Just a tad overrated, and it’s easy to see why: the story around The Holy Bible is the stuff that makes for the most interesting of en.wikipedia pages. Not to mention the lyrics herein are the type that loves to be scrutinized by critics (rock ones, especially): prostitution, politics, anorexia, depression … who doesn’t love that sort of thing? But in our quest to elevate The Holy Bible to the cult classic it is now, we’ve forgotten the most important thing. The music. You know, the stuff that comes in albums.
As far as I’m concerned, the band’s strengths—the sheer crunch of some of the songs here and rather unorthodox melodies through either vocalist James Dean Bradfield’s logorrhoea or otherwise (I’ll explain later)—are exploited long before the album plays itself through. There are flashes of brilliance to be found otherwise; James Dean Bradfield phrasing a riff by bounding from staccato to legato on “Yes” is exactly the sort of mechanisms that drive great songs, ditto Nicky Wire’s bassline on “Archives of Pain,” and Sean Moore does more than what’s expected of him during the pre-choruses of both “4st 7lb” and “P.C.P.” But what’s left is an album that doesn’t really belong anywhere, and that’s exactly the reason why it fell out of the good graces of the public eye (despite climbing all the way to No. 6 on the UK charts, it sold much worse than either its two preceding albums or the two albums that followed). It’s too soft to be hard, too hard to be pop, too Welsh to be Britpop.
The lyrics? Well, frankly, half of them suck. I’ve never been particularly moved by Richey Edwards’ style—he’s far too obvious about what he wants to say (check out the second track’s title if you don’t believe me. Pretentious? Most definitely. And it isn’t even remotely clever or makes the slightest of sense once you’ve added spaces and have read the thing through; if you’re going to start with an if, then you might want a then). I mean, check it out! An unholy image (think the first victim from Se7en) on the cover of an album titled The Holy Bible! A picture disc with a hole in Jesus’s face! Clever, right? (No.) Meanwhile, there are two main reasons that I would sympathize if someone cut their wrists, either because they wanted to feel a rush of endorphins, or because it’s a statement of suicide, and cutting “4 REAL” (in)famously in the middle an interview with NME before the release of your debut album is neither.
His opening words on the album, spoken through mouthpiece James Dean Bradfield, are just as attention-seeking; “For sale? Dumb cunt same dumb questions” is a line that ironically has none of the staying power as the line that follows, “Virgins? Listen, all virgins are liars, honey,” despite having that concussive c-word. Meanwhile, Richey Edwards’ “politics” as seen on “IfWhiteAmericaIRefuseToTypeThisOut” makes it feel like he’s never set foot on American soil or even bothered to read about it. Namedropping the Big Mac and Brady Bill make it seem like his knowledge of American politics came from the British equivalent of Family Guy. Or maybe just Family Guy. On the other end of things, “P.C.P.” is far too proud of making a new acronym from its letters “P.C.P., a P.C. police/phyrric victory” to actually be clever. And if you truly, truly subscribe to Richey Edwards’ rather pathetic epiphany at the end of “Mausoleum” (“Life can be as important as death / But so mediocre when there’s no air, no light and no hope”) or choruses of “Die in the Summertime” (I want to die in the summertime”), I’d suggest taking some vitamins, getting a good’s night sleep, stepping outside. They have helplines for that sort of thing.
Note that I said it’s “a tad overrated,” which means that this is still good and without a doubt, Manic Street Preachers’ best. And even if the lyrics are bad sometimes, James Dean Bradfield sings them with enough of a melodic bend and conviction to make them work: the way he runs through “He’s a boy, you want a girl so tear off his cock / Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want” on “Yes,” the way he runs through a paragraph’s worth of lines in “Mausoleum” before finally giving us a hook (“Obliterates your meaning”) and repeats it enough to have it kick in your head, the way he shoots his voice up at the end of each verse in “Die in the Summertime,” the way he yells “P.C.P.,” shifts gears to singing “a P.C.” and shifts gears again to yell “police/phyrric victory” on “P.C.P.” And if nothing else, a handful of songs have a fairly remarkable chorus, ie. “IfWhiteAmerica” (complete with backing vocals to boot), “Of Walking Abortion” (especially the cries of “Shalom! Shalom!”), and “She is Suffering” are all good examples. “IfWhiteAmerica” also sports a nifty post-chorus the first time around (“Conservative say: there ain’t no black in the union jack / Democrat say: there ain’t enough white in the stars and stripes”), and I’m rather disappointed the band didn’t see fit to keep it the second time.
Note that I also only said that half of these lyrics suck, which by definition, means that half of them don’t. “4st 7lb” is the greatest thing the Manic Street Preachers have handed in. It’s in part because Richey Edwards knows what he’s talking about, having dealt with anorexia firsthand (the song title refers to the minimum weight that the average human can live on), and it’s not making stereotypical statements about America or silly insect metaphors as on the rest of the album. There’s no logorrhoea in the chorus. Instead, we have a rather simple and stunning phrase that also sports the album’s strongest melody, “I-I-I-I-I want to walk in the snow / And not leave a footprint” (note also, how Bradfield decides to enunciate “the” whereas most singers would’ve chosen “snow”). There’s no abstract concepts—Richey Edwards places you right in the center of the action by using generic names (“Karen says I’ve reached my target weight / Kate and Emma and Kristin know it’s fake”), but on further scrutiny, each one is a reference to an actual person. Kate Moss and Emma Belfour are models that have both dealt with anorexia and Kristen Krizanovich ran a weight loss colum for Sky magazine. Elsewhere, when Bradfield sings “Shockingly, I am Twiggy,” it’s not another ham-fisted line, but rather a reference to Leslie Lawson, another model dubbed Twiggy for obvious reasons.
But it’s not just the lyrics—the music is wonderful stuff too. Listen to the pre-chorus especially—underneath Sean Moore’s drums that shape themselves into a steady gallop, Richey Edwards churns out lines boosted by Bradfield’s melody,“Mother tries to choke me with roast beef / And sits savouring her sole ryvitta” (ryvitta is a low-fat bread), before Moore goes back into the background underneath Bradfield’s rematerialized guitar riff. Meanwhile, the second part of the song shows that the Manic Street Preachers don’t always have to rely on thecrunch, softening up with a ballad with Sean Moore embracing the upbeat (unaccented) qualities generally found in waltzes while more heavy-hitting lines are abound, “Self-worth scatters, self-esteem’s a bore,” “This discipline’s so rare so please applaud” and “I’ve finally come to understand life / Through staring blankly at my navel.”