Tag Archives: AC/DC

Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

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Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

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After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #662: Brian Gascoigne – ‘Phase IV (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#662.jpgIf I walk into my local branch of the Warehouse (a general merchandise superstore chain in New Zealand), I can find practically anything. High-end TVs, underwear, plants, shoes, deodorant, children’s toys – there’s practically no limit to what they range.

In the last decade, they’ve started to stock LPs. I’ve had a few good deals from there over the years, but mostly they deal with common denominator titles. As soon as I approach the racks – usually very poorly displayed – I know what I’m going to see. Brothers In Arms sits next to every AC/DC studio album under the sun, three corner-dinged copies of Dark Side Of The Moon will be there, sat behind the latest overpriced Ed Sheeran record, but if I’m lucky there will be something that takes me completely by surprise (Aerosmith’s awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall bootleg being my greatest find so far).

In fact, I’ve seen so many copies of AC/DC records there, I actually think it might explain why Back In Black is one of the best-selling records of all time – the Warehouse made a stocktake error, and there are still eight million copies sat on their shelves.

It just goes to show that while the big chain stores try to get on the vinyl revival bandwagon, they’ll nearly always miss the needs of the niche record collector.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a boutique record label – Waxwork Records – founded by Kevin Bergeron in New Orleans in 2013. Their primary focus is the preservation and release of horror soundtracks – particularly cult films from the ‘70s and ‘80s – but their output so far has ranged from soundtracks as diverse as Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Éric Serra’s Leon: The Professional, and Barry Devorzon’s The Warriors, to original music like PILOTPRIEST’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (currently glued to my turntable).

RITA#662aTheir specialty however is sourcing out-of-print soundtracks or, in some cases, music from films that never had a soundtrack release in any format upon release. There’s a detective element to their work then (more information on which can be found here); a level of research that you would usually only see from archivists and historians on the behalf of major-label acts (the nth Beatle Mark Lewisohn, for example).

1974’s Phase IV is one such film that never had a soundtrack commercially released in any format. The score was therefore considered lost until Bergeron and team tracked it down and issued it as catalogue number WW008.

The film is probably best known for being the sole directorial work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass – the man behind the artwork and title sequences of films by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. It’s a little-known science-fiction horror, concerning the work of two scientists as they attempt to prevent the spread of killer ants.

What sets the film apart from other sci-fi and horror films are the sections showing the behaviour of the ants. Filmed in extreme close-up, the shots of these real ants are more natural history documentary than what you’d expect to see from a film in either genre, but the impact is more effective than any special effect could muster. In such close detail, the ants are as terrifying and horrific as any alien or movie monster could be.

The music, from composer Brian Gascoigne, is a synth-laden slice of 1970’s futurism fused with more traditional instruments which give the film a whistful, rustic feel. Split into four tracks, named after each section of the film – Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV – the soundtrack feels more like a prog record in its attempt to evoke an eerie tone, rather than the traditional soundtrack approach of individual music cues.

One interesting sidenote is that Phase IV features the first cinematic depiction of a geometric crop circle (built, in this case, by the killer ants). The initial release of the film came a full two years before any news reports of crop circles in the UK, and is therefore seen as a potential influencer on those who started the practice in the late ‘70s.

Hit: Phase I

Hidden Gem: Phase III

Rocks In The Attic #650: Pantera – ‘Far Beyond Bootleg – Live From Donington ’94’ (2014)

RITA#650If there was ever a music festival that I wish I had attended, it’s this one – Monsters Of Rock, Donington on Saturday 4th June 1994. It’s the first festival I remember really wanting to go to, but it was out of the question – I was only 15, I couldn’t afford it and even if I could, my parents wouldn’t have let me go just in case I consequently became addicted to heroin. Or, even worse, became a fan of the band Extreme.

What a line-up though. Two stages. The main stage headlined by Aerosmith, with the rest of the bill including Extreme, Sepultura, Pantera, Therapy? and Pride & Glory. The second stage appealed to me even more – headlined by the Wildhearts, this also featured Terrorvision, Skin, Biohazard, Cry Of Love and Headswim.

I think up to this weekend, my head was firmly planted in classic rock. I just listened to Aerosmith and pretty much nothing else. But then MTV aired an hour-long special on the Monsters Of Rock festival, presented by Vanessa Warwick and featuring past performances and music videos of the acts playing that year. As I did with everything else at the time, I recorded it on VHS.

