Saturday, 16 April 2016

Everything Must Go - All The Tracks, Ranked!

In 1996, a band called the Manic Street Preachers released what many people assumed was their debut album, Everything Must Go.  It was a record that shot them to fame, won them Brit awards and made them one of Britain's most loved rock bands.  But it wasn't their debut album.  It was their fourth.

Everything Must Go rose out of the ashes of the Manics' past - the loss of lyricist Richey Edwards (missing since 1995, presumed dead), the bombastic statements, the tight, white jeans and thick, black eyeliner.  The truth was, this was a band who had already been through more image changes, more musical styles and more drama by the time Everything Must Go came out, than most bands do in their entire careers.  

In the twenty years since the album was released - to immediate critical acclaim - the musical landscape has changed dramatically.  But Everything Must Go is still considered a masterpiece and rightfully so.  

So, what better way to celebrate its twentieth anniversary than by ranking the tracks?!  

Tell me you're not THIS excited.
Actually, don't.

Now, before I start, let me make it plain: there is not a track on this album that I don't like.  To me, Everything Must Go is as close to perfect as it could possibly get.  So, the song at number twelve on this list isn't a bad song (in my eyes), it's just not as epic as some of the others.

With that in mind, let's get cracking...

12. Kevin Carter

Kevin Carter has so many good points - I mean, who doesn't love a Sean Moore trumpet solo (or a video in which he dramatically dies?!)?  It's catchy, it's stuffed full of those kind of lyrics that only Richey could possibly have written (he contributed to several songs on this album, prior to his disappearance) and it has some marvellous "ooh-ing" that you can't help but join in with.  

The trouble is, this is an album full of great songs.  One of them has to slot into last place in this chart and, for me, it's this one.  I've heard it live so many times that it's become a little predictable.

But I still bloody love it.

11. Removables

I literally can't reiterate enough: I LOVE EVERY SONG ON THIS ALBUM.  

Removables is another Richey lyric, so it pains me to put it low down in this list, because I'm an unashamed Richey-girl.  

This song could almost have been on The Holy Bible, with its crunchy guitars, shouty chorus and existential lyrics.  "Killed God, blood-soiled, skin dead again..."  But with that stroke of magic that he always brings to whatever he does, James Dean Bradfield has turned an angry, angsty song into something worthy of its place on a soaring, strangely euphoric-sounding album.  It's underrated - another reason I wish I could place it higher - and brilliant, but on an album with so many songs that make you feel like you're flying, this one just doesn't lift me up quite as high as others do.

10. Interiors (Song For Willem de Kooning)

I was torn about where this should go.  Should it go before Removables?  After Australia?  In the end, I stuck it in between.

There's something beautifully wistful about this song,  It looks to the future with new eyes, yet there's a sense of longing for the past.  It's powerful, in many ways it's incredibly raw and like everything on Everything Must Go, it smacks you in the face with emotion.  The bass line in the verses is worth a blog post all of its own; don't tell me that all Nicky Wire does is stand around, looking good in a skirt.

Although, he does do that, too...

9. Australia

Honestly, truly, I don't think ranking anything has ever been as hard as ranking the tracks on this album.  I'm listening to Australia right now and pretty much counting down the days until I see the Manics play this entire album in full, next month.


I mentioned earlier that this whole album has a "euphoric" sound and this song is no exception.  The sweeping chorus, the fantastic drum build-up at the end of the guitar solo (will Sean Moore ever get the credit he deserves for his musical genius?!) and the perfect backing vocals all add up to create something that borders on the spectacular.  Much like Kevin Carter, this is only so low down the list because I've seen the band live so many times, it's not as exciting as it used to be.

What a fantastic problem to have.

8.  Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier

One of my favourite album-openers of all time, Elvis... does something only the Manics could do.  It takes a casual swipe at American culture, via a cheap tribute act in a town in Lancashire.  Because of course it does.  This is the Manic Street Preachers, for crying out loud, what else did you expect?!

The sound of waves gently breaking on the shore, accompanied by a soft, almost dream-like harp opens the song, before it rips into guitars and drums and a sing-along tune to die for.

Why can't I just put all these tracks at number one?!

7. The Girl Who Wanted To Be God

Remember earlier, when I said that some songs on this album make you feel like you're flying?  This is the one I was thinking of, first and foremost.  The soaring strings over the chorus and the epic nature of the song in general made it my favourite song on the album, on first listen (many moons ago).  Having gotten into the Manics in a big way in 1999 (I'd liked them since 1996, but not enough to buy an album until '99), I loved that this song appeared to be referencing Sylvia Plath (I was a tortured teen, what can I say?!) and I would play it over and over, singing my heart out.

Something I just totally did at the age of 33 and loved every minute all over again.

