The backstory of this album is almost as good as the album itself, which is saying something. The Holy Bible (1994) is not only a great album, but a snapshot in time due to the dramatic circumstances surrounding it.
The Manic Street Preachers broke significantly into public consciousness during a legendary interview with lyricist/rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. The interviewer was grilling the Manics on live TV about whether they were really sincere or just faking it. After the show, Edwards, who apparently felt sick of answering these questions, met with the interviewer backstage and pulled out a razor, carving the words "4 Real" into his forearm. Next stop? The hospital for 17 stitches. Next question, please.
For the Holy Bible (their 3rd proper album), the Manics (a four-piece: singer/guitarist, bass, drums, "rhythm guitarist"/lyricist) relied heavily on Edwards, a self-mutilating, anorexic drug addict and alcoholic. (I'm sure he was fun at parties.) Despite all that destructive behavior, his lyrics were the driving force behind the album, although he did not sing (that was singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, who primarily wrote the music). Edwards was also in charge of the band's visual presentation and their overall "manifesto," but onstage it was pretty obvious he wasn't playing -- sometimes they did not even plug his guitar in. Very odd.
But Edwards was pivotal to the band's edginess and balance. In and out of rehab in 1994, Edwards was back onstage pantomiming in the fall of 94, and the Manics prepared to travel to America for their first big chance to make a big impact there.
On February 1, 1995, Edwards checked out of the Embassy Hotel in London, and has not been seen since. Seriously. Yesterday was the 12-year anniversary of his disappearance, which came and went without a definitive answer as to what exactly happened to him. Did he commit suicide? His car was found two weeks after his disappearance near a bridge known as a favorite spot in London for people to kill themselves. Did he deliberately disappear, fed up of the life and failed rehabs? He took 200 pounds a day out of his bank account for two weeks (2800 pounds total) before his disappearance, and left no note; his family had the option to declare him legally dead in 2002 and declined to do so. And there have been numerous sightings of him over the years, none definitive, of course. Hmmm....
If this sounds interesting, you can get the synopsis here: http://www.richeyedwards.net/. Or by searching Richey Edwards. It's all very bizarre but completely fascinating.
But I digress. Regardless of what happened, it's pretty clear Edwards was in a bad place. This resulted (as it often does) in a great album, both lyrically and musically. Bradfield in particular matches the lyrical intensity with a great grunge-ish sound that much grittier than you would expect from a typical UK band of the time.
The sound overall is heavy, but is very grounded in pop sensibilities. Bradfield's voice is a compliment to the driving guitar and solid rhythm section. Sean Moore is an excellent drummer and his chops show through on the album. Think punk-pop with R-rated lyrics, a great groove throughout. I find no true transcendent single on the album, but it truly is a great album from front to back.
Now, you're probably saying: "Yeah, that sounds great. Why the hell haven't I heard of it?" The Holy Bible was released in 1994 to great fanfare in Europe and to very little attention in the US.
How big is this album in Europe, you say? In July 2005, the BBC conducted a number of polls celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the show "Newsnight," asking their viewers about things like albums, books, works of art, etc., that were their favorites. The top album? The Holy Bible. 2nd was OK Computer by Radiohead, and 3rd was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
Now that is high praise.
Now as for my Merch rating*: I paid $30 for the 10th Anniversary Edition of this album, which contained 2 mixes (UK and US) and a DVD, as well as extra tracks. This album is well worth that, and I'd suggest the US mix to listen to if you pick it up; the DVD is nice but the extras are better for a die-hard. Still totally worth it. I'd definitely go see them the next time they came in concert, but I think I'd draw the line there; I would not buy a t-shirt at the show. I would not buy their next album without listening to it first (see below).
Other albums: Everything Must Go (the album after this one) had much of the lyrical content written by Edwards before he left, and thus is the Manics other great album -- I will buy the 10th Anniversary Edition if it ever comes out in the US. These are the only 2 albums (IMHO) worth purchasing from the catalog -- it's pretty apparent that Feb. 1, 1995 was a huge turning point for the band. On the upslope side at the top of the hill is The Holy Bible, which represented a logical progression as the best of their first 3 albums and their most mature effort. On the downslope side at the top is Everything Must Go, released in 1996 (actually their best-selling album) and also brilliant. The albums that follow can't match it's intensity, intelligence, or insight: not their fault, they just really are a four-piece band who lost a member along the way.
I highly encourage you to listen to this one -- it is definitely a keeper!
*I'm not sure if I will make this my permanent rating system, but rather than going through the blah blah blah of 7.8, 4.5 stars, 18 Lucky Charms Marshmallows or some other system of arbitrary measure, let's just cut to the chase. Cold hard cash -- merch (merchandise) says it all, right?