RITA#650aThat tape ended up being one of my favourite recordings, and I’d watch it repeatedly. Most importantly, it introduced me to AC/DC via the AC/DC Live cut of For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) from Donington ’91. It also introduced me to the Wildhearts, by way of the Suckerpunch video. Those two bands became my next obsession after Aerosmith.

The MTV special also introduced me to Iron Maiden with their Fear Of The Dark performance at Donington’92, and Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory via their Losin’ Your Mind´ video. I might still have the video somewhere.  The ’94 line-up also justified a couple of bands that I was already interested in, and would go on to see live many times over the next couple of years – Headswim, Terrorvision, Skin and Therapy?.

I’ve picked up a couple of bootlegs from the festival over the years – Aerosmith and the Wildheart’s headlining sets, but sadly only on CD. So it was a welcome sight to see Pantera’s set see an official release. Listening to it now, I so wish I was there, drinking warm beer in the sun.

Hit: Walk

Hidden Gem: Fucking Hostile

Rocks In The Attic #626: James Brown – ‘Get Up Offa That Thing ’ (1976)

RITA#626The collector in me breathes a heavy, internal sigh when I think about James Brown records. I’ve always liked the collecting aspect of music, almost as much as the tunes themselves. It started with Aerosmith, and I ingested everything greedily. Then I turned to AC/DC, same deal; then the Beatles. And on and on and on.

It’s too hard with James Brown though – he just has too many records. Wikipedia credits him with having sixty-three studio albums, fifteen live albums and forty-nine compilations (at the time of writing). Of course, there’s a lot of variability in there – a couple of diamonds for every half a dozen lumps of coal.

It’s always worth the effort mining his work though – this, his forty-sixth studio record, features one of his biggest hits, Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure. The song, released as a two-part single a couple of months before the album dropped, is a dancefloor smash and a worthy addition to the man credited on the sleeve as the Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk. He should add ‘doctor’ to his list of titles, given his medical advice in the song – ‘Get up offa that thing and dance till you feel better!’

RITA#626aI’d like to collect all sixty-three studio records but I think it might be too difficult, particularly considering my location in the world. I’m sure that I’d have a better chance if I was within driving distance of record shops in the Bronx, or other inner-city American areas. There’s always Discogs though, and that helped me greatly when I was collecting all of the James Bond soundtracks.

Perhaps I have another James-related quest in me. Five down, fifty-eight to go…

Hit: Get Up Offa That Thing / Release The Pressure

Hidden Gem: I Refuse To Lose

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

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The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

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What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

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Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

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Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #517: U.F.O. – ‘Strangers In The Night’ (1979)

RITA#517“Hello Chicago!…”

I felt like a blast of heavy metal, given that I’ve just watched Heavy Metal Parking Lot – the documentary love-letter to being young, dumb, full of booze and standing around waiting for your favourite band to play in your hometown.

The premise of the film is very simple – two documentary filmmakers, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, took a movie camera and a microphone to the parking lot of the Capitol Centre arena in Landover, Maryland on May 31st 1986 to film heavy metal fans who had congregated there to see Judas Priest on their Fuel For Life tour.

As you might expect, the short film is full of idiots – boozed-up, shirtless and, for the most part, willing participants for the filmmakers who are obviously there to poke fun at their subjects. Krulik and Heyn don’t get too involved in fact, and the only ridiculing evident is self-inflicted, with some gentle prompting by way of questions to the interviewees.

The film did make me think about how I was at that age – in my mid-teens and with a love of heavy metal. I know my behaviour wasn’t quite as extreme as the teens in this film, but I definitely saw a lot of people acting like this as soon as they had a couple of beers inside them. Only a couple of years ago I was standing in the crowd at  Black Sabbath concert, and the young, overweight girl next to me was asleep on her feet, drunk out of her head, and smelling of vomit as she bounced against each of the people stood around her, like an intoxicated ball in a pinball machine.

I’ve always been staunchly against anything coming close to ‘laddish’ behaviour, but this film is full of it. The young teens are emboldened not just by their drunkenness, but by being safely amongst their own kind. It’s a kind of pack mentality; an innocent kind, without any negative consequences.

Even more interesting than the 1986 film, is Krulik and Heyn’s follow-up documentary which traces a handful of Heavy Metal Parking Lot’s original interviewees. Most of the subjects are happy to have been tracked down and can view the film with good-natured nostalgia for the days of their youth, but the final segment is slightly different. In their search for ‘Zebraman’ – a youth dressed in a zebra patterned two-piece outfit, Krulik and Heyn knock on a door of a suburban house to be greeted by the man himself. Only he has his arms crossed and doesn’t look to happy that they’ve found him. He seems to be the only one to regret his involvement in the film, but still manages to crack a smile or two.

