Manic Street Preachers – Stay Beautiful

Man, I don’t even know what subculture this is supposed to be. What the hell kind of people write “culture slut” on their stomachs in lipstick underneath their fur coats while being dudes playing rock songs about hating society? It doesn’t add up, I don’t understand the valence of it. Geez. It’s kinda awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so gosh darn weird as a look. I guess it’s a hangover from the 80s, but god damn it man.

I mean, I think I get that the point – to destroy the excess of the 80s through some kind of artistic reductio ad absurdum. So there isn’t a “but.” It’s hardly a tough stance to be taking on a blog where I trust that anyone who reads it will be fairly well egalitarian, but cross-dressing is an insane thing to get worked up about. Why, that one time I made out with a cross-dressing dude is one of my best “just far enough in that I can say I was there” stories ever. That said, I do think it’s perfectly acceptable to snicker at people behind their backs when they do things that look ridiculous. If it’s okay to dislike a woman for wearing a fur coat then it’s okay to dislike Rupaul for doing the same. More on point, if Sam the cross-dresser is wearing assless chaps, we can mock that decision whether Sam is a male or female.

Look, I’m trying to do more than sound blankly open, here. I think pretending that being judgmental is a hamartia on the level of violent anger or untrustworthiness is futile. I’m far from physical perfection, and I don’t expect people to pretend I’m tall when I’m obviously short. Early dolled up MSP look silly because it’s my expectation that they’ll look like men, and I’m suspicious of how often they had to shave to maintain their bendergending image, but my issue with it is more borne from the idea that I’m supposed to be offended. Instead I’m amused.

In other words, MSP’s early image is narm. Not harmful, just narmful. It’s a shrug, not a shock. So go ahead and wear silly make-up. I don’t think they shocked anyone in 1991, and we certainly don’t care now. Maybe if they took their show on the road to Eastern Europe and the Bible Belt, but I’m in neither. My point is that only the music matters. And I hope I don’t sound bigoted, because if I am then I’ll work on it. And the music is pretty really good.

For a bunch of narmy crossdressers they manage to get over the plausibility line when it comes to music. Your mileage may vary, because this is silly stuff. It depends how badly a line like “all we love is lonely wreckage” makes you cringe. But this ain’t Alice Cooper garbage. It’s angry and extroverted and confident in the way that only those who feel like their futures lie ahead can be. The title track plays like it’s made for seventeen year-old girls and loses its nerve in the chorus and still hits the point of youth and beauty-worship through guitar and bravado alone. You might not see it that way due to the ridiculousness. But “Motown Junk” – now that’s a rock song. “Motown Junk” is even better, a loudass ringer winding its structure around the lines “I laughed when Lennon got shot” and “21 years of living and nothing means anything to me” – why, it’s almost as though lyricist Richey wasn’t so happy! The constant, fast drum fills make me happy when I’m drunk and self-righteous, like it’s all their fault – them, not you and me. And if you turn it up loud enough it hurts your ears so good. And who could hate the line “songs of love echo underclass betrayal” – told you it surpassed the narm line! Okay, the ending is laughable, but these guys were furious, and you can hear it, and it does the gratuitous eyeliner justice.

Aaaand then the B-sides. “Sorrow 16” is a solid rock song, not too heavy, driven, major chord-y, less hair metal than a lot of their other songs. There’s a neat second guitar during the chorus, even if there’s no big hook. The next two, Acoustic thing “R.P. McMurphy” and brief, moderately aggressive rocker “Starlover” are just kinda there, but they’re nice while you hear them, and at least the former is a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” reference. Even if I dislike the trope that people in insane asylums are more sane than those outside of them – maybe like one guy in ten thousand is, but the other nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine are all the sad, sometimes violent people I see down the street that desperately need the pills and drugs to keep them from hurting themselves.

I don’t know. 21 is maybe a bit old to awkwardly to take yourself too seriously, but I’ve always had a soft spot for genuine care, and these guys obviously wanted to make a difference, and the world needs more people who go too far than people like me who don’t take it far enough. Good EP. I trust your anti-corporate stance will stay constant for your entire careers!

8/10

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