2. Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life

Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free.

The Manic Street Preachers are an interesting band. James Dean Bradfield sings with a sharp and powerful voice; he also plays the lead guitar and writes the music. You’d think he’d be the star, but the Preachers also have Nicky Wire and had Richey Edwards, tall, cute and skinny. Nicky can play bass but can’t sing and Richey couldn’t play rhythm guitar well but they wrote the lyrics and the fangirls loved them.

Richey4Real nicky

Here Richey has carved ‘”4REAL” into his arm with a razor blade and Nicky is wearing a dress with his feather boa on the mic stand. 

I can’t help but learn lyrics to songs. My brain forces me understand them, and the words to MSP songs are a level more interesting that just about anything else I listen to. E.g. from F.A.S.T.E.R.

I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

That is a change after listening to Lady Gaga go,

Po-po-po-poker face po-po-poker face.

[Although Poker Face is a deliciously robotic song.]

The Preachers are great live. Their concert DVD bringing in the year 2000 at Millennium Stadium is the best concert I’ve seen on TV. They played Cuba and met Castro and filmed that too.

They inspire amazing fandom. There’s a great band bio book by Simon Price, I know it is good because I inhaled it in a couple of days. The fandom is touched by tragedy. Like Lush they lost a member when Richey Edwards went missing in February of 1995 at a place noted for suicides. Unlike Lush they continued on but the band changed character the day Richey went missing.

My favourite album is The Holy Bible, with lots of Richey lyrics. However A Design for Life remains the classic Manic Street Preachers song for me. It is their comeback song after Richie’s death when they are asking themselves whether they should go on with it all or not. The song touches on proletariat power, the function of society and the Nazi death camps (“then work came and made us free”).

James Bradfield finally wrote a song you can yell along to while drinking a pint at the pub. Not only does the verse build up well to a belted chorus, the words of the chorus suit the pub environment:

We don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk. And we are not allowed to spend for we are told that this is the end.

When I watch the video I am touched by they way they play facing each other, in solidarity. They form three points of the compass with the fourth point vacant where Richey would have been.



Richey has remained missing. He was declared presumed dead in 2008.

The first time I remember listening closely to this song was on our honeymoon when we were staying in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. Jean was dozing and I was listening to the radio late at night and they were being interviewed. The band were friendly and lucid, keeping my attention while talking about Welsh music and playing live. A Design for Life came out of the radio and I sat fully focused on this amazing song coming out of the bedside clock radio. When I got back to Sydney I went out and bought their CDs.

I have a t-shirt of the band that says on the front “If you tolerate this your children will be next.” [From the song of the same name.] This is a quote from the Spanish Civil War, but I was once hassled for wearing it by a security man at Amazon.com. He wanted to know what I meant, and he was offended. Insecure people think it is criticizing whatever it is that they believe.

The MSP B-sides and cover versions are brilliant. For example, to show off their talent they released a cover of Rihanna’s Umbrella.


Next: 1. Elvis Costello – Oliver’s Army

Previous:  3. You Am I – Berlin Chair


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