No other record of the 90s was so steeped in tragedy yet so unbowed by its weight as Manic Street Preachers’ Everything Must Go, recorded in the wake of the disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards, who had defined their early tortured, intellectual, lipstick-rebel rock aesthetic.
It saw the band strip back the confrontational filth and fury of 1994’s bleak, corrosive The Holy Bible – an album thematically clogged and blackened by Edwards’ lyrics about prostitution, anorexia, suicide, self-harm, serial killers, US imperialism and the Holocaust – and imbue their grief with the dignity and grandeur it deserved.
Bereft of balaclava, hairspray or controversial slogan-wear, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore adopted casual attire and orchestral bombast to let the breeze blow through their desolate house. And the results, on their seminal 1996 fourth album, were nothing short of magnificent. The lyrics to totemic, operatic-pop first single A Design For Life, written by Wire, seemed a tribute to Richey’s legacy, covering the power of education, social conditioning and rampant alcoholism, and the album bristled and roared in his memory.
If Australia was Bradfield’s flag-waving rock escape anthem, Edwards’ words about a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who committed suicide after capturing a public execution in South Africa on Kevin Carter kept his essence front and centre.
And there were moving nods to Richey throughout: the title track, a message to fans that the Manics would be soldiering through the tragedy, mourned his disappearance with fire and passion, and his lyrical contributions were given the finest touches. Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky was swathed in cherubic harps and birdsong like a musical condolence card; The Girl Who Wanted To Be God was the album’s most transcendent pop blast.
The album now comes packaged with its associated B-sides, remixes, covers (Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Bright Eyes, Take The Skinheads Bowling), videos and a live DVD from the Nynex Arena in Manchester.
Everything Must Go was a monument, a bold salute and a defiant new design for the Manics’ lives. Though its success would divide their fanbase into old (obsessive, scarred, possessive) and new (no major parent issues, also liked The Verve, drove Mondeos) and drive the band down more insipid mainstream routes, it remains their towering achievement.