Everyone who is anyone loves the Manic Street Preachers

As their sardonically titled singles collection gears up, a legion of writers from Dan Hancox to Dorian Lynskey to Erol Alkan have written a "biography" of each single by the national treasures.


Words by: Charlie Jones

Glorious, entering middle-age band Manic Street Preachers have always enjoyed devotion from their fans, and their complete singles collection, sardonically called ‘National Treasures’, capitalises on this, with various writers and musicians adding a short story on each track, readable on their website. Here are a few favourites.

Motorcycle Emptiness, ‘Generation Terrorists’ 1992
“Google Map where they started out from and where they filmed this video and it says: We could not calculate directions between Blackwood, UK and Tokyo, Japan.’

If Google can’t calculate how the Manics got there, imagine how they felt. This was a band fuelled by an ambitious desire to make a mark on the world. To be more than anyone had ever given them credit for. With ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ everywhere on MTV in gyms, airports, bars and clubs, the video was a flag of victory. The song: a statement of occupation. A ballad with a meaningless but understandable title and a wailing lead guitar, the opposite of what people expected of them.

The singer James looks handsome in sunglasses and jacket. Richey looks stunning face on to camera and enigmatic talking to a tortoise. Black-eyed Nicky walks amongst the Japanese public like a giant punk rock panda and Sean shows the banal reality of rock and roll life flicking the TV channels from a hotel bed. The Newport Dolls had become a fixture on the favourite medium of writer Bret Easton Ellis. It’s the last great rock and roll video anyone bothered to watch. It’s a tribute to detachment.

They could do what they want now. The band had made it.”
James Brown (Champion of New Journalism, former NME writer, Loaded founder and sabotagetimes.com editor)

La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh), Gold Against The Soul 1993
“‘La Tristesse Durera’ soundtracked the end of many, many Dust Brothers sets. We played it when it first came out and it still never fails to rouse the people. It was at the heart of our sets at the Heavenly Sunday Social. Maybe it’s a surprising record for a club, but it truly stomps; it’s full of builds and drops, and a great bass part. What it really has is like all great dance records is that integral sense of transcendent melancholy. “Oh, the sadness will never go, will never go away, baby it’s here to stay” indeed.”
Ed Simons (The Chemical Brothers)

Faster, ‘The Holy Bible’ 1994
“God we were kids; kids – and the Manics were the most fun you could have with your eyeliner on. Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, London, Glasgow – everyone in town who properly dressed up would be there: girls in gloves, in a wedding dress, in hysterics. Boys in lipstick, in the mosh-pit – trying to sing “You love us like a holocaust” with the same heroically ridiculous, serious/not serious/deadly seriousnessness as the band. From above, on the balcony, a Manics gig looked earnest puppies in Barry M glitter nail-varnish. It was a Scrappy-Doo valiance in the face of the 20th century. In the face of their fake-fur, library-learned arseiness, your fist aimed unstoppably upwards, in an air-punch.

And then: Richey in rehab. Richey out of rehab. ‘Faster’ on Top of The Pops. Sickly green lights, fires burning on top of the speaker stacks. James in a balaclava with the ragged mouth-hole – looking like he’d bitten through a hand knitted gimp-mask as he walked on stage. And Richey: too too thin, in a sailor’s uniform, looking – in every respect you can think of – inappropriate for tea-time television.

‘Faster’ was faster – too fast. Much too fast. It was like watching the car in front of you on the motorway suddenly flip up into the air and spiral off, over the hard-shoulder, into the fields, as you listened out for the crash. “Too damn easy to cave in/Man kills everything.” No air-punching now. Terminal velocity. The point of impact. A fist aimed low, down, hard; at your throat.

Afterwards, the BBC reported a record number of complaints from viewers. I was amazed they could pick up the phone and speak. I couldn’t. Too fast.”
Caitlin Moran (author/columnist/critic)

A Design For Life, Everything Must Go 1996
“From its opening line, originally a declaration now a dire warning, it stirs the heart and the mind equally. Coruscating, elegiac, apocalyptic and tender. Music that comes from the spine. Music to move mountains with.”
– _Michael Sheen (actor)_

(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love Postcards From A Young Man 2010
“Love and war are the same thing, and stratagems and policy are as allowable in the one as in the other” Miguel De Cervantes

“The CD came through the post, I squirted it to the Ipod, clamped on the phones and took it out with me through the streets of a vibrant, sunlit city. This is the track I heard first, and I felt as joyously, emotionally engaged and possessed by a record as I have been in my life. Simply to survive the vicissitudes of fortune and fashion of the previous two decades would have been an achievement. But something as workaday and quotidian as ‘survival’ has never been the Manics way. They have never sounded more incendiary, more glorious, more relevant. They are not going gently into that good night.”
Stuart Maconie (writer and broadcaster)

Columbia will release Manic Street Preachers’ singles collection ‘National Treasures’ on the 31st October 2011

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