21 years ago, the future looked uncertain for Manic Street Preachers. Principal lyricist and sometime guitarist Richey Edwards was missing, and it was unclear if the band would ever recover. But the band regrouped as a three-piece, and on May 20, 1996, as Manic Street Preachers fans across the country tore the wrapping off ‘Everything Must Go’, it was clear they’d tapped into something powerful in these anthemic, melodic rock songs. Debuting at Number Two on the charts (and since going triple platinum), the album elevated the band to the biggest stages – always part of their masterplan. Fusing soaring indie anthems with visceral political statements like no band before or since, the Manics’ sound unexpectedly crystallised in their darkest hour. It was this album, forged in sadness and loss, that made mainstream rockers of the cult band.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, as they did with fan favourite The Holy Bible in 2014, the Preachers are touring ‘Everything Must Go’ in full around Europe. Having performed in Birmingham over the weekend, the tour called in to Royal Albert Hall this week for a pair of dates (May 16 & 17), and NME was there to see it all happen.
They rattle through the album
If you were worried a concert playback of one album might mean less hits, then put your mind at rest. The Manics zipped through songs faster than a Nicky Wire costume change (this run of gigs feature a glitzy blazer, a swanky leather number and a cream sailor outfit, complete with hat). During these shows, the band seem in somewhat of a hurry.
What this means is you get a good deal more bang for your buck. The first set (‘Everything Must Go’ from start to finish) is followed by a greatest hits marathon crammed full of classic Manics tunes. This means ‘Generation Terrorists’-era rockers ‘You Love Us’ and ‘Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’, as well as arena sing-alongs ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’. There’s no room for new footie anthem ‘Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)’, apparently.
Nicky Wire is back to his scissor-kicking best
Hamstrung on The Holy Bible tour with knee problems, gangly bassist Nicky Wire wasn’t able to perform his usual acrobatic high-kicks. Thankfully those problems have been resolved, and at the Albert Hall he was back to his majestic best. Also a treat: Wire lampooning his own youthful pomposity when sharing a memory of how clever he thought he was after coming up with the song title ‘Enola/Alone’.
There are some treats for fans
Playing a 20 year old album in full inevitably means you’re going to hear some rarely performed tracks. ‘Removables’ is glorious and there’s a spine-tingling acoustic rendition of ‘Small Black Flowers In The Sky’ from James Dean Bradfield.
As for non-‘EMG’ rarities, a couple of covers steal the limelight. A version of Scottish new wavers Fiction Factory’s ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’ is an unexpected gem, and on the second of the two nights at Royal Albert Hall there’s even room for their reimagining of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ – the first piece of music recorded after Edwards’ disappearance.
It highlights the difference between ‘The Holy Bible’ and ‘Everything Must Go’
It’s true that the anniversary section of the show feels a bit underwhelming when compared to the far more poignant ‘Holy Bible’ shows from two years ago. But it’s still exciting to see some rarities given a good airing out after so long, and ‘Everything Must Go’ is certainly no dud when it comes to cracking tunes. The five tracks which feature Edwards’ lyrics – ‘Elvis Impersonator’, ‘Kevin Carter’, ‘Small Black Flowers’, ‘The Girl That Wanted To Be Good’ and ‘Removables’ – certainly cast a more sinister shadow over proceedings. And even though the night is mostly a celebration of the Manics’ second great period, the presence of their long-missing lyricist is also keenly felt. It just reinforces how much of a departure ‘Everything Must Go’ was from their previous material.
You’d forgotten how good this song is
The highlight of the night though has to be ‘The Girl Who Wanted to Be God’. Rarely played live (you can only get so many ‘EMG’ bangers in), its opening jagged riff and euphoric strings-synths mix is enough to get fans dancing on the ceiling.
In one of few breaks during the performance, Bradfield thanks the crowd for “sharing the memories with us. We hope we didn’t ruin them for you.” And that’s the real risk with retrospective shows like these. Thankfully, in this case, there isn’t anything to be worried about.