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Jun 14

THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS – “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”

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#799, 5th September 1998

tolerate “You can interpret the lyrics,” huffed a Nazi goon caught nicking this song for the BNP’s website, “any way you want.” The specific double meaning of “if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists” eludes me, but it’s true enough that the Manic Street Preachers’ lyricists had a taste for the oblique. Simple polemic was rarely their style: on their early records they favoured harsh, dense word-blocks, crushed by the transition to song into something barely singable, their uneasy imagery delivered by James Dean Bradfield as a compressed bark. But for all their rough treatment, the words mattered – for The Holy Bible the band took out double-page ads printing the record’s scorched, self-lacerating lyrics in full. They made records About Things, things number ones only occasionally break bread with: self-harm, depression, the decline of class consciousness. And here, apparently, the Spanish Civil War.

But one of those things is not like the others. Why on earth make, in 1998, a record about the Spanish Civil War? Old battles had never been the Manics’ territory: they preferred live issues, current problems of culture and psychology. A song praising the Republicans in the Spanish conflict is not addressing a live issue: and, to be honest, there weren’t a lot of obvious 1998 analogies you could make for it. “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” is a magnificent title, but tolerate what? What line were the band drawing? Was it all a better-read version of Father Ted’s omniprotest: Down With This Sort Of Thing?

So I’d like to suggest that something more is going on here, but before digging into what, it’s worth asking how we got to this in the first place. “If You Tolerate This” is a fanbase record, as surely as anything by Boyzone is. The Manics had been the most startling beneficiaries of the post-Oasis interest in British bands, hitting form and accessibility at just the right time for big, gestural rock to succeed. And to be horribly cynical about it, the tragedy of Richey Edwards established their bona fides as a serious band at the same time as his absence meant they could stumble into the mainstream without lyrics like “He’s a boy / You want a girl so cut off his cock” chewing up their column inches. “A Design For Life” was a remarkable single, a band pushed by guilt and circumstance into speaking plainly, seizing their platform and using it. They released it as a group with sympathy and a small, utterly devoted audience: they left it a band with a huge, solid fanbase.

It made “If You Tolerate This…” – first single off the follow-up album – into a big moment, the kind of release other singles shuffle out the way of. But as is often the case, the fanbase flexed its muscles a record too late. “If You Tolerate This…” has none of the painful confidence of “A Design For Life”. It opens brilliantly – cold, Radiohead-style bursts of treated guitar, pulsing out and back like the respiration of some great, dying machine. But once it gets going and the strings and solos kick off, it’s the band settling into the cement shoes of lugubrious arena rock – footwear they found all too comfortable.

So while it’s lovely to see them at Number One, what’s initially disappointing is that for the first time in their career, it didn’t feel like the group were over-reaching themselves. That had been a large part of their appeal. The earliest Manics made much of a love for Public Enemy and Guns’n’Roses, but the process they applied to those influences was pure indie pop: make a Quixotic attempt to match your idols with a tenth of their budget and technique, and trust that something inspiring comes out of it. They stood in relation to glam metal as Orange Juice stood to Chic and disco – a doomed, glorious tilt at a form that might end up wonderful in a different way.

Everything Must Go took the same trick and used it for stadium rock – gambling, successfully, that rough-hewn attempts at anthemic rock and thoughtful, sorrowful lyrics would rub well together. But it meant that when “If You Tolerate This…” came out, the surprise had become expectation. The band, inevitably, chortled about “subverting the mainstream”. But the idea of the Manic Street Preachers having a hit with a single about the Spanish Civil War felt right: was, instead, instantly comfortable and appealing enough by itself that the weary reality of it could be shrugged off.

What redeems the record – lets it wring dignity from tedium – is that this gap between reputation and reality is exactly what the song is wrestling with. The crucial moment in “If You Tolerate This…” is the breakdown before the final chorus – “And on the street tonight an old man prays / With newspaper cuttings of his glory days”. It’s picking up on the “monuments put from pen to paper” part earlier – the way remembrance of heroism, even well-meant remembrance, turns into romance and abandons the messy subjectivity of the lives in question. And even as it acknowledges this, the song has been playing around in that romance – the title slogan, the rabbits quote, the totems of a long-gone, righteous struggle.

It’s easy to see why this might resonate with the Manic Street Preachers. They had become a group defined by a gap: a vanished friend who was turning into stories and slogans himself. In a season of youth in the charts, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” was less a subversive gesture, more a memento mori from a band that had finally found their place and were settling into a dependable success. Listen to Bradfield’s despairing, exhausted “aaaand” as he slides into the chorus – “If you tolerate this then your children will be next” is a warning, but not an avoidable one. History itself – the process of sorting and discarding, of turning fighters into forgotten men while their words survive – is the “this” that cannot be tolerated. But always is.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    Cumbrian on 30 Jun 2014 #

    100: If only that were the case in the provincial town I grew up in. I didn’t have much of an ear for Happy Hardcore, Rave, Gabba or any of the other various stripes of electronic music that made up the dominant musical culture in the town I went to school in. I think I mentioned in another thread (probably the Stiltskin one?) that the Britpop/Indie kids basically teamed up with the, very few, Metalheads at my school, shared the same spaces, clubs, etc, so Metal was marginalised even within the part of the culture that was more open to it.

