Ian MacDonald’s Revolution in the Head is probably one of the best books anyone has ever written on a musical subject. In it the late, great writer analyses every track The Beatles ever recorded in the studio, looking at the writing, recording, and many layers of context behind each of their 241 songs. When I got my copy, I followed MacDonald’s journey by reading along as I listened to the 200+ songs I had to hand in the order of their recording. The experience made the Beatles discography seem, if anything, more wonderful even as the book exposed the flaws and compromises – as well as the strengths and moments of true genius – behind the recordings.
Now, I’m no Ian MacDonald. But I am a huge Manic Street Preachers fan, and ever since I first read Revolution in the Head, I’ve felt that they are a band – perhaps the only band since the ’60s – to deserve the same kind of treatment. As with the Beatles, the Manics are a band who have attracted so much attention for their aesthetic, history and overall story that their actual music has been neglected; not just songs, but whole albums have collected dust while countless fly-by-night indie pretenders have column inches lavished upon them.
Without MacDonald’s huge experience and knowledge of musicology, my analysis cannot hope to be as deep and incisive as his. He also had the dubious advantage of being able to scour the recording archives to understand many intricate details of how the Fab Four actually put their songs to tape; that kind of information just isn’t available for the Manic Street Preachers. But with my new blog Manic Street Preachers: A Critical Discography, I’m working to do some degree of justice to the 259 songs they have recorded since 1988.
Right now I’m coming to the end of the tracklisting for Generation Terrorists, the Manics’ mammoth 18-song debut album released in 1992. For an explanation of the cataloguing system I’m using to make sense of the songs (heavily based on MacDonald’s) I’ve written a note on it; I’ll also be writing a special album essay to shed some light on the background behind each of the band’s ten full-length albums. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.