Manic Street Preachers
In November 2008, everyone signed up to the Manic Street Preachers Official Mailing List, received this bombshell e-mail from the band which immediately led to an unprecedented gold rush of excitement and hysteria amongst their loyal fanbase
No strangers to going against the grain, executing surprise musical volte-faces or challenging the rock n roll paradigm in turn, risking both their audience and commercial success to follow their instincts. For fans however, it was a very different story, as Journal For Plague Lovers immediately became the most-anticipated Manics album EVER! And soon after this statement had been issued, a MOJO Working article then unearthed even more details about the record. Including how Richey had left or bequeathed the group books of identical lyrics weeks before he went missing (a Pandoras box according to Nicky). Some song titles / lyrical references, that the trio were recording at Rockfield Studios in Wales, and how the sleeve would feature another original painting by artist Jenny Saville, creating a powerful symmetry with the acerbic, bludgeoning and sonically scarred rage of The Holy Bible. It also established that James main guitar influence was once again the late John McGeoch, and how Nicky and Richey had both wanted to work with anti-producer Steve Albini, as they were drawn to the visceral quality of In Utero. With Richey officially being declared Presumed Dead on November 23, 2008, at the request of his parents who also gave the band their blessings for this project. James reflected with typical candour to MOJO, For a long time, we thought nothing could be done with these books, except perhaps to put them out as journals. Then it clicked in our minds, that Richey had left us these books of identical lyrics as it was obvious that he wanted something done with them. Some of his writing was in prose and had to be edited, but it was all titled.
Interestingly, before work had even commenced on the album and it was still a pipe dream, Nicky's wish list included: Richeys lyrics, Steve Albini and Jenny Saville.
Just as Spring had sprung in 2009, news soon spread that the LP would contain 13 tracks and be released on May 18 (coincidentally, the anniversary of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis' death), through Columbia Records. A small editorial in the April issue of Q further divulged, While some of their contents appeared on 1996's Everything Must Go album, Wire says the folder included more than 30 sets of lyrics. The remaining writing stayed locked in the bassist's bedroom over the intervening years. I knew they were good because the titles were brilliant, says Wire, but I resisted reading the words. It was singer James Dean Bradfield who encouraged Wire to revisit Edwards' work, in the wake of the band's last album, 2007's more commercial sounding Send Away The Tigers. We wanted to be in a room with Richey again, says Bradfield. It sounds a bit sentimental but that's our right. Wire spent several months editing the lyrics. I felt a massive responsibility to do Richey justice, he says. It was like being a curator. The lyrics were like an ancient antiquity. It was before laptops and Richey used to carry a typewriter around. The finished album says Wire, has an overall tone of disillusionment. JDB also told Uncut, There were other things in the lyric booklet collages, quotes, etcetera so in a sense, Richey left us a visual demo of how he wanted the record to feel. Im just glad we followed through on what we imagined to be his wishes.
With talk of all the lyrics eventually being published in book form, in other interviews, Nicky has described Journal For Plague Lovers itself, as a piece of art, as an obelisk, as a pre-digital record, as the distillation of what the band started out as, as an artefact and as an album in splendid isolation as no singles have been taken from it. He even openly confessed to Q, I found the whole process very problematic, just because Richeys obviously not here to say anything about it. And unexpectedly to The Guardian, "I said, Let's just fucking dig a hole and bury it and make it even more of an art statement, say we've made this great album, but it's just too much to give away. James was like, After I've done all that work? Fuck off! Speaking to the NME about the LPs disquieting artwork (which also includes Richeys typed lyrics), a sleeve that initially ignited controversy and supermarkets chose to censor by placing it in a slipcase. Of Jenny Savilles verisimilitude painting, Stare, which depicts a young androgynous girl, Nicky pondered, I think it just coveys that sense of innocence as well as some kind of violence. Thats what the record is. At times, even though its dark and heavy, theres a sense of innocence and its quite uplifting, but theres always a sense of menace and threat in the background.
