I must admit, I was initially sceptical when the Manics announced they would be touring their hugely successful 1996 LP Everything Must Go in celebration of it’s 20th anniversary. They’re rarely the sort of band to revel in nostalgia, often taking awkward sideways steps in favour of resting on their past glories, such as in the intense politics of 2001’s Know Your Enemy and the Krautrock inspired grooves on their latest album, Futurology. When they reappraised their bleak masterwork The Holy Bible in 2014, this was more understandable, given its status as more of a niche cult classic than a big-selling hit.
But, it’s difficult to be cynical in amongst the sheer glory of this (sort of) homecoming celebration. And most importantly of all, Everything Must Go still sounds fantastic. Over 20 years, it has never lost its uniquely melancholic charm, marrying intelligence and sadness, in the aftermath of original guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards’ disappearance in 1995, with a defiant spirit and stadium-sized melodies – all of which is demonstrated on the breezy opener, Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier. Its instantly chant-able refrain of “It’s so fucking funny / don’t you know?” prepares the 20,000 strong crowd for the epic sing-along of the endlessly sublime A Design For Life.
But the big hit single being so close to the front of the set isn’t a risk in the case of Everything Must Go, as the album is impressively stacked with classic after classic. From the glossy singles Kevin Carter and Australia, through to the spiky Interiors (Song for Willem De Kooning), the bittersweet Enola/Alone and the pure euphoria of The Girl Who Wanted To Be God, there isn’t a single track that has aged disgracefully. Even the more brooding, Richey – penned Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky and Removeables are joyously chanted back to the band. This serves as a reminder of how subversive the album was and continues to be – infiltrating the boozy Britpop mainstream of 90s Britain with songs about working class identity, the suicide of a war photographer, Alzheimer’s disease and animal cruelty. Here is a band not simply celebrating their own success, but celebrating a truly classic record.
The anthemic No Surface All Feeling rounds things off to a touching close in a shower of red, white and green confetti. At this point, ‘cynicism’ has lost all it’s meaning. “What’s the point in always looking back / when all you see is more and more junk?” Not this time.
Before the band return for the second set, frontman James Dean Bradfield takes to the stage for an acoustic double whammy of Ocean Spray and – in the loudest singalong of the night – Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Before long, bassist Nicky Wire, after his second costume change of the night, and drummer Sean Moore return to kick off the second half of the night with the evergreen Motorcycle Emptiness. So evergreen, in fact, that not even the “fucking Welsh rain”, as Wire puts it, can dampen the euphoria.
Although it’s brimming with hits, the second set comes off as something of a missed opportunity for the Manics to dust off a few more underplayed gems, considering their promise of ‘curious and b-sides’. Sure, we’re treated with the endearingly cheesy C’mon Wales (Together Stronger), their Welsh anthem for Euro 2016, and the underrated Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds from Generation Terrorists (1992), which contains possibly the most weirdly anthemic chorus in the history of pop. But surely the comparatively tame likes of You Stole The Sun From My Heart and Your Love Alone Is Not Enough could have been left out – just this once – in favour of a classic EMG-era b-side like Mr Carbohydrate, or a fan favourite like Sleepflower? And come on, where was Motown Junk??
Nitpicking aside, this was a truly glorious gig to honour a truly glorious album, coming to an end with, as you might expect, a fireworks display to the strains of If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. While the Manics might revel in nostalgia, I think we can let them off just this once. They deserve it.
The 20th anniversary reissue of Everything Must Go is available now.
Words by Matthew Smith