Some say that the single is dead as an art form but the Manic Street Preachers provide us with none less than thirty eight gems in a retrospective that revisits twenty years of past glories and remind us why the Welsh rockers may have become National Treasures.
Bursting onto the scene during the early nineties, James Dean Bradfield, Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore combined the retrospective glam punk of the New York Dolls with the intelligence of The Clash and the overblown rock of Gun N’ Roses.
Seemingly out of step with the period, the opening punk rock of Motown Junk is swiftly followed by several classics from Generation Terrorists, including the epic Motorcycle Emptiness with its commentary on the consumer society and the wonderfully cynical live favourite You Love Us.
Outsiders and dashed in eyeliner, the band’s grand statement that they would split after one album was thankfully never acted upon and despite Gold Against The Soul upping the ante with its heavy guitar riffs, the era found the band incorporating grooves into the anthem like tones of La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) and the melodic swing of Roses In The Hospital.
Elsewhere the radio friendly rock harmonies of From Despair To Where and Life Becoming A Landslide witness the troubled persona of Edwards come to the forefront.
That troubled darkness would manifest itself in the complexity of The Holy Bible, an album whose lyrics examined the very nature of human existence and its place in ordered society whilst referencing everyone from J. G. Ballard to Sylvia Path.
Awash with gothic bass and a new found barb wire guitar sound Faster remains an essential three minutes of existential angst whilst She Is Suffering is eerily magnificent in its claustrophobic atmosphere.
The tragic disappearance of Edwards may have proved the end for most groups but the Manics took solace from their experiences and staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock with Everything Must Go, equipped with its sonically streamlined string arrangements the song of the same name provided an essential and desperate adrenaline rush whilst the working class celebration of disillusionment found in the crashing drums and grand riffs of A Design For Life brought a wider audience and perhaps their greatest composition.
The grandeur continues on the atmospheric and ghostly If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, a song encompassing a lyric on the nature of the Spanish Civil War and would strangely top the singles chart whilst The Everlasting is truly epic in scope.
Amidst the big productions of this period are the introspective nature of Tsunami and the uplifting soul of Let Robeson Sing (an ode to the black American actor who found common ground with the mining communities of South Wales whilst falling foul of the U.S. Administration).
The decision to experiment with the icy gloss and synth sound of Life Blood with its New Order style production sound seemed to distance both fans and critics alike with There By The Grace of God hinting at the aforementioned influence whilst The Love of Richard Nixon is almost Depeche Mode in appearance.
This perhaps resulted in Send Away the Tigers which found a band regenerated and simply wanting to rock again. Beneath the retro punk formula and chant of Your Love Is Not Enough lies a truly epic pop record whilst the addition of Nina Persson from The Cardigans on vocals still seems nothing less than a masterstroke.
Also represented is the euphoric and slightly throwaway Autumn Song which finds Bradfield rediscover the guitar snarl from his Generation Terrorists days.
The return to form would be followed by Journal For Plague Lovers, an album culled from the last writings of Edwards and marks a semi-return to the darkly troubled territory of The Holy Bible. The decision to not release a single from the record results in the period being conspicious by its absence whilst one wonders if the inclusion of songs such as the beautifully crafted This Joke Sport Severed or the questioning cynicism of Jackie Collins Existential Question Time would have added an extra dimension to the closing arc of a mammoth greatest hits compilation.
Postcards from a Young Man finds a not so young group in reflective mode but still with bite and a statement to make, three excellently melodic singles include the anthem like swagger of Postcards of a Young Man and the longful yearning and pure pop sensibilities of Some kind of Nothingness.
Finally we have a cover of the Matt Johnson (The The) composition This Is The Day, which for all it’s harmonic quality seems to not only round off twenty years of music but is not so distant in character to the young outsiders heard on the opening Motown Junk.
Still searching, still essential. National Treasures indeed!
National Treasures is out now whilst the band will perform all thirty eight singles live at the O2 Arena on December 17th.