    I’ve a sneaky regard for hard rock/heavy metal to be honest. I quite enjoyed Metallica being on the TV this weekend – probably one of the only times that Metal has had a prime time slot on the BBC since Motorhead were on The Young Ones – and note with interest Bunnied Sheffield Band dropping excerpts of War Pigs into their gigs and associating with QOTSA (who have somehow got big enough to sell arenas out in this country – when I first went to see them, they were only playing places like Koko or Brixton Academy). It feels to me like the time is right for heavier stuff to make a push.

  2. 102
    Fivelongdays on 30 Jun 2014 #

    @101 – to make it clear, what I should have said was ‘very strong trend for Rockers/Metallers to be from small Provincial towns’ – it’s not like they’re overwhelingly rock, but the people who are from places that aren’t allowed to be Cool tend to have that sort of background. It’s people who come from Trendy areas/posh upbringings who tend to dislike it.

  3. 103

    Simon Price is from Barry in Wales, which is neither trendy nor posh, is it (I don’t have much of a feel for South Wales)? As a midlands kids — which was a metal heartland in the 70s, as well as roughly speaking its birthplace — I somewhat agree about metal fandom as a sustained manifestation of defensive anti-cool pride since the early 80s, tho I think it’s shifted and mutated over the years. “Indie” certainly wasn’t a public school thing in the 80s, and has often taken anti-cool form (it’s kind of central to Dolls-fan Morrissey’s ethos) ; and metal and prog often have been pretty popular in posh schools. The post-punk vanguardistas at NME in the late 70s were almost all of them self-taught working class intellectuals/school drop-outs (though of course they’d by then jumped ship from uncool birthplaces like Bangor or Norwich to London).

  4. 104

    … which is a v boring way of saying “it’s complicated”

    #notallposhkids :)

  5. 105
    Tim on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Regarding the scansion in McCarthy’s lyrics, I think Malcolm Eden was always very open about his stylistic debt to Bertolt Brecht, part of which was a pleasure in lines which don’t scan “properly”.

    And I also tend to think that the brand of indie which (some of) the Manics liked – they talked about being particularly into McCarthy and Big Flame, IIRC – was more suburban / provincial than metropolitan. I can say with absolute certainty that no cool accrued from being into those bands in my provincial town in the mid-80s.

  6. 106
    Your Brother, The Astronaut on 30 Jun 2014 #

    Re: discussion of metal/rock and provincial towns.

    This is all purely 100% anecdotal as i have very little to compare it to but…I imagine the wave of metalish bands from Wales in the early 00s is very much to do with just the regular mechanics of musical scenes in highly isolated places breeding bands with simillar influences.

    Certainly an element of ‘anti-cool’ posturing but the lack of any outside influence has a major impact. As a teenager I had tastes which were very firmly anti-Metal but spent most of my Saturday nights watching local metal bands of various shades. In a city (or just a larger town) I would have probably been hanging elsewhere (as would have probably 45% of everyone else) but the lack of choice allowed marginal styles and genres to gain critical mass. (and no, doubt, create a degree of Stockholm syndrome; not entirely sure certian bands would have made it into my CD collection otherwise).

    With the internet etc. I’m not entirely sure provinical vs. urban has such a major impact anymore; at least on the logistics of impact, group-forming and tribalism.

  7. 107
    fivelongdays on 30 Jun 2014 #

    @106 – what I meant to say – and sorry if I wasn’t hugely clear – you are more likely to meet Rock/Metal fans from the provinces/suburbs than from cities (obvs with exceptions), not that small towns/suburbs are all Rock/Metal hotshots. There’s also the correlation that a lot of people who get to the metropolitan areas turn into the worst kind of trendy hipsters (if you’ve ever seen northerners in London, you’ll know what I mean)

    I don’t think it’s “anti Cool posturing” either. It’s a combination of not really KNOWING what it is you are supposed to like and/or knowing/realising the Cool People in the city wouldn’t want you anywhere near them (a problem I, sadly, know only too well)

  8. 108
    tm on 2 Jul 2014 #

    Tim @ 105: wahey, who’d have thought we’d see Big Flame mentioned in Popular! Guitarist Greg Keefe now lectures Architecture alongside my Dad at Manchester Met, came to a couple of my own early gigs and introduced me to John Robb who would influence my own music making over the years if which more to come…

  9. 109
    Mark M on 2 Jul 2014 #

    Re: 103 – I’ve probably mentioned this before, but big at my posh school in 1988 (that’s 1988) for boys: The Clash