Manic Street Preachers’ opening salvo 25 years ago was “we destroy rock’n’roll”. These days, they are more likely to be found conforming to slick arena rock convention, including the decision to mark the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough album Everything Must Go by revisiting it in full on tour.
Manic Street Preachers | Rating: *** | Hydro, Glasgow
They have already been down this road with its predecessor The Holy Bible, the claustrophobic cult classic which remains a fan favourite. It’s not every band who could justify commemorating a second album in this way, but Everything Must Go is also a worthy cause for celebration, being the watershed album which marked the Manics’ transition from cult concern to commercial contenders.
For all The Holy Bible’s cachet, Everything Must Go is year zero where a whole new generation of Manics fans are concerned. The dense post-punk angst gave way to big, bold, even bombastic choruses and lavish string arrangements while retaining a dark heart. This was the last of their albums to feature the fingerprints of guitarist Richey Edwards who had gone missing a year earlier, leaving them lyrics about kamikaze pilots, suicidal photographers and interior designers suffering from dementia. As bassist Nicky Wire sardonically reminded the crowd, “in those days, you could sell a million records talking about shit like this”.
However, their decision to perform the album in sequence meant that their traditional majestic set-closer A Design for Life was dispensed with in the first ten minutes. Where to go from there? Everything Must Go is the Manics’ most consistent collection, so there was plenty more swelling choruses where that came from, such as the anthemic title track and the inexorable pull of Kevin Carter. With its glorious trumpet break, it must be the catchiest song ever about an award-winning photojournalist who took his own life.
The sound mix didn’t particularly favour the finer points of the arrangements, often delivering a wall of drums rather than a wall of sound, so Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky provided a welcome dose of delicacy with just acoustic guitar, glistening keyboard and one of the most bittersweet melodies in their catalogue.
Respect paid, the second half of the concert attested to the wider range of the Manics’ music over the last quarter century, from the prescient punk of Natwest Barclays Midlands Lloyds to the considerably more manicured likes of their “wedding reception number” Show Me The Wonder.
The noble Motorcycle Emptiness confirmed they always had anthemic tendencies, even in their earliest years, while If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next showcased their knack for combining a smooth, stirring chorus with a disturbing lyric.
Their maverick streak surfaced instead in their oddball choice of covers – old favourites such as Suicide Is Painless and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and, later in the set, a faithful rendering of Fiction Factory’s almost-forgotten one-hit wonder Feels Like Heaven. In all sorts of ways, the Manics really know their stuff.