‘No man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit’- Hegel
The autumnal release of the Manic Street Preachers’ eleventh album Rewind the Film in 2013, was another departure from the post-punk, glam rock of their 1992 album, Generation Terrorists. And with the release of the twenty year anniversary album in 2012, the Manics are surpassing the zeitgeist, again, as lyricist Nicky Wire fervently obliterated in his solo album I Killed the Zeitgeist.
The Manics have always surpassed the zeitgeist, as the 1990s musical genres of Rave, Electronica and Britpop attest. The 1990s saw a kind of introverted egocentricism with Nirvana’s In Utero and a narcissistic moment with Oasis’ Be Here Now. Although these bands follow different paths- Nirvana define the spirit of American grunge whilst Oasis define Britpop, both are indicative of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, which is of individual consciousness.
Although Britpop, it can be argued, is more subversive then the spray of Union Jacks which represent it, (Morrissey was seen draped in a Union Jack in Finsbury Park singing ‘The National Front Disco’, which echoed the sentiment in his song ‘We’ll Let You Know’: ‘We are the last truly British people you will ever know, you never, never want to know’), Britpop celebrated British culture. Whilst Morrissey has gained iconic status, Welsh band Manic Street Preachers were grouped together with bands such as Suede and Blur, who are less subversive musically and lyrically; the Manics are secondary in the Britpop ‘hierarchy’, they are an afterthought. Why is this? Why is an intelligent and musically inventive band regarded as simply an addition of Britpop?
The Manics’ early lyrics, particularly, although not exclusively, address socio-political concerns- ‘Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ explores Marxist capitalism and ‘Little Baby Nothing’, Anglo-American feminism. Therefore they surpassed the zeitgeist in terms of what Britpop seemed to represent. They were ambitious, but this ambitiousness and originality came at a price; the lyrics in ‘Faster’ from The Holy Bible reveal a competitiveness: ‘I am stronger than Mensa’, and on the surface, emulates the narcissism of Oasis, yet there is a lack of confidence when singer James Dean Bradfield spits out, ‘they call me primitive’. So there is a realisation that ambitions can never be met. And perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.