MANIC STREET PREACHERS, Roundhouse – Evening Standard, 16 Dec 2014

Unlike all the other bands reviving albums with track-by-track gigs, Manic Street Preachers have little reason to feel warmly about The Holy Bible. Their harrowing third release is now 20 years old, an anniversary to commemorate like a death in the family, not a cause for celebration.

The album’s chief lyricist, Richey Edwards, plunged to a low ebb at this time, writing songs that covered anorexia, suicide and the Holocaust. A few months later he disappeared, and years later was legally declared dead.

The remaining three band members survived and succeeded commercially, most notably with A Design for Life, which was an especially euphoric encore here given what had preceded it. But time has only strengthened the feeling that The Holy Bible was their artistic high point. Amid the knees-up cheeriness of Britpop, here was serious rock music with real weight.

It would have been a struggle to perform even if James Dean Bradfield hadn’t been ill. “I have officially caught the Christmas bug,” he apologised, after audibly straining to reach some notes. He worked wonders with Edwards’s stark, horrifying words, seemingly put down with little regard for how they might fit into a song structure.

The band donned the military uniforms they sported back in 1994 and draped the stage in camouflage netting. The lights stayed boiling red as they took on the mean grind of Mausoleum and Of Walking Abortion’s grim churn.

But despite the fleshy cover and the desolate content, this isn’t an album that repels. Edwards’s hopeless mindstate crafted the words, not the music, so there was a punky exhilaration to Revol and a softer prettiness to This Is Yesterday. A second half including songs from their excellent latest album, Futurology, proved that this is a band that doesn’t need to look back. But for catharsis, not nostalgia, this was a worthwhile endeavour.

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