How to Make Comrades and Alienate People
Guy Mankowski argues that it's worth investing time and effort on the lyrics of the Manic Street Preachers.
There's a school of thought which argues that Kylie Minogue's 'I Should Be So Lucky' says more about the nature of love than Morrissey's entire work. As a Manics fan I'm sometimes asked (inbetween Nicky Wire solo gigs in Mornington Crescent) if I feel their lyrics aren't 'pointlessly complicated just for the sake of it'. If everyone struggles to completely understand the ins and outs of 'Revol' (and even Nicky recently said he didn't understand the song 'at all') then doesn't this make their lyrics a bit of a waste of time?
Richey once claimed that he wanted to write 'in the abortion language of The Sun'. This was something he was particularly successful at in the early days, when each stanza had the sugary kick of a tabloid headline. He understood the importance of communicating to occupied England in a way that allowed him to get behind the acrylic curtains of suburbia and into the throats of the disenchanted housewives. By 'The Holy Bible' it seemed that the weight of intellect behind his words had led him to abandon these tabloid tools of mass persuasion in favour of the more dense strips of smouldering vitriol favoured on 'PCP'. But can the mass public draw much from lyrics that are so allusive and complex? Weren't those lyrics only ever going to be deeply relevant to the most dysfunctional and scholarly of Manics fans?
In a time where everything is palatable and polished with a suffocating sheen, everything refundable and every place accessible providing you leave your individuality and sense of truth with the moral guardian at the door; the answer has to be an emphatic 'no'. In an age where people assume and abandon identities on a whim, and oscillate between values and morals with no compass but their own instinct for pleasure, surely a band who demand the listener educate themselves, investigate the issues relating to a song and tussle with understanding a complex lyric sheet are a band to be cherished. A band who, if invested in, will offer insights into the squalid human condition that Johnny Borrell would never be able to pass on in between croissant trips to Primrose Hill. A band with a worldview identical to that of a whole generation, a generation whose sense of daily compromise has built their feelings of frustration almost beyond the point of articulacy. A band who write choruses designed to be accessible to every man, but whose words can only be properly understood with the help of an encyclopaedia referencing Mensa, Miller and Mailer. 'The Holy Bible' offers solutions to dealing with the injustices of modern life not in four-word choruses and catchy two-line verses, but in the shades and corners that only the most intricate pieces of art can offer. Its listeners are going to struggle to find much solace and empathy in the work of The Wombats.
There's still a certain pride in following a band whose first number one was concerned with the Spanish Civil war; whose masterpiece is often found at the top of listeners polls despite wielding the line 'more righteous than Hindleys crochet lectures'. This in itself suggests that many people still want to be challenged and exhilarated by music, or even have awkward questions about Americas foreign policy asked of them. The Manics recent chart placings suggest that discerning listeners still don't just want to be patronised by James Blunts insipid narcissism. They want to be provoked and inspired.
The argument that something is of questionable value because it is in some way inaccessible is symptomatic of a generation disinclined to better themselves. With 'The Holy Bible', the Manics put the bar just above our reach. In my view, that is where it always should be.
Guy Mankowski is lead singer of Alba Nova. They can be found at http://www.myspace.com/albanova