Shortly after completing the main run of Talkin' Eds I began looking around my music collection for a follow-up. I was looking for something different this time - something... alternative?
In the end there were about three or four contenders - some local, some from overseas, and of the three Manic Street Preachers made the final cut. Job half done, I set about planning my journey through their discography - and that's where I came unstuck.
Unlike Iron Maiden, I don't have a long history with the Manics. And unlike the Chills I don't have what you could call a local affinity with them - I've never even been to Wales. Or outside London, for that matter. As a band they are still something of an unknown to me, although I first started properly listening to them around fifteen years ago (ouch). They struck me then as they still do now as a little difficult, particularly their early material. Serious - earnestly political lyrics, soaked in intellectual references that are far beyond my pretty mundane arts degree background, and to top it off, blatantly from a different background. They may be my age, but their political and cultural references are in many ways quite a different beast, and so attempting an objective overview of their material output - especially when there are some formidable and scholarly versions of this online elsewhere, seemed like a hiding to nothing.
And yet, at the final hurdle I took a step back and thought about my place as a listener, of the challenge to hear the meaning behind the music, and my reaction to the big events of their long history (the band is 21 years old now.) No matter how much of a challenge it might set, the history of the Manic takes in a lot of my interests over the same time - literature, history, UK culture, popular culture. Taken as a reactionary journal, how hard could it be?
I'm going to find out, anyway. The Manic Street Preachers released their second singles collection earlier this month, signalling an intended hiatus - perhaps a retirement of the group. Right now seems as good a time as any to begin their story (and mine) from the start.