6. Further Away

The band who swore they'd never write a love song did just that with this track.  And hey, if you're going to break a promise, you may as well break it in style.  This is a love song that is quintessentially Manics, with the vivid lyrics ("The stiller the oxygen the harder you breathe, the draining away, just like an old man's dreams"), the pounding drums and the chiming guitars.  I would lay money that many a Manics fan has played this song when they've been missing someone.

Being single, maybe I'll just have it on repeat until Dan and Phil get back from their American tour...

5. Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

Listen to The Holy Bible (the Manics' previous album) and you would be forgiven for believing that this band would never release a track that was backed by just an acoustic guitar and a harp, and on which James Dean Bradfield would sound heart-swellingly beautiful as he sang tear-jerking lyrics about animals in captivity.  But the Manics are a band full of surprises, as this genuinely gorgeous acoustic track on the middle of the album proves.

It's hard not to listen to Richey's lyrics about caged animals longing for freedom, without wondering whether he was really alluding to his own feelings of being trapped and wanting to escape.  But that's hindsight, for you.

All I know is that this is a song that still, after all these years, has the power to make me cry.  I spent a long time wanting "here chewing your tail is joy" as a tattoo (before settling on a different, much later Manics lyric, which I had inked on me for my 30th birthday).  This song is beautiful and if you listen to no other song on this list, at least click "play" on this one.

4. Everything Must Go

The title track was a brave move by the Manics.  A song about escaping their past and letting go of their troubled history, directly addressing the fans regarding their decision to carry on in the absence of Richey ("and I just hope that you can forgive us") is something lesser bands would have shied away from.  Not these guys.  All I can say is James, Nicky and Sean either have balls of steel or more honesty than any other band out there.

I suspect it's both.

What I know for sure is that this song, with its frankly majestic string section and emotive lyrics (not to mention the use of cherry blossom in the video) is a firm favourite of mine and always will be.  And of course, it's the song during which Kirstie and I will always sing "come and be my f*cking baby" over the final chords.

3. Enola/Alone

Let's play an exciting game that I like to call "WHY THE HELL WASN'T THIS A SINGLE?!"

Everything about this song is perfect.  The wistful, sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics, the chord progression, the vocals...  This would have stormed the charts, had the band decided to release it as a single, I have no doubt, whatsoever.  It's a pure shot of pop-rock that floods your veins with a strange kind of hopeful longing.  If it sounds like I'm gushing here, it's because I am.  I wish more people knew this song.  I wish more people understood the pain and the hard-won acceptance behind the lyrics.  I wish more people were awake right now, so I could rant at them...

2. No Surface All Feeling

I am going to need some emergency YouTube videos to help me cope with my tears, because damn.  

There aren't enough words to convey what I feel about this song.  If it sounds beautifully raw, it's because it's essentially a demo, recorded before Richey disappeared.  Yep, that's right; our boys ended their first album without Richey, with Richey (technically; Richey's lack of guitar-playing on almost all recorded Manics tracks is pretty legendary).  And they end the album with a song in which they sing about it being "no surface, but all feeling."  MY HEART HURTS.

Right at the end, there's an echoey drumbeat and a long guitar solo tacked on - that's the only bit added, post-Richey.  It's like a musical nod to the band's decision to carry on without him and the subtle difference in sound carries a weight that would break other bands.

This song is stunning, there is no other word for it.  The downbeat verses, the sudden crash of guitars into the power-chord laden chorus and the change of tempo that comes with it... Stunning.

If it wasn't for the presence of the greatest song in the freaking world being on this album, then this track would be number one all day long.


1. Design For Life

In every generation a slayer is born, a song comes along that everyone just knows.  Even if it's the only song by that band or artist, everyone knows it, whether they realise they know it or not.  For my generation, one of those pivotal songs was Design For Life.  Whether you're someone who takes the "we don't care about love, we only wanna get drunk" line literally, or a hardcore Manics fan who knows the true meaning behind this pop-rock classic, it doesn't really matter.  As soon as you hear that distinctive riff at the start, you know what's about to happen.

And what's going to happen, is you're going to have your socks rocked off.

There is nothing - nothing - more powerful at the end of a Manics gig, than hearing that opening refrain and seeing the look on James Dean Bradfield's face as he tells the audience "the second verse is yours," before you hear thousands of voices joining as one to sing back Nicky Wire's words to him.  Hands in the air, fists clenched, voices screeching until they're hoarse...  It's the moment you realise this isn't just a song.  It's an anthem.

You know how I said some songs on this album make you feel like you're flying.  This one bloody soars.

Drowned in strings, yet still laden with strong guitar, this is one of those songs that grabs you by the chest and doesn't let go, even after the last echoey drumbeat has sounded.  I will never, ever, ever stop loving this song.

Damn right.

Ranking these tracks has been much, much harder than I expected it to be.  And I can tell already that I'll come back to this blog and wish I'd changed the order, in places.  But for now, this is my Everything Must Go ranking, tell me yours.

Manics in-jokes for the win.

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