Manic Street Preachers - Back on track, for real

The Manic Street Preachers' new album showcases the lyrics of the unforgettable Richey Edwards, writes Elisa Bray

The Manic Street Preachers have long guarded the lyrics written by their lost fourth band member, Richey Edwards. Now, 14 years after the 27-year-old disappeared from the Embassy Hotel in London's Bayswater on the day before he was due to fly to America with vocalist and guitarist James Dean Bradfield for a promotional visit, they are releasing a new album consisting entirely of his lyrics, called Journal for Plague Lovers.

The decision to publish Edwards' lost lyrics must have been a tough one. But it is a fitting time: six months ago their lyricist and rhythm guitarist was officially declared dead, finally laying to rest one of rock's most enduring mysteries. Although his Vauxhall Cavalier was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge a fortnight after he first went missing, and his passport left behind in his Cardiff flat, Edwards has not been seen since and no searches have uncovered his remains.

In the weeks leading up to his disappearance in February 1995, Edwards gave personal items to his bandmates. To his co-lyricist on the band's early albums, bassist Nicky Wire, he gave a handful of notebooks containing his lyrics. Where the words were in prose, the band members edited them to lyrical form for use on the new album.

The lost verses are steeped in existential angst and Edwards' intellect. Self-harm, which manifested itself in Edwards' cutting, cigarette-stubbing and anorexia, bleed through the often violent and bloody imagery of the lyrics of Journal for Plague Lovers. "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach", continuing in the poetic format Edwards developed during the writing of the band's masterpiece, The Holy Bible, begins: "She'd walk on broken glass for love/ She thought burnt skin would please her lover." "This Joke Sport Severed" is imbued in imagery of "bone" and "skin", within three verses of finely crafted internal rhyme. "Facing Page: Top Left" references hospital visits and medication (Edwards checked himself into the Priory shortly after the 1994 release of The Holy Bible): "Private care. Sugar pills. The flak of healing./ Fragrance my escort of no meaning. This beauty here dipping neophobia." Though always dark, the lost verses are sprinkled with humour, too: "The Levi Jean has always been stronger than the Uzi" ("Peeled Apples").

Nicky Wire has said of the band's decision to use Edwards' lyrics after all this time: "The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them. The use of language is stunning and topics include La Grande Odalisque by Ingres, Marlon Brando, Giant Haystacks, celebrity, consumerism and dysmorphia, all reiterating the genius and intellect of Richard James Edwards".

Alongside Wire, Edwards created and represented the band's visual image: their striking, liberal use of eyeliner and spray-painted clothes, calling to mind punk bands the Clash and New York Dolls. It was this overtly attention-grabbing appearance that led journalist Steve Lamacq to question their commitment to their craft in an interview for the NME. In response, Edwards whipped out a razor blade and famously carved the words "4 Real" into his arm. The subsequent gory image of blood streaming down Edwards' forearm from the deep cuts, which required 17 stitches, went on to become one of the most iconic images in rock'n'roll. The band's early fans who bought their single "Suicide Is Painless", a version of the theme tune to television show M*A*S*H, were privy to the discussion as to whether the NME should publish the picture – the recorded conversation ended up as the single's B-side.

Of course, the interest generated by this public display of self-harm enhanced their career. But it was after Edwards' mysterious disappearance that Manic Street Preachers saw their greatest commercial successes – their 1996 album, Everything Must Go, with its five songs co-written by Edwards, reached No 2, and their next, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, was their first chart-topping album. Although they also stepped up their productivity, creating five albums since, Edwards' spirit has always remained at their side. Never forgotten, at gigs today they still conjure up his memory, dedicating songs in tribute to the legend.

Most poignant of all are the lyrics to the new album's 13th and final song, "William's Last Words": "Dreams, they leave and die"; "Cos I am really tired/ I'd love to go to sleep/ And wake up happy". Paired with gentle guitars, it's a sad and emotive farewell. It's the suicide note Richey Edwards never left behind.

'Journal for Plague Lovers' is released on 18 May on Columbia Records

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect