Manic Street Preachers - National Treasures

by Lawrence Poole Rating:7.5 Release Date:2011-10-31

Usually a term of endearment attached to a member of the establishment/showbusiness fraternity after a healthy period of time engaging/entertaining/educating the British public, national treasure status is probably not something the ultra non-conformist veteran Welsh trio would have ever wanted to be tagged with 21 years ago when they exploded onto a music scene in thralls to rave. Yet 21 years on, it is undoubtedly what they've become and secretly I imagine it's something which brings a certain amount of pride to the alt-rockers from Blackwood.

Back in 1990 when they first charted, determined to cause a stir, impish frontman James Dean Bradfield and co were all about shocking rather than winning hearts and minds. Take their debut single for Heavenly and collection opener 'Motown Junk'. With its blazing guitar riffs and revolution calls chanting, it is certainly the kind of statement of intent every band should strive to kick-start their career with. It is the uproarious cuts from debut offering, Generation Terrorists, which strike the greatest chord with this reviewer, however. From the powerful 'Love's Sweet Exile' and their demanding take on The Stone Roses' 'I Wanna Be Adored' which is 'You Love Us' to their utterly triumphant and still to be bettered 'Motorcycle Emptiness', it was with this 1992 release that the Manics made clear how vital they had become to the British music industry. With an album sleeve heavily influenced by their heroes Gun N' Roses, the South Wales outfit talked about making one massively successful album then crashing and burning in an instant. Their ever-growing fanbase wouldn't let them, of course.

The successor Gold Against the Soul further cemented their success, with JDB's increasingly assured vocals and cousin Sean Moore's propulsive drumming it, stand-alone single 'Theme From MASH (Suicide Is Painless)' and 'From Despair to Where' sound as fresh and vital today as they did 18 years ago, while fellow album track 'Roses in the Hospital' has also stood the test of time well.

Guitarist Richey Edwards' sad story is much documented elsewhere so I won't go into it here, but his last album with the band, The Holy Bible, is still held up by many a Manics' fan as the band's career highpoint.
I actually think their best work followed after his disappearance in 1995, but the record certainly has some standout moments; the caustic, punk-infused 'Faster' still bristles with intent while 'She is Suffering' surfs on a dark and brooding bassline from Nicky Wire.

Featuring lyrics by Edwards, 1996's Everything Must Go still sounds laden with hits and is well represented here. 'A Design for Life', 'Kevin Carter', 'Australia' and the title track are easily up there with the band's finest work and rightly remain mainstays in their live set. My favourite singles, however, are actually mined from it's 1998 successor, This My Truth Tell Me Yours. The sublime 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next', yearning 'Everlasting' and bombastic 'You Stole the Sun From My Heart' are the band's last great singles.

Thereafter, as this collection is chronilogical, things take a turn for the worst. While there are still a couple of tender moments ('Tsunami') and the pop-tastic 'You're Love Alone is Not Enough', a plantive duet with The Cardigans' Nina Persson, it's not enough to warrant awarding space for a dozen or so tracks. 'Indian Summer' is one-paced and unmemorable, while The The cover 'This is the Day' similarly makes little impression.

As a collection it does give an extensive, yet manageable guide to the band's stellar career and just why they've become so cherished. If you want to see it in full flow in the live arena, they'll be playing the lot at the 02 Arena on December 17.

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