To understand the full significance of the 10th anniversary re-issue of The Holy Bible it is important to know some of the back story of the band who produced such an iconic album. Nobody knew quite what to make of the Manic Street Preachers when they first burst out of the Welsh Valleys and on to the British music scene in 1990. A self-confessed “mess of eyeliner and spray-paint”, the intrepid foursome preached class politics and personal angst while wearing blouses more suited to middle-aged women and playing music more typical of tight trousered poodle rockers. They strutted, swore and sloganeered to the delight of the jaded British journalists who devoted column after column to alternately lauding and lambasting the group, despite having heard little of their actual music. An incident of public self-mutilation by lyricist and guitarist Richey James (Edwards) made the tabloids but also hinted at the presence of a seriously troubled side to the man who was to become the band's main creative force and tragic icon.
Fast forward to 2004 and the Manic Street Preachers are still in existence but in a form that bears little resemblance to the 'generation terrorists' of the early nineties. These days the dress code is cream and beige, the music melodic and inoffensive. They've even had CGI bunnies in a video. Most noticeably there are now only three of them. On 1st February 1995 Richey left the hotel where he was staying and vanished. Two weeks later his car was found near the Severn Bridge, a notorious suicide spot. No body was ever found. The disappearance was the culmination of Richey's worsening alcoholism and depression, as in many ways was the album that preceded the event. Released in May 1994, The Holy Bible was an album that sounded like nothing else that had been done by the band or their contemporaries and is often considered the zenith of the Manics' artistic achievement. At the very least it was a hugely definitive release for the band whose signature lyrical fury was finally matched by music of the same harsh beauty and jarring honesty. Indeed in terms of subject content this was the Manics at their most unforgiving; each song being a vicious and erudite treatise on such social and personal ills as war, prostitution, American imperialism, the holocaust, anorexia and suicide. No bunnies then.
A striking thing about listening to The Holy Bible in 2004 is how timely it still sounds. Songs such as Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart have as much, if not more, resonance in these days of American interference in the Middle East as they did in the mid 90s. The hymns to self-destruction that are 4st 7lb and Die in the Summertime have lost none of their power to shock and sadden but also explain the workings of a depressed mind with a clarity that provides more insight than any number of TV specials or public lectures. References are made to everything from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Kate Moss. If the lyrics were written today perhaps there would be differences. Maybe Ian Huntley would be added to the list of serial killers who feature in the chorus of Archives of Pain, and Vladimir Putin would undoubtedly have to be added to his predecessors in Revol but overall the songs would remain the same. Neither has the album dated in terms of its music, probably because it sounded so out of time in the first place. Heavy, abrasive guitars and ominously rumbling bass lines combine with James Dean Bradfield's alternately staccato then howling vocals to create a sound that is dark, claustrophic and fraught with tangible frustration and anger. The vocals themselves are almost incomprehensible in places as James strives to enforce some sort of metre and melody upon James and Richey's tirades. Ten years later and it is still difficult to think of another album that captures such emotion in anything like the way The Holy Bible does. It has been described as unlistenably bleak but then the truth is not always easy and this is one album where the listener is challenged and confronted all the way.
The re-issued album comes in the form of a box set which also includes the previously unheard US mix of the album as well as a DVD featuring performances by the band and a 30 minute interview with remaining band members James, Sean and Nick. In this interview the band talk enthusiastically of the US version of the record (mixed by Tom Lord Alge, now better known for his work with high profile American bands such as Marilyn Manson) with James describing it as “a bit more radio friendly, but powerful”. Going through the album on a track by track basis the band declare their preferences for some of the US mixes above the familiar UK ones; especially first track Yes. As someone very familiar with the original album and listening to the alternative mixes for the first time I found it hard to share the band's opinions of the American version. It is certainly more rock, if not RAWK, with guitars and kick drum pushed high in the mix. However the overuse of guitar effects and the overall 'shininess' bestowed upon the songs serve to undermine the intensity and the uniqueness of the original versions. The Holy Bible's power is in its articulacy, both lyrically and musically speaking, and the bombast of the US mix misses this point. However it is interesting to hear such well known songs presented in such a different way and it's hard not to wonder how such a confrontational record might have fared Stateside had their publicity tour, and indeed all band activity, not been cancelled in the wake of Richey's disappearance.