With Steve Albini preserving the purity of the songs, by reinforcing the three-pieces own stringent musical parameters (propelled by a melodic touch) and capturing the tension between fragile, sensitive emotion and raw, untamed physicality with traces of surreal humour also present in some of the pictorial lyrics and anguished imagery. An article in Hot Press noted, In Manics mythology, that notebook had taken on an almost talismanic significance; for the Holy Bible-ite subset among the bands fanbase it was close to a fetish object. But Bradfield insists its not a sequel. Well, you take the premise of the record, which is the lyrics obviously, he says, which stylistically were the same, but thematically I thought they were pretty different to the lyrics on The Holy Bible. Standing at a distance, The Holy Bible was what happens when your anger turns to disgust. Im talking on behalf of Richey really, but most peoples anger usually mutates into something much more comfortable. And at a distance, I can see the Rubicon, the crucial point for Richey was, What is disgust turned into? We especially Nicky faintly had the same process. But with Nick it turned into something much more engaged and trying to be more positive about things, whereas with Richey, anger turned into disgust which turned into flat-line doubt. And thats probably why we ended up where we are now.
For additional information, see John Nivens excellent Journal For Plague Lovers essay here. The superb, full-transcript of NMEs complete lyrics guide sample quote: Nicky, He wasnt looking for an Ivor Novello, was he, the boy. He was looking for a Pulitzer Prize. James, And strangely, Ive never thought about it, but he was never looking to be compared to any other lyricist. Plus the moving Channel 4 Documentary, Shadows & Words. The resolute group also played the album in its entirety between May and June, as a trio (the first time since 1995), followed by a second set featuring an assortment of greatest hits and curios from their back catalogue, as part of a very special, but emotionally-draining low-key 7 date UK Tour. Having just picked up a MOJO Maverick Award, put out a download JFPL Remix EP, opened Cardiff Central Library and even written a song for Shirley Bassey, they are now scheduled to begin work on the next MSP record after the Summer Festival Season, which is mooted for a 2010 release. And as Nicky has previously mentioned (who has even hinted at wanting to make another solo album in the interim), it will be a reaction to the last long player, by being joyful and probably celebrating the small things in life that make you happy."
So, at a time when the triumvirate of James, Nicky and Sean, have once again recast themselves in the venerable rock n roll pantheon and the world of literature, politics and art, with clarity of purpose, courage, maturity and a rarefied air. By releasing yet more exceptional, impassioned, didactic, versatile and inspired music, thats densely-packed with multiple layers of meaning, deep and weighty subject matter, works on many different levels, covers all emotional bases and makes you think. The ever-quotable Nicky, has answered a brand new Q&A for R*E*P*E*A*T, in which he discusses MSPs indomitable spirit, music, lyrics, inspirations, ideology, being cultural commentators, plus the apotheosis of Journal For Plague Lovers in the bands already rich heritage / songbook. And as we all know, theres nothing quite like the thrill of hearing new sounds and words from a group you truly love! Especially when they are your all-time favourite band and you consider that like most great albums, JFPL also has a remarkable story to tell! As Nicky succinctly put it, The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them. The use of language is stunning and topics include The Grande Odalisque by Ingres, Marlon Brando, Giant Haystacks, celebrity, consumerism and dysmorphia, all reiterating the genius and intellect of Richard James Edwards.
Inarguably completing a trilogy, by now joining the dots and linking three seminal works of art together: The Holy Bible. Everything Must Go . Journal For Plague Lovers. Of the endless press accolades and positive reviews JFPL has tallied up, Kerrang! wrote, A record that HAD to be made. With Uncuts ardent critique of the LP proposing, This is a brave, compelling record that stands shoulder to shoulder with the Manics best and provides a satisfying sense of closure. Although the group themselves, dont actually believe in the idea of closure, with Nicky admitting to The Irish Times, Its a weird thing to say, but weve never considered ourselves as being a three-piece; the original ethos of the band and the original people is still ingrained deeply in us all. Perhaps more suitably then, in summation, heres what Qs 5 Star review of Journal For Plague Lovers concluded, By breathing life into Richey Edwards own last words, his friends have crafted not a memorial, but a tribute.
1.Firstly, we hope your back is feeling better! To begin with, you
said that the Manic Street Preachers work best when you have A
Strong Concept but while making Journal For Plague Lovers,
was there a different vibe in the studio to that of working on previous
Generation Terrorists Naïve
Gold Against The Soul Confused
The Holy Bible Truthful
Everything Must Go Classic
This Is My Truth Sedate
Know Your Enemy Uneven
Send Away The Tigers Glorious
Journal For Plague Lovers Important
A very special thanks to Nicky, to Gill, Liz, Terri and Tom @ Hall or Nothing, and to the Manics Manager Martin, for all of their time and help. Stay Beautiful.
- Jon Savage