Thursday, December 04, 2008

Number 22: Manic Street Preachers

Revol (Epic 6606862)

Chart debut:
13th August 1994

Writers:Richey James, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore

Even though I chose this one (and most of the rest of this chart too) a couple of years ago, now that the time comes to write this entry it's lent a certain unfortunate topicality by the recent news that Richard Edwards (Richey James) has now been officially declared dead, almost fourteen years after his disappearance, and thus at least twelve years after people started trying to read the runes of this album The Holy Bible as if it were a last will and testament.

Even without considering that element, it was always a difficult listen and remains so now. Indeed, it tells you something about the record as a whole that 'Revol' is almost light relief in the middle of it. There aren't a lot of laughs here (unless you join in the fan's favourite pastime of misconstruing James Dean Bradfield's unconventional diction) but on an album that also includes 'The Intense Humming Of Evil' and 'Archives Of Pain', a three-minute song with an identifiable riff and a chorus is quite an uplift.

Deciphering the lyrical content is a challenge, one that seems to have defeated even ostensible co-writer Nicky Wire. It's commonly understood as an analogy comparing romantic relationships and political revolution and finding them both doomed: the title is of course both the start of the words "revolution" and "revolt", and "lover" spelt backwards. The verses are short sharp shocks combining the names of political figures with peculiar sexual imagery ("Brezhnev - married into group sex/Gorbachev - celibate self-importance"). The chorus, meanwhile, is four repeats of the title followed by Bradfield barking (and, perhaps, slightly mispronouncing) "Lebensraum! [Living Space - a Nazi slogan] Kulturkampf! [Culture War - Bismarck] Raus Raus [get out!] Fila fila [get in line]". No English words there, of course, which was possibly not the easy route to radio play, but notice how this contrasts fascist-sounding slogans with the mostly Soviet figures in the first verse. Evidently, this isn't a partisan point being made.

None of the lyrical mystery I'm describing here conveys the sheer musical weirdness of this. Particularly to people who only became familiar with the band's work after their 1996 breakthrough, the notion that something like this could be considered a potential hit single is almost baffling. Even the band seem to have felt that way, virtually disowning the song soon after release, rarely performing it live and excluding it from their singles compilation. But the atypical structure is something I always find compelling, and despite (or even because of) the low-budget production it's one of the band's tightest recorded performances. As if to underline this, there's a remixed version intended for an abortive US release of the album. It's tougher and beefier in many ways, but somehow doesn't entirely capture the excitement of the original.

YouTube if you want to:
Official website:
Where to find it: It's not the sort of record to play every day, but THB is something of a must-have if only to savour the fact that somebody dared to make it. For a little bit extra there's an expanded anniversary edition featuring the complete US mix of the album, selected live versions and an 80-minute DVD. Speaking of DVDs, the promo also appears on the compilation Forever Delayed, although not on its CD equivalent.

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