Released on: Faster / P.C.P. (Single #13) Epic Records, 6 June 1994
Peak UK Chart Position: #16
Band Ranking: #1
Also on: The Holy Bible (Album #3) Epic Records, 29 August 1994
For most Manic Street Preachers listeners, ‘Faster’ should need no introduction. Ranked by the band as their finest ever single, centrepiece of their most acclaimed album The Holy Bible, focus of the most controversial Top of the Pops appearance ever, and described by NME as “one of the most exhilarating pop singles of all time”, the song is always preceded by its immense reputation.
It is easy to forget, especially given the relatively uncommercial nature of the song, that it was also released as part of a single and as such was the first chance anyone had to hear something from The Holy Bible, the record which was to become widely regarded as the band’s best and certainly the most harrowing. Preceded only by the fairly scattershot Life Becoming a Landslide EP released in February 1994 (which contained only one song which hinted at what was to come), the Faster/P.C.P. double A-side single represented a huge shift from the band’s previously stadium-ready sound. Going “under the corporate wing” was out; scathing, self-lacerating lyrics and incendiary, back-to-basics post-punk was in. It surely cannot have been lost on the band that the date of the single’s release – June 6th, 1994 – was the fiftieth anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. For the band, who had switched their laid-back hard rock clothes for a rag-tag military aesthetic Keith Cameron described as “underdog spirit, individual ego subservient to the collective good”, it was their own D-Day.
Opening with a quote spoken by John Hurt in the film version of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (the single of course being released ten years after the year in which Orwell set his dystopian novel), ‘Faster’ immediately makes apparent the dark subject matter that will haunt the whole of its parent album. The furious and explosive intro that follows is the first salvo of an era in Manics history that is both heavier and simultaneously more stripped-back than ever before – the glam-inspired piano of Generation Terrorists and the elegiac organs and strings that softened Gold Against the Soul have no place in the brutal new reality of ‘Faster’. The intensity and fearsome simplicity of guitars, drums and unhinged-sounding vocals persist for the whole of the song, leading up to the electrifying conclusion which has Bradfield repeatedly shout “so damn easy to cave in / man kills everything”. The Holy Bible would put human nature under the microscope, and the prognosis would not be good.
Although it was described by NME’s Keith Cameron as “the definitive Richey-era Manics song”, ‘Faster’ actually had notable contributions made to it by Wire. In the single-ranking session the Manics did for NME in 2011, Wire claimed responsibility for both the song’s title (which can be interpreted as either a person choosing not to eat or what Bradfield described as Richey’s prophetic vision of “the acceleration of everything – joy, pain, death, consumerism”1) and the “man kills everything” outro section. The rest of the lyrics are Edwards’ work – work Wire described as “confusing”, even as early as 1994.
Arguably, the song is as much an explosion of ideas as it is an explosion of sound. Wire recalled that Edwards told him the song was about self-abuse, and for his own part Edwards listed the ideas behind the song as
“Strength through weakness. All morality sown in the soil of the ruling caste. Self-abuse is anti-social, aggression still natural. Society speeding up – finds worth in failure.“
The song’s famous chorus, which has Bradfield’s character – The Holy Bible is all about singing in character – proclaim his superiority to Mensa, (Henry) Miller, (Norman) Mailer, (Sylvia) Plath and (Harold) Pinter was described by Wire as an example of “almost heroic self-indulgence”, but is also an early (chronologically, as opposed to within the album) example of the immense range of cultural references and allusions The Holy Bible would make.
The Manics provoked 25,000 complaints to the BBC after their performance on Top of the Pops to perform ‘Faster’. This stemmed purely from Bradfield’s wearing of a balaclava with his first name written on it; in a laughable example of cultural short-sightedness, viewers interpreted the item of clothing as a gesture of support for the Provisional IRA. This would the first of two main occasions on which the Manics would provoke misplaced reactions, the second being the incident in which the cover to 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers was considered obscene and covered up by supermarkets (the cover being a painting by Jenny Savile, who also painted the picture used as the cover of The Holy Bible).
The video for ‘Faster’ is a simple but classic one featuring the band playing in an overexposed white room while portions of the lyrics occasionally pop up as full screen captions. In the finest moment, Bradfield is seen playing the blistering solo (once again in his balaclava) while the lyric “I know I believe in nothing / but it is my nothing” appears on screen.
As with all tracks from The Holy Bible, a US mix by Tom Lord-Alge exists and was released on the tenth anniversary edition. This is often thought of as the weakest of Lord-Alge’s efforts, described by Cameron as having been “defeated” by the song. Hardly surprising – such a singular, incredible effort by the band was always going to rebuff modifications by anyone else.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“the first time yourself / naked you cry”
Mensa – Mensa International, an organisation for people with a very high IQ (intelligence quotient). Members must have an IQ in the 98th percentile. Mensa means “table” in Latin.
Miller – Henry Miller (1891 – 1980), American writer and painter.
Mailer – Norman Mailer (1923 – 2007), American writer, actor etc.
Plath – Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963), American poet and novelist.
Pinter – Harold Pinter (1930 – 2008), British playwright.
Cold made warm – this is an allusion to lizards being “cold-blooded” animals, which requires them to bask in the sun to raise their body temperature.
“If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down” – Chinese proverb.
“I hate purity, I hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt” – spoken by the character Winston Smith, played by John Hurt in the 1984 film version of Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
1) In 1999 American writer James Gleick published a book called Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything.