable around the top of the charts and, by bringing on board Siouxsie and Associates producer Mike Hedges who had recently worked his magic on McAlmont & Butler’s ‘Yes’, the band had carved out a sound that would be embraced by those far beyond their usual circle.
Having toured the record in full in recent weeks and talked about these songs at length for twentieth anniversary retrospectives, the calm descends once more and we are left simply with the songs. And what songs they are. The straightforward, emotionally bare ‘Further Away’ documents Nicky Wire’s misery during a bleak 1994 tour whilst musically evoking the raw euphoria of early Oasis, whereas ‘Removables’, dating back to earlier in that same year, was Richey Edwards’ take on an ephemeral society that was jarringly out of step with its immediate neighbours on the album but curiously in line with its overall message.
‘Australia’, despite its enormously buoyant chorus, recounts a desire to escape the emotional distress of Edwards’ disappearance in 1995, seeking catharsis through suffering: “I want to run and fly till it hurts.” Album closer ‘No Surface, All Feeling’ throws in a strident false ending and has frequently been compared to the Smashing Pumpkins by the band themselves. An early demo, included on the previous reissue but not this one, even has Wire shamelessly, and slightly incorrectly, announcing “Hello, my name is Billy Coogan” over its opening notes. A testament to music as a release, the track feels like a chance to delight in a big sound, to lose yourself in a guitar riff and to shake off the shackles of expectation. It is an extraordinary way to finish an album and a fitting statement from a band reborn.
But, that’s not where things end with these latest reissues. A relatively basic 2CD set, with hilariously meta artwork, appends the audio of the fabled 1997 Manchester Nynex gig to proceedings, but it works best with its visuals alongside and that can only be accessed as part of the deluxe box set. Building on Farrow Design’s original understated and magnificent sleeve, the clean simplicity is ramped up even further. Inside, are two DVDs, one with the aforementioned concert and the other a rather splendidly shot new documentary by Kieran Evans. A vinyl pressing contains possibly the finest sounding version of ‘Everything Must Go’ ever to be released, and that’s not being said in the “it just sounds so much warmer, man” fashion – it really is glorious. The two CDs in the box cram in the various bonus tracks from the time, working largely chronologically through the multi-formatting excesses of the mid-Nineties.
The Stealth Sonic Orchestra remix of ‘A Design For Life’ remains a joy, the law of ever-diminishing returns applying to subsequent similar attempts on later singles however, and the covers used to bolster the ‘Australia’ single release make for a gleefully earnest conclusion to the second disc. However, there are some true gems amongst the original material, helping to explain why Manics fans tend to obsess over every release. ‘Mr Carbohydrate’, a painfully honest self-portrait by Wire sits alongside later b-side ‘Prologue To History’ on the shelf marked ‘why was this never on an album?’ and ‘Horses Under Starlight’ is a luscious instrumental that conjures a sense of a band at ease during trying times. Jagged edges remain intact on ‘First Republic’, ‘Black Garden’ and ‘No One Knows What It’s Like To Be Me’ and these songs are considerably more than just filler. Unlike the Jon Carter remix of ‘Kevin Carter’. But you can’t win them all.
The original album, its twelve remarkable songs and spacious, anti-artwork, remains a triumph. The band would push on in various directions in the years to come, having already taken quite the route to this fourth record, but there is something close to perfection about ‘Everything Must Go’. Ironically, it has never escaped its context, but it gave three friends a lifeline and several millions of people a work of troubled beauty.
Words: Gareth James
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