The band gained mainstream popularity in the UK in the mid-1990s and are known for their intelligent and often political lyrics and have a dedicated following. Although during the early part of their career they were regarded as a punk rock band, their music is now often generally regarded as alternative rock, due to changes in their sound.
Politically, the Manics appear as a socialist group — a stance inflected by their working class upbringing in Blackwood, Caerphilly, South Wales (they grew up during the miners' strike of the 1980s) as evidenced by their often highly politicised lyrics and actions (they once dedicated an award to Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers and later the Socialist Labour Party). The band also played a highly publicised gig in Cuba as guests of then President Fidel Castro.
The band continued as a three-piece, with Nicky switching from rhythm to bass guitar, and in 1989 they recorded their first single, "Suicide Alley". The cover was reminiscent of The Clash's first album (simply titled The Clash) and was photographed and designed by school friend Richey James Edwards. Edwards' contribution to the band was co-writing the lyrics with Wire, designing record sleeves and other artwork, miming guitar on stage, or playing at a relatively low volume (Edwards once said of his guitar playing, "I can play a bit, but compared to James I can't play at all") and driving the band to and from gigs.
At early gigs they were bottled and heckled from beginning to end. Bradfield and Wire hurled abuse at their audiences and tore through short sets similar to those of The Ramones famous "Twenty minutes of energy" gigs, a display of an odd punk rock style band/audience interaction that had been unheard of since the infamous riotous early gigs of Scotland's The Jesus and Mary Chain a few years earlier.
In 1990, they signed a deal with punk label Damaged Goods Records for one EP. The four track EP New Art Riot attracted as much media interest for its attacks on fellow musicians as for the actual music. With the help of Hall Or Nothing management, the Manics signed to indie label Heavenly Records. Their first single for the label - Motown Junk (released on January 21 1991) - showcased their iconoclastic ("I laughed when Lennon got shot") punk/metal influenced rock n' roll. The song also displayed their huge cultural scope with a Public Enemy-sampling intro and an outro sample of The Skids.
Over the next year, the Manics earned a wild reputation - much like that of Guns N' Roses or The Sex Pistols - as well as an extremely loyal fan base. In music press interviews they attacked bands like Slowdive (who Richey famously claimed they hated more than 'we hate Adolf Hitler'), Ride, and My Bloody Valentine, the crusty pop rockers (Carter USM, Senseless Things, Ned's Atomic Dustbin) as well as the dying Madchester movement (The Happy Mondays, The Farm, Stone Roses). The Manics' manifesto went as follows: release one album that would outsell Appetite for Destruction, tour the world, headline Wembley for three nights and then burn out. The band also planned to release their first LP in a sandpaper covered sleeve, as The Durutti Column had already done, so that their music would burn (or scratch) out with them. It was also designed to erode other records it was placed next to, a technique first used by Guy Debord with early editions of his book Memories.
Their love/hate relationship with the press, and their use of Sex Pistols style media manipulation tactics, was documented on their next Heavenly single, You Love Us. They again displayed their huge cultural scope; the single sampled Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima as well as Iggy Pop. The video featured Nicky in drag as Marilyn Monroe and contained visual references to Betty Blue and Aleister Crowley. In a now legendary interview with then New Musical Express journalist Steve Lamacq Richey carved the words "4 Real" into his arm with a razor blade to prove their sincerity. He was taken to hospital and received seventeen stitches. Shortly afterwards the band signed to Sony Records and began work on their debut album.
The second album, Gold Against the Soul, was released to mixed reviews but still performed well, reaching number eight in the UK album chart, and displayed a more grungy sound. The nature of the lyrics also changed, with Richey and Nicky eschewing their political fire for introspective melancholy. One track — "La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)" — is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh based on Theo van Gogh's remark after his brother's suicide: 'The sadness will last forever'. The band also disposed of their glam slut punk image, adopting in its stead a more mainstream hard rock look, and their venomous attacks, though Nicky would still slag off other bands at gigs.
Following what the band themselves described as "the most unfocused part of our career", Edwards's personal problems of self-mutilation, anorexia nervosa and alcoholism became worse and began to affect the other band members as well as himself. He was admitted into The Priory in 1994, a private mental clinic to overcome his problems, and the band played a few festivals as a three piece to pay for his treatment.
