Released: Columbia Records, 14 June 1993
Peak UK Chart Position: #8 (Silver Certification)
It is with some justification that Gold Against the Soul can be called the forgotten Manic Street Preachers album. Compared with the hype surrounding the debut album, the follow-up was not particularly anticipated in the press and for good reason; by reneging on their promise to sell millions and break up after Generation Terrorists, the Manics had lost a portion of their mystique. With GT the cat had come out of the bag; Gold Against the Soul represented the moment when the group needed to settle down, come up with new ideas and begin again.
Clearly the old sound would not cut it any longer. Drum machines, monstrous riffs and the whole glam punk arsenal was out of date in 1991 and ’92 – in the changed musical landscape of 1993, they would be laughably so. During the making of the first album, the Manics became aware of the emergence of American grunge bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. By 1993, grunge was the prevailing trend in rock music with an influence on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether by design or accident, grunge and to a lesser extent heavy metal would become significant influences on the Gold Against the Soul period in Manics history. Given the tremendous commercial success of grunge, this shift may have been part of what Bradfield described as going “under the corporate wing” and failing to resist “record company pressures”.
Because the new record was a conventional ten-song effort, there was time to focus more on individual tracks and this shows. Far more concise and consistent than Generation Terrorists, the second album feels like a much more coherent product. Working at Outside Studios in Checkendon, Oxfordshire with producer Dave Eringa, who had made the tea when ‘Motown Junk’ had been recorded, the band created far more textured and considered arrangements than before. Although crunching hard rock was still the main order of the day, the instrumental palette was broadened to include significant use of organ and strings. Drum machines, so integral to the sound of Generation Terrorists, were out – instead, Moore’s live drums were used throughout and often had a fairly flat, metallic sound which particularly suited songs like ‘Yourself’.
When it came to the lyrics and themes, the growing maturity of Edwards and Wire as songwriters was readily apparent. While the band had covered personal subjects since their outset – love songs being the only territory they refused to explore – this tendency grew on GATS. The increasing focus on the personal was exemplified in a particularly interesting way on those songs which focused around a particular character: these included ‘Yourself’, ‘Nostalgic Pushead’ and the infamous B-side ‘Patrick Bateman’. This technique, of expressing and confronting views through a kind of character study, was probably influenced by the band McCarthy, an enduring favourite of the Manics, who used it frequently.
After its release in June 1993, Gold Against the Soul proved to be a commercial success: it hit #8 on the UK chart, a significant improvement over its predecessor. Chart fortunes also improved in Japan, and the band charted in Germany for the first time. Critical reception was more mixed, however: significantly Stuart Bailie of NME awarded the album 6/10 and felt it was a “confusing record” which had “too much Slash and not enough burn”, referring to the continued influence on the band from Guns ‘N’ Roses. For their part, the band themselves have been very dismissive of the record, describing it as the lowest moment of their career.
While the three singles – ‘From Despair to Where’, ‘La Tristesse Durera’ and ‘Roses in the Hospital’ are commonly regarded by fans as classics, the rest of the album has never received enough attention. Not only is Gold Against the Soul a strong rock album, but it is also one which paves the way to the rest of the Manics discography.
1) [T43] ‘Sleepflower’
2) [A41] ‘From Despair to Where’
3) [A44] ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’
4) [T45] ‘Yourself’
5) [T46] ‘Life Becoming a Landslide’
6) [T47] ‘Drug Drug Druggy’
7) [A48] ‘Roses in the Hospital’
8) [T49] ‘Nostalgic Pushead’
9) [T50] ‘Symphony of Tourette’
10) [T51] ‘Gold Against the Soul’