A review of Everything Must Go, the 5th Manic Street Preachers album, released in 1996
Everything Must Go is an astonishing achievement from a band who were, by their own admission, falling apart. In the year previous, the band's lyricist and spokesperson Richey Edwards disappeared after a slow decline into depression. Any other band would have disintegrated, and given that the Manics are a band formed through close childhood friendships, it was almost expected that it was the end for them. However, this is what makes Everything Must Go even more amazing - the fact that the band didn't give in, but went on to make one of the most defiantly successful albums in music.
Everything about the album, from its title to the front cover to the songs themselves, suggest a clean slate; the need to grow, move on and reinvent. Many pointed to this as the Manics forgetting Richey and ignoring his memory. However, Edwards' influence is everywhere in the album, both in lyrics he wrote before his disappearance and those written by remaining lyricist Nicky Wire. The Manics fought back in the only way they knew how; by creating the most powerful and emotional songs of their career, never veering into the traps of sugary sentimentalism that many bands who have lost members have fell victim to.
Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier may seem like an odd choice to open the album - it was never a single, and it certainly isn't the best song on the album. A Richey lyric, it's a bizarre, obtuse criticism of the Americanisation of Britain set to the colossal, monsterous rock song template that continues throughout the album. Following on is the song that triggered the reinvention of the band, A Design For Life. Undeniably moving, marrying both the band's working class aspirations and soaring musicality, it is the kind of song that you have to sit back and take in as you attempt to comprehend its power. Next is Kevin Carter, another Richey lyric. Here the music and lyrics work in perfect symmetry to create a distinctive, musically sophisticated number that most bands would kill to create.
The next two songs are arguably the first on the album that deal directly with Richey's disappearance. The first, Enola/Alone is a heartfelt lyric by Wire. A melodic and soaring track, James Dean Bradfield sounds painfully emotional as he sings of attempting to find a desire to live "no matter how miserable it is". The following title track has similar themes, as the lyrics plead for forgiveness. Whether this was directed at Richey, the listener, or both remains to be seen, and gives the song even more emotional power, like a punch in the guts.
Following on is another Richey lyric, Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky. Its gentle, acoustic nature is deceiving; a lyric inspired by the fate of caged animals, this track is breathtakingly beautiful and endlessy affecting. Next is The Girl Who Wanted To Be God, a co-written effort by Edwards and Wire. A twinkly guitar number inspired by Sylvia Plath, this kept up the tradition of literary references in Manics albums. The next track, Removables, is bizarrely abstract within the context of the album and strangely nonsensical. There is no trace of optimism here; easily explained when you realise it is a Richey lyric from 1994.
As the album reaches its conclusion, the last four songs are written by Wire alone. Australia is another track that captures the desire to escape, with surprisingly dark lyrics given its soaring, driving music. It almost feels as if it is taking off. Interiors (Song For Willem De Kooning) is a song inspired by a Dutch painter, yet still contains lyrics implying the need for forgetting through comfort and companionship, as the lyric states "take my hand together and we will cry". Given the circumstances, this is infinitely moving. Further Away is a first for the Manics - a love song. Despite this, it is not overly sentimental or sappy, and is of course a classic Manics rock song. Some things just never change.
The album closer is the monumental, gigantic-sounding No Surface All Feeling. Featuring Wire lamenting the band growing further apart and starting to live separately after being so close for years, it is perfect for the end of the album. A spectacular track, it seems to expand into a massive epic symphony before crashing down into a noisy mess of guitars which gradually fade out, leaving you to absorb what you've just heard.
Forget the history. Forget the controversy. Everything Must Go is an album that combines the best of the Manics and shows them at the peak of their commercial and critical success, and rightly so. Even without all the emotional weight behind it, this is a coherent album on its own. The band may have changed beyond recognition both musically and visually, but this albums reminds us why we should be glad they are still here at all.