U.F.O.’s Strangers In The Night is a double live album from 1979, featuring songs recorded during the band’s North American tour promoting the Obsession album. It’s the last album to feature guitarist Michael Schenker, who almost went on to replace the recently departed Joe Perry in Aerosmith.

I know hardly anything about U.F.O. Their music, like a lot of classic heavy metal, bores me to tears. I think I first heard about the album in a special edition of Q or Mojo espousing essential rock albums. I never think a live album is a good way to first hear a band (although AC/DC Live worked wonders for me) and so this record just washes over me. As my wife once famously said to me at a Steely Dan concert, ‘I can’t tell when one song finishes and the next one starts’.

Hit: Doctor Doctor

Hidden Gem: Only You Can Rock Me

Rocks In The Attic #500: Manic Street Preachers – ‘The Holy Bible’ (1995)

RITA#500Part I: A Search

When I started this blog back in April 2012, I never believed I would own a copy of my favourite album, the Manic Street Preachers’ peerless classic The Holy Bible, on standard black vinyl. It just seemed like it would never happen. On its release in 1995, it only saw a picture disc release on vinyl. And while I have that beautiful piece of wax, it might be nice to look at but it’s a dog to listen to. The only thing worse would be a flexi-disc – and I have that too: NME’s 7” Verses From The Holy Bible.

The album’s tenth anniversary came and went in 2005, but saw no vinyl release – just an interesting and very much welcomed CD / DVD box set, including the very interesting American mix of the album. Things started looking up – finally – in 2015 when the band released a twentieth anniversary box set, which included four CDs of material, a book, and that all-elusive black vinyl. I wavered though. Of course I wanted that slab of vinyl; I just didn’t really want the rest of the set. CD box sets tend to gather dust in my house, and once I’ve listened to all the bonus material, they just get pushed to the back of a shelf and never taken out again. I then found out that the vinyl record housed the four CDs in little pockets on its sleeve. Screw that – my plans of taking the vinyl album out to put with the rest of my MSP vinyl collection were dashed. So I continued to wait…

I waited through all the album’s twentieth anniversary celebrations in 2015.  I waited patiently. I waited while I heard the news that the band were going to play the album in its entirety at some live shows in the UK. After seven years living on the other side of the world, here was something that finally made me regret leaving the UK in the first place. Only the amazing 2012 London Olympics had prompted the same feelings. The reasonable part of me knew I was being silly, but the unreasonable part of me wanted to travel back in time to tear up my immigration documents.

It was nice to see the album’s appearance on last year’s Record Store Day list of exclusive vinyl releases. But it was just a picture disc again – two actually – one for the UK mix of the album and one for the US mix. Well, that was something, at least (and I picked those up in no time). But still no standalone black vinyl.

Then in October or November of 2015, I noticed that Amazon was listing a pre-order of the vinyl record – as a standalone release – for the end of December. No details, just a vague description: “vinyl” and “discs = 1”. I was sceptical. I had pre-ordered it before from Amazon, and for some reason the release didn’t happen; my order at that time was ultimately cancelled. Surely the same thing would happen here. Perhaps it was a nasty joke by some Amazon employee, maybe a God-botherer annoyed at the album’s appropriation of the holiest book around.

But then it turned up, the first piece of vinyl to land in my mailbox in 2016. A beautiful piece of black vinyl. No box set. No fancy release. Just a single disc in a minimalist package. No tracklisting on the rear cover; just a photo of the band and a quote by Octave Mirbeau. No lyric sheet on the inside; just an inner sleeve with a CCCP design on one side, and a photo of the band on the other side, overlaid with a quote by Solomon Northup (he of Twelve Years A Slave fame).

It was finally here.

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Part II: An Introduction

It was hearing Faster that started it all. Up to that point, I hadn’t noticed the Manics. I had definitely taken a dislike to their name though. Manic Street Preachers? How pretentious! What does that even mean?

It’s dangerous when you haven’t heard any music by a band, and the only thing you have to go on is their name. If the name sounds cool, then you’d be forgiven for expecting the band to be cool. If the name sounds unbelievably pretentious, well…

So I bought a compilation called Danger Zone during my second year at University. I’d heard some of the tracks before, but mostly the CD introduced me to a lot of the rockier indie bands I had avoided up to that point. It was the Manics’ Faster that really got my attention. It was like nothing I’d heard before – edgy, off-kilter, the sound of inertia committed to tape – and with lyrics name-checking Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Sylvia Plath and Harold Pinter. Rock songs weren’t supposed to mention writers and poets, and as I was currently studying English literature, they sounded like the kind of lyrics I should probably be listening to. I needed all the academic help I could get.