The group's next album, The Holy Bible, released in August, regained their critical acclaim but sold extremely poorly; it sold fewer copies than the previous albums and was not released at all in America, though an American mix of the album was in the can (and was released in Canada - it would later resurface as part of a 10th anniversary edition of the record). Despite this it is regarded by many as the band's magnum opus and is often voted onto lists of all time great albums. The album displayed yet another musical and aesthetic change for the band, the casual rock look was out and was replaced by army/navy uniforms, a look which began at the end of their last UK tour, but now took on a new meaning. Musically, the band were veering into a gothic take on traditional metal forms, with highly irregular melodies and ice-cold guitar riffs taking centre stage. It was a stark departure from their previous work, replacing the previously Tommy Vance friendly hard rock with gothic anti-rock, influenced by post punk and a reflection on the bands own musical taste at the time. In support of the album, the band appeared on Top of the Pops, performing first single "Faster". The performance was extremely controversial at the time, as the band were all dressed in army regalia, with Bradfield wearing a terrorist style balaclava. Some people mistook the band's intentions, and thought they were supporting Irish paramilitary groups. At the time, the band was told by the BBC that they had received the most complaints ever.
Months later, on February 1 1995, Richey James Edwards disappeared from the Embassy Hotel at Bayswater Road in London after checking out at 7:00am. His car was found abandoned February 14, 1995 at the Severn View service station near the Severn Bridge, which has since its construction acquired notoriety for being a suicide spot. He was never seen again, although unsubstantiated sightings have been common, so much so that the band have even kept a percentage of the royalties aside should Edwards ever return. Nonetheless, Edwards retains a special place in many fans' hearts. The band was put on hold for six months and calling it quits was seriously considered, but with the blessing of Edwards' family the other Manics went back to work. Their first musical appearance since Edwards' departure was recording a cover of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" for The Help Album, a charity effort in 1995 in support of aid efforts in war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina.
1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was just as successful across most of the world, and gave the band their first number one single in "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next". It was written about the Spanish Civil War and was inspired in equal parts by George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and The Clash's "Spanish Bombs". The album also included the hit singles "You Stole The Sun From My Heart", "Tsunami" and "The Everlasting".
In 2000 they released the limited edition single "The Masses Against The Classes", which takes its name from a quotation of 19th century Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone ("All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes"). Despite receiving little to no promotion, the record hit the number one position on the UK Singles chart. The record was a return to their more rock based roots and was well accepted by their old fans.
In 2001 they became the first popular western rock band to play in Cuba, (at the Karl Marx Theater) and met with president Fidel Castro. Their concert and trip to Cuba was documented and then released as a DVD entitled Louder than War.
In this concert they revealed many tracks from their sixth album Know Your Enemy, a much more eclectic album in the vein of London Calling or Sandinista! era Clash. The song "Ocean Spray" was written by James about his mother's battle with cancer (she died in 1999). The first singles from the album, "So Why So Sad" and "Found That Soul", were both released on the same day (at the time, many critics wrongly heralded this as a first, although it was soon discovered that, in fact, Lush were the first band to release two singles on the same day, a feat they had achieved seven years earlier in 1994). Other singles included "Let Robeson Sing". The latter song addressed an eight-year period beginning in 1950, when the U.S. State Department confiscated the passport of international concert singer Paul Robeson and, with it, his freedom to travel outside the U.S. (The clapping at the end of the song is taken from a recording of a concert he did on the telephone to a Welsh Miner's group).
The greatest hits (plus remixes) album Forever Delayed was released in 2002. It was controversial with fans who claimed that it did not reflect the band's greatest songs but instead only featured the songs that charted well (although a look at the chart entries for singles included and excluded reveals that this is not completely true either). The album included two brand new songs, "Door To The River" and "There By The Grace Of God" (which was released as a single).
An album of B-sides, rarities, and cover versions album was released in 2003 - Lipstick Traces - after a fan petition upon rumours of a greatest hits release began circulating. The album included the last song that was ever recorded when Edwards was still in the band, the previously unreleased "Judge Yr'self" that was intended to feature on the Judge Dredd movie soundtrack, as well as "Forever Delayed", a song the band had been playing at gigs throughout the year but had not been released.
A tenth anniversary edition of The Holy Bible was released on December 6 2004 which included a digitally remastered version of the original album, a rare U.S. mix and a DVD of live performances and extras including a band interview.
On April 19 2005, the band played their final gig on their Past-Present-Future tour - which was revealed during the gig to be their last for at least two years. To thank the fans for coming, the band released an EP entitled God Save the Manics with only around 300 EPs available and given out before the gig to fans. After all the copies were gone, the band made the EP available as a free download on their website. The track "Firefight" was debuted at gigs on the Past-Present-Future tour. The three tracks were later released on the Japanese release of Lipstick Traces.
