(This was written for Faded Glamour as part of their new Buried Treasures series, celebrating those often overlooked gems. I’ll be doing more of these so if any has any suggestions don’t be afraid to shout!)
Amazingly this long forgotten treasure from the Manic Street Preachers back catalogue managed to chart at number 8 in the UK chart. But 18 years on, many barely remember this classic, full of raw meaningful lyrics from the Glamour Twins (especially sorely missed Richey Edwards) and it even contains two of the bands most memorable tracks in the form of From Despair To Where and La Tristesse Durerea (Scream To A Sigh). But amongst this particularly radio friendly album, there are some complete gems.
Obviously, Generation Terrorists is a difficult act to follow, and sandwich it between that and The Holy Bible, it’s easy to see why this album passes many by. It may have been their youthful attempt at a radio-friendly record, but compared to some of the commercially successful material they’ve released it’s a fantastic and interesting album from the off. So where to start?
Opener Sleepflower is much more aggressive then a large proportion of their later material, yet is still ladened with ethereal harmonies and demonic guitars at points. Whilst the album may be considered radio-friendly and (more importantly) disliked by the band themselves, the album is far harsher than any of the bland commercial rubbish they’ve pumped out in recent years. Who can forget the time that the Manics appeared on Strictly Come Dancing? They may now have the kudos to collaborate with artists such as Nina Persson and Ian McCulloch, but without this album I doubt they’d be the same band they are today.
Crashing in after the opener is the classic From Despair To Where, where James Dean Bradfield’s vocals are really given the chance to shine. Varying from gentle Welsh rasp to screaming rock God, it just makes the song. I miss the days when the bands guitars were not just replicas of those on If You Tolerate This (if you listen to their Rihanna cover, its painfully obvious). And the same applies to La Tristesse, an incredibly raw song, with absolutely fantastic guitars. And yet more proof that James Dean Bradfield can actually sing.
The same as with every album, there are low points. But these are balanced out by some of the best songs I heard in my childhood. Who can fail to love Life Becoming A Landslide, with its borderline schizophrenic rhythm and a set of some of the most interesting lyrics of the past few years. Following that Drug Drug Druggy is one of the most aggressive tracks on the album, and my personal favourite Roses In The Hospital has the memorable refrain of ‘We don’t want your fucking love’, rather telling about the band’s attitude on this album.
The album does begin to tail in quality going on from here, but not in the expected way. It still manages to encapsulate all the aggression of the earlier half of the album, but lacks the passion. The titular track Gold Against The Soul ends the album on a slightly sour note; it pales in comparison to the other tracks and tarnishes slightly what is a superb second effort. It’s far better than some second albums that are released today, still its sadly viewed as a blemish on the Manics careers.
Gold Against The Soul may not be the bands most commercially successful album, it may not be their best (I save that accolade for Generation Terrorists) but it has something to it. It may be hated by many, and an incredibly large number of Manics fans will be included in that number, but even to hate it proves that they still care passionately about the album and the music that the band produce. Gold Against The Soul is a reminder of what the Manics are capable of, not just a case of second album disaster.