Remasters are a minefield onto which few artists willingly stray, but Manic Street Preachers have never been ones to avoid controversy. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band’s breakthrough album Everything Must Go, the Blackwood trio return with a box set of remastered tracks and the epic guitar riffs that once catapulted them onto daytime TV.
Cynics will have already cursed the financial motives of the band’s label, Sony, but hang in there. Manic Street Preachers have a long history of reinventing the wheel, and a healthy dose of perspective that means they’re not half bad at it. A sometimes forgotten Britpop classic with dark, poignant intellect, Everything Must Go is deserving of the limelight in a year that’s already seen Radiohead manipulate the entire internet and Blur being, well, Blur.
In honor of the reissue, out today, we rank the songs on Everything Must Go.
12. “The Girl Who Wanted to Be God”
A classic rock song from a band that previously avoided following one iota of convention, “The Girl Who Wanted to Be God” has been lost to MSP textbooks, and maybe for good reason. The track has all the bombast of Generation Terrorist’s anti-establishment anthem, “Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds,” had it been written by an overly sensitive lawyer. On the release of Everything Must Go, fans moved away from “The Girl Who Wanted to Be God” quicker than dog poo on a hot day, and we can’t say we blame them.
11. “Further Away”
“Further Away” has its moments when it comes to crashing drums and intergalactic guitar solos, but it pales in comparison to its more socio-political brothers and sisters on Everything Must Go. The band itself admits this is a nonsensical song, as much about having fun and letting loose in the studio as anything else. Most ‘90s acts would have considered it a hit, but from a band that only two years prior scared your nan stupid by wearing balaclavas on Top of the Pops, it’s disappointing to say the least.
10. “Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning)”
As ‘90s as they come, “Interiors (Song for William de Kooning)” opens with megaphone distortion that explodes into descending riff carnage. It’s only this low on the list because the rest of Everything Must Go is so good. THe song is a fearless attack on the charts from a band still content on sticking it to the man. Willem de Kooning, the song’s namesake, was an abstract impressionist whose work now sells for millions of dollars. In true MSP style, and despite its pop sound, “Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning)” is a direct attack on consumerism polluting artistic vision.
One of several songs on Everything Must Go to deal with the Americanization of the U.K., “Enola/Alone” discusses the isolation of following pop culture from your bedroom and the work of French philosopher, Roland Barthes. So-say inspired poeticism (“I walk in the grace, and I feel some peace at last”) means staunch MSP fans turned their nose up at this effort, but upon the album’s release the song still received significant airplay despite its non-single status.
8. “No Surface All Feeling”
The closing track from_ Everything Must Go_, “No Surface All Feeling” draws comparison to ‘90s peers Radiohead in guitar riff, but is in fact, technically the most traditional MSP song—missing guitarist Richey Edwards recorded parts of the guitar before his disappearance in 1995. Conversely the song also hints at the direction MSP would take on the even more commercial This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in 1998.
Separate from the rest of Everything Must Go in that it is grunge in sound, “Removables” takes two steps backwards towards the instrumentation that flooded sophomore album Gold for the Soul, and the more gritty lyricism of follow up The Holy Bible, courtesy of departed guitarist Edwards. MSP broke uncovered ground for the track, but despite its innovation it failed to ignite much interest from fans or the band themselves.
6. “Everything Must Go”
The titular track, “Everything Must Go” embodies the album as a whole It’s a seemingly straightforward rock album that nevertheless echoes much larger, introspective issues. Dubbed by some as the politically correct version of “Yes” (the opening track from their preceding album The Holy Bible, which notoriously saw the band blacklisted from BBC Radio One) it reached Number 5 in the UK Singles Chart and is considered to be MSP’s phoenix anthem.
5. “Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky”
Touching not just in terms of content, but that it features at all, “Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky” is the only Richey Edwards-penned track on Everything Must Go_ following the guitarist’s disappearance in 1995 shortly before the album was recorded. Although elsewhere the album touches on themes of desolation and worthlessness, “Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky” is by far the most depressive track on the full length and is delicately handled by remaining members James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Shaun Moore.
4. “A Design for Life”
A huge radio hit for the band, “A Design for Life” is at its most basic a sarcastic ode to everyone who thinks a good life routine is eat, work, pub. Ironically, it’s a point that’s often lost to the casual MSP fans who sing the song as they stumble home at 2am from the local bar. Dive deeper into the meaning behind the song, and there are links to be drawn with MSP’s more outwardly intellectual work: socialism, class identity, and the war on aristocracy all feature heavily. Plus, Pedro Romhanyi’s accompanying video makes it even clearer.
3. “Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier”
The opening track of Everything Must Go immediately introduces the listener to the “new” MSP. In it, a crisp acoustic guitar line leads into a harp and slick electric riff, while frontman James Dean Bradfield’s vocals assume a more controlled presence. Fans of previous album The Holy Bible may have spat out their lukewarm pop tarts at the transformation, had it not been for the song’s cutting message that American pop culture in the U.K. is as crude as it is tired.
A song about escaping life in Wales to take drugs on the other side of the world, “Australia” has been used by tourist boards and travel agents to promote the holiday destination since its release as a single in December 1996. The irony behind this marketing blunder is not, however, the reason the song deserves second place on this list. With an inarguably catchy melody, the lyrics indirectly reference the disappearance of MSP guitarist Richey Edwards, as songwriter and bassist Nicky Wire admits he wants to “fly and run till it hurts” to avoid the fallout.
1. “Kevin Carter”
Possibly the most obvious reference point on Everything Must Go, “Kevin Carter” takes its name from the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist and Bang-Bang Club member. Scarred by the horror that he had witnessed through his work, most notably during the Sudanese famine in 1993, Carter infamously took his own life the following year, or as the band put it, “clicked himself under.” “Kevin Carter” is an excellent example of MSP disguising a deeply political and emotive message behind Britpop friendly guitar riffs, in doing so appealing to a much larger audience than previous protest songs.