In February 2006, the band contributed a cover version of "The Instrumental" to the album Still Unravished: A Tribute to the June Brides.
The band's eighth studio album, Send Away The Tigers was released on 7th May 2007 on Columbia Records. It entered the official UK album charts at #2. Fans and critics alike hailed the album as the bands best for a decade. The following tour was to confirm the band's renewed energy and sense of excitement and purpose. When promoting the album, the band reported that they had thought seriously about "what we do best, what creative peaks we've had, what it was we did to produce our moments of greatness". James added that fans "expect politics and they want amazing rock anthems". A free download of a song entitled "Underdogs" from the new album was made available through the Manic Street Preacher's website on 19 March, 2007. The first official single released from Send Away the Tigers was "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" which features Cardigans vocalist Nina Persson. The single charted in its debut week at #26 based on downloads alone before rising steeply to #2 - missing the top spot by only a "couple of thousand" sales The second single, "Autumn Song", reached #10. A third single, "Indian Summer", was released from the gold-selling "Send Away The Tigers" on 1st October. It entered the UK charts at #22.
On 5 February 2007 the band announced a major UK tour to begin in May. The gigs also included the now-traditional acoustic set by James Dean Bradfield. Support for the tour was provided by the Coventry band The Enemy, as well as Johnny Boy, Kids in Glass Houses, The Strange Death of Liberal England and Fear of Music. In support of the album the band also played summer festivals including WDR Rocknacht in Cologne, Germany (14 April), Rock Ness in Scotland (9-10 June), Greenfield festival in Switzerland (15 June), Hultsfred Festival (Sweden), the twin festivals of Hurricane and Southside in Germany (22-24 June), Glastonbury Festival in England (24 June), T4 on the Beach in Weston-super-Mare, England (22 July), Summer Sonic Festival in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan (11-12 August), V Festival in England (18 and 19 August), Tennent's Vital in Belfast (21 August) and Electric Picnic in Ireland (31 August - 2 September).
On 28 February 2008 the band was presented with the God Like Geniuses Award award at the NME Awards ceremony at the IndigO2, where they played 13 of their most popular songs. Immediately after the awards finished, the band headlined a special gig at the O2 Arena, which also featured Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Klaxons and The Cribs. Frontman of The Enemy, Tom Clarke, along with former Catatonia star Cerys Matthews guested during the set, featuring on "You Love Us" and "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" respectively. The band also played "Umbrella" for the first time. They follow the likes of The Clash, New Order, and last year's winners, Primal Scream, in receiving the award.
The band released a Christmas single on 1st December. "Ghost Of Christmas" was available as a free download on the official Manics website throughout December 2007 and January 2008.
The band are currently working on demos of new songs with Dave Eringa. In March, they demoed six songs in four days. Their next studio album, their ninth, will be their last under contract with Sony. James Dean Bradfield is said to be playing very "Holy-Bible-esque" riffs, wanting the next album to be "very heavy, very angular, very meaningful.
The Manics played at this years (2008) Reading and Leeds Festivals, headlining the NME/Radio 1 stage .
James' solo album, The Great Western was released in July 2006. It reached #22 in the UK. The sound of the album was inspired by, among others, Jeff Beck, Badfinger, Simple Minds and McCarthy. Two singles were released: That's No Way To Tell A Lie (#18) in July and then An English Gentleman (#31) in September. The latter is in remembrance of the first Manics manager Philip Hall, to whom The Holy Bible had been dedicated. James toured the album with a band that included Wayne Murray, who would subsequently play second guitar for Manics live performances. James' solo gigs featured covers of The Clash songs Clampdown and The Card Cheat, both from the album ''London Calling.
In a later interview, when the band were collectively asked what they had learnt from making a solo album, Sean Moore dryly quipped, "Not to do one".
In February 2008 the Manics covered Rihanna's hit song "Umbrella". Their version appeared on a CD titled NME Awards 2008 given away free with a special souvenir box set issue of the NME magazine, which went on sale 27th February. Additionally, the Manics' version of the song has been available on iTunes since 5th March Despite being chart eligible (it reached number 47 in the UK ), the release was not intended as an official single Two further versions (Acoustic and Grand Slam Mix) were later made available on iTunes and now comprise a three-track Umbrella EP. They performed this song as part of their set whilst supporting the Foo Fighters in June 2008.
Fellow Welshman John Cale has invited James Dean Bradfield to play at a Nico tribute he is directing at the Royal Festival Hall this autumn. James has said he intends to cover a song from The Marble Index.