The other thing that grabbed me about the song was the production. The first few lines with James Dean Bradfield’s vocals switching between a reverb and a clean sound was awesome, especially through a pair of headphones when you can really hear the difference. And guitar-wise, it was refreshing to hear a heap of effects that I just hadn’t heard before in my diet of Aerosmith, AC/DC, and the like.

I rushed out and bought The Holy Bible on CD, expecting to find more of the same. On first listen, I was disappointed. Faster was clearly the best song on the album, but what the hell was all this other stuff? Anorexia, prostitution, the holocaust, mass murderers, American politics, right-wing totalitarianism; to say that it’s a serious album would be a grave understatement.

A casual listener might have been put off by such content, but at that time I had the time and the inclination to fully digest myself in an album, to immerse myself in it until I knew it backwards and could form a valid opinion of it.

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Part III: An Obsession

Everyday from that point onwards, for maybe six months or more, The Holy Bible would be on my MiniDisc player (the highly unfashionable pre-cursor to the iPod). I’d listen to it on the long walk into University, sometimes finding myself listening to Archives Of Pain, a song about serial killers, whilst walking through the red-light district where Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe picked up some of his victims.

I’d listen to it between lectures, as I wandered the streets of Huddersfield to kill time. Then I’d listen to it again as I took the same long walk home. The only albums I’d share in my musical diet were the Manics’ earlier albums, Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul. They were good, but they weren’t in the same class as The Holy Bible. I’d listen to them to try and understand their follow-up album; how had this band arrived at producing such a unique piece of art?

Posters of the Holy Bible adorned my bedroom walls, and I sought out everything connected to the album. In particular, in those dark days before the advent of YouTube, I went to great lengths to see a performance of Faster on BBC’s Top Of The Pops – a performance that at the time of broadcast saw a record number of complaints (over 25,000). The reason? Bradfield’s black balaclava (with ‘James’ scrawled on the front of it) and the rest of the band’s military garb prompted comparisons with the IRA. Viewed now, it looks very tame but the troubles were in full swing at the time so it’s not hard to understand how the Mary Whitehouses of the UK were horrified.

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My girlfriend at the time wore a handmade necklace adorned with a Holy Bible lyric – I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing, from Faster. I loved it so much she made me one as a gift, featuring another of my favourite lyrics from the album – Why do anything when you can forget everything?, from This Is Yesterday. I wore it every day until it split and the many lettered beads it was made of spilled all over the floor.

RITA#500cPart IV: An Understanding

To fully appreciate what the NME would ultimately call ‘a vile record’, it’s important to provide some context on how these four individuals came to record the album, and it’s impossible not to view the record without considering the unfortunate events that followed during its promotion.

As a band, the Manics are easily divisible into two camps. First, there are the musical writers of the band, vocalist / guitarist James Dean Bradfield and his drumming cousin, Sean Moore. They’re complimented by the lyricists of the group, guitarist Richey Edwards and bass player Nicky Wire.

The way that they approach songwriting is also fairly unique. An existing set of lyrics by Edwards or Wire (or both) is crowbarred into a piece of music written independently by Bradfield or Moore (or both). This is why the band’s lyrics sound strangely wrapped around the music. They don’t think twice about starting a line (or even a single word) at the end of a bar of music, and finishing it on the next bar. Effectively they’re fitting a poem onto a piece of music which might not necessarily have the same metre.

This is why I have major problems deciphering their lyrics. For a while, I though the chorus of their Masses Against The Classes single was ‘Grandma Says, Against Her Glasses’. Talk about mondegreens; I could write my own MSP lyric sheets and they would be filled with the most unintelligible gibberish. I’d have more success deciphering the Super Furry Animals’ welsh lyrics (who might very well be singing ‘Ysbeidiau Heulog’ on Mwng’s song of the same name, but I’ve always heard it as ‘a spidey-eye halo’).

To record their third album, the band decamped back to Wales, to Sound Space Studios, a small studio in Cardiff. Their first two albums had been recorded in London and Oxfordshire respectively, and their last album, Gold Against The Soul, had a hollowness and a commercial sheen they were keen not to repeat.

Manics biographer Simon Price describes The Holy Bible as ‘the sound of a group in extremis, at crisis point, hurtling towards a private armageddon.’ This sums up the album perfectly, but could also be used to describe Richey Edwards himself. Of their first five albums, this is clearly the most ‘Richey’ in tone, and Nicky Wire has confirmed that the lyrics are “30 per cent me, 70 per cent Richey”.

Five months following the release of the album, and on the eve of flying out to tour the record in America, Richey disappeared. Echoing the suicide of Ian Curtis in 1980 – similarly on the eve of Joy Division touring America – this was the culmination of Edward’s deteriorating mental state.

Part V: A Disappearance

Edwards and Bradfield were staying at the Embassy Hotel in West London. They were due to fly out to the U.S.A. in the morning, for a week of interviews to promote the album and the upcoming tour. As they arrived at the hotel in the evening, Bradfield played a demo of Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky, a song with lyrics written by Edwards that would later appear on the band’s ‘comeback’ album Everything Must Go. Richey loved it. In the morning, Richey didn’t show in the lobby at the agreed time.

When Bradfield asked the hotel porter to open Edwards’ room, they found a box wrapped up in paper featuring literary quotes and images, addressed to his girlfriend. Inside the box was an assortment of books and videos. His full suitcase of clothes, toiletries and medication was also found.

The ensuing police investigation found that Richey had driven back to his flat in Cardiff that morning. Here, they found his passport, which he had had with him in London, his remaining medication and his credit card.

Aside from uncomfirmed sightings of Richey in Newport, he had completely vanished. Sixteen days later, his car was found abandoned in the car park of the Severn View motorway services in Aust, close to the English side of the Severn Bridge.

It was impossible to identify how long the car had been parked there, but the battery was dead and it appeared that he’d been sleeping in it, playing cassette tapes though the car stereo.

Despite numerous unconfirmed sightings early on in places as far afield as Goa, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, to this day Edwards is still missing / presumed dead – the Lord Lucan of pop music. In 2002 his family were given the option to declare him legally dead. They chose not to, and he remained a missing person until 2008 when he was officially presumed dead.

The proximity to the bridge – a suicide spot, as most large bridges are – served as a bookend to the situation to some. Many presumed he had taken his own life, but a body was never found. How horrible. It’s one thing for a band member to kill themselves – as had happened to Nirvana the year before – but for a band member to disappear, to have questions but no answers, must be considerably more torturous.

RITA#500d

Part VI: An Appreciation

The wise people know. You’ll hear them every now and then, in the toilet of a club, or walking in a mall. All of a sudden, your ears will prick up because you hear the word ‘Manics’ spoken by others; the Cocktail Party Phenomenon in action. If you can eavesdrop further, they’ll be debating which is the best Manics album. The one that’s heard The Holy Bible will be strenuously putting forward an argument that’s it’s better than all the others. The other person, the one who’s not heard The Holy Bible, will be saying something else. But they’ll be wrong of course.

Over time my tastes have changed. I’m not as avid a supporter of the band as I once was. I still follow them, but the standard of their post-Holy Bible output has been patchy to say the least. I’m still smarting over them (or more correctly, their record company) for putting out Know Your Enemy as a single disc of vinyl, despite its 75 minute running time.

The other week, I heard the Manics’ song backing the Wales football team in the 2016 European Championship. I nearly vomited, it was so bad. The Super Furry Animals’ song was much better, just proving that it’s not a missing band member that changes a band beyond comprehension, it’s the band becoming popular, moving into the mainstream, and falling back on tried and tested songwriting formulas that turns them into the opposite of what they started out as.

In 2007, I saw the Manics at Glastonbury; my last Glastonbury festival before I left the UK. I wasn’t excited as we were walking to the stage; instead I was going to see them on auto-pilot, out of a weird sense of duty. But halfway through the opening song, You Love Us, I suddenly remembered what a big fan of the band I was and as a result, I couldn’t stop smiling.

That must have been the fourth or fifth time I had seen the band play, and I noticed that they had added a second guitarist to their touring band. Up to this point they had been doing fine as a three-piece, but now it seemed like they were finally saying goodbye to Richey by filling his part in the band. The new addition to the band stood at the back in the shadows, while stage-right remained empty, as I believe it does to this day, waiting for Richey to return.

Hit: Faster


Hidden Gem: This Is Yesterday


Note – In the writing of this post, I’m indebted to Simon Price’s wonderful Manics biography Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers) (Virgin Books, 1999) which helped a great deal, particularly with its in-depth report of the police investigation into Richey Edwards’ disappearance. I’ve also recently discovered Andy Johnson’s great blog Manic Street Preachers – A Critical Discography, a great repository for MSP fans, and well worth checking out.