Picture yourself being in a band. But not just any band. One of the UK’s darkest, most rebellious and controversial bands; one with a strong message and the songs to go with. You release your masterpiece, probably your best record to date. It has it all: the raw distorted sound, the rough lyrics and all its elements blend perfectly. And with that, you make a name for yourself in the british rock community, so much so, the album seems to be one of the best heard by critics and fans around the kingdom.
Just a couple of months later, out of the blue, one of your bandmates disappears. He vanishes into thin air without a shred of mail or a single message to find his whereabouts. You look everywhere for him, go to the police, get any help you can get; but it's futile. He’s nowhere to be found. What do you do then as a band? If you are the Manic Street Preachers, you simply play through the pain and thrive, releasing one of the best álbums in Britpop.
It all started with Richey Edwards’ shocking disappearance. In february 1995, the day he and James Dean Bradfield had to travel to the US for a promotional tour of “The Holy Bible”, the Manics latest release, he was nowhere to be found. He had checked out of his hotel in London and made no contact with anyone. Two weeks later, his car was found in a service station near Severn Bridge in Bristol. Severn Bridge was a famous location for suicidal people. That is why some believe that Richey jumped off the bridge, regardless of countless quotes from Edwards and those closest to him, who believe suicide to be an impossible choice for him.
The band was a different issue. The path to take, be it dissolving or going through without their main lyricist, was unclear. James Dean Bradfield told Nick Wire and Sean Moore (as he explained to Ben Beaumont-Thomas in an interview for The Guardian): “Look, let’s get in a room together as a band rather than as friends, and see what the dynamic is like without Richey.” Later they got together and wrote their first song without Edwards.
“A Design For Life” was the first single released from “Everything Must Go”, and it showed a big change, an evolution perhaps in the band’s sound. After “The Holy Bible”, they were planning on letting aside the darkness they entailed and look for a bigger, anthemic sound; packed with strings and synths to go with. The song is “just working-class rage articulated” (as stated by Bradfield) and it was the beginning of their big break. They had been a bit of a cult band, or rather they had not entirely fit in the Britpop genre. Not that they wanted the label, but the songs just resonated with the entire movement. “Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier”, “Enola/Alone”, and “Kevin Carter” (which was one of Richey’s last songs) were pieces which attacked the way the US was eating the world away with globalization. Nothing short of what you’d expect from communists like the Manics.
Apart from that single that turned into a smashing hit, more of Edwards’ songs appeared on the record: “Removables”, “Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky” and “The Girl That Wanted To Be God” (which he co-wrote with Nick Wire) were the middle ground between the big anti-establishment new tracks and the introspective lyrics from the previous records, wrapped in music which went from nostalgic to upbeat and upright anthemic.
“Australia” and “Everything Must Go” were part of the band’s intent to make peace with Richey’s departure. The first one is a metaphor for Nick Wire’s need to escape from the emotional distress he had from his friend’s disappearance. He wanted to leave to the furthest place from his Wales home, which is Australia. On the other hand, “Everything Must Go” was a farewell letter and a kind of apology to both Richey and their fans, considering they were moving on.
“Everything Must Go” changed the Manics’ world. It was their big commercial break, packed with great songs that stood the test of time, which is probably the best tribute to their lost partner. However, Richey still lives on, through his friends and his music. And it is said that, even now, years after he was pronounce officially dead (his family allowed it in 2008); James, Nick and Sean leave an empty mic stand on stage in every gig they play, in case Richey decides to show up.
TXT: Alan Mealla