Manic Street Preachers - National Treasures - The Complete Singles
"I know I believe in nothing but it is my nothing."
Where do you begin to comment on a band as respected and revered as Manic Street Preachers? What do you say? What can you say that hasn't already been said a thousand times before? You could go over the songs, their albums, one by one and rate the ones that have stayed the journey well, and the others that falter under the naivety and sentimentality that is one of the band's weaknesses - as well as one of their strengths. Because that's what the Manics are, a glorious assemblage of contradictions; the snarling punks who sang "I laughed when Lennon got shot" yet wrap their vitriolic lyrics in the beautiful cotton wool of vast, shimmering arrangements. Even naming their ultimate singles collection National Treasures is a cheeky two-finger salute to both their admirers and their critics. The band who claimed they wanted to burn out quick and fast are celebrating 25 years as one of the most significant bands in British music. And you just know they love it.
Ask the die-hard fan just what it is they love about Manic Street Preachers and one thing stands out. It's what Richey carved in his arm. The big tunes, the brilliant lyricism, the feather boas, the live shows, yes, yes. But the Manics are indeed 4REAL. "Libraries gave us power" from the masterpiece that is 'Design For Life' is etched into the edifice of the Cardiff Central Library. Their work, their music, their very essence, is similarly carved into our lives and in releasing this collection, a final nod, a wistful goodbye to the band they had been, they lay themselves open and vulnerable for all to see, exposing both the highs and lows of their colossal career. The Manics have never been shy of wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
The highs and lows are all here. To their immense credit the band have not edited out the stinkers. The Manics have always been unswervingly honest about their mistakes. But the epic fails are as endearing as the far more frequent successes. So along with gems such as 1991's 'Motown Junk' and 'Faster' from 1994's The Holy Bible, you have the well-meaning, but saccharin, 'Let Robeson Sing' from 2001's Know Your Enemy and James Dean Bradfield's Pebbles-and-Bam Bam duet with Cardigans vocalist Nina Persson in the clunky 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough' from Send Away The Tigers (2007).
Listening to the thirty-eight tracks, you hear their musical evolution. Reeling after the loss of Richey Edwards in 1995, they kept his memory alive yet continued without him, soldiering on and redefining their sound. They lost none of their anger nor their razor-sharp repartee, but some of the edges were smoothed off - the vocals sweeter, the melodies bigger. The boys from Generation Terrorists (1992) became the men of Everything Must Go (1996) and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (1998), with the classics 'Design For Life' and 'If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next': "Gravity keeps my head down / Or is it maybe shame / At being so young and being so vain." Both albums solidified their place in the upper echelons of rock royalty, winning not only overwhelming critical and commercial praise but just about every music award in existence.
One of the greatest ironies about Manic Street Preachers is that are a post-punk indie band obsessed with the concept of the 'hit single' and bassist/lyricist Nicky Wire has often expressed his disappointment when their singles failed to perform well in the charts. "The age of the rock/pop single is gone" declares Bradfield, and he may be right. Look at the charts and you will see them dominated with the vacuous tunes of day-glow big-throated pop sirens and pretty boy dance bands. It would seem no one wants to listen to singles that make you think. So while '(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love', their "last shot at mass communication" was one of the highlights of Postcards From A Young Man (2010), it nonetheless failed to burn up the charts, nor did the magnificent title track. When words as brilliant and moving as "I'll send you postcards every single day / Just to prove I still exist / This world will not impose its will / I will not give up and I will not give in" fail to inspire a generation of music listeners then you know we are in trouble, left with nothing but "radio Gaga".
The future of Manic Street Preachers is up in the air. After their final show at London's O2 Arena later this year they plan on taking an extended hiatus to reevaluate their status as a band. The very thought of life without their music narrating our lives is terrifying. "The Manics gave us power": let that be etched into your skin. No matter what happens, their legacy will continue, their music will always be ours: "We are not your sinners / Our voices are for real / We realised and won't be mourned / We gonna burn your deathmask uniforms...you love us." We do.