Manic Street Preachers Gold Against The Soul
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Most bands, whether they admit to it or not, have certain aims when they first start out, both long and short term. These tend to fall into two categories; critical acclaim - the more credible route - and commercial success. When Welsh quartet Manic Street Preachers were finding their feet, the focus was very much on the latter, with the band stating that they would like their debut, Generation Terrorists to outsell Guns ‘N Roses multi-platinum Appetite For Destruction, leading to a three-night residence at Wembley Stadium before disbanding – going out in a blaze of glory. However, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. The album, despite spawning six singles and receiving much promotion, failed to make a telling impact on the mainstream. It certainly wasn’t a bad record – it just fell at the worst time possible, a time when stripped back, grungy music was taking over from the glam image and sound that the band portrayed. Maybe it was a sense of dissapointment that prompted the band to carry on, but one thing’s for certain, they’ve never looked back since. Immediately after this relative failure, however, the band (or more accurately, their record company) concentrated more on breaking into the American market, their second full length, Gold Against The Soul representing this effort. Since its release, the band have somewhat criticised their (or their record companies) motives while making the album, and have gone as far as to call it their weakest work. But while the big rock sounds and chart friendly vibes that are so popular in the USA are there for all to hear, this album still represents a strong body of work when judged both within and without context. The albums production is the most obvious sign of its aims, and indeed the shiny, polished sound suits the band quite a lot. James Dean Bradfield’s voice certainly shines more than on the previous record, while the quartet as a unit sound far tighter, with each respective instrument on offer making important and very audible contributions. The songwriting was also altered slightly to accommodate for this new target audience, with Richey Edwards’ and Nicky Wire’s lyrics becoming far less politically charged, and many of the songs keeping to simpler, more accessible structures than previously. From that description, it may sound like the band had lost the edge that made it so intriguing in the first place. This, however, is not the case, a point which is proven as early as around ten seconds into the fantastic opening track, Sleepflower. After a brief intro, the band bursts into a furious riff, which displays both their improvement as a unit and the benefits of the big production given to it. More to the point, it’s easy to understand why this has become a real favourite among the band’s more committed fans, as it is a truly fantastic song, and a brilliant start to the record. Symphony Of Tourette is a song with similar qualities, being mostly based around a dirty Guns N Roses-esque riff, which alone sounds far edgier and more energetic than anything from their debut. It’s not just the all-out rockers that benefit from the new approach, however, as many of the album's slower moments also stack among its highlights. Roses In The Hospital is an entirely melody based glam moment, complete with heavily overdubbed vocals, a big chorus and stadium ready drums. Yes, it sounds a little over the top and cheesy, but with such a strong melody these traits can surely be forgiven. Far more understated is La Tristesse Durera, a true anthem that features one of Nicky Wire’s greatest basslines and remains one of the bands best ever songs. Not everything can live up to the terrific standards set by such highlights; Yourself, for instance, never truly delivers on it’s dark early potential, and Drug Drug Druggy takes the band glam influences a little too far, but overall, this record, quality-wise is a success, and an improvement on its predecessor. It didn’t receive huge acclaim, but it sold respectively (though not even close to their ambitions) and was a hit among the band's existing fanbase. They would go on to far greater critical acclaim (The Holy Bible) as well as commercial success (Everything Must Go, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours), but ultimately, Gold Against The Soul is an excellent album which more than deserves to be held in the same regards as their more popular works. The band themselves may not like it, but from the perspective of this fan at least, it is their most underrated, and quite possibly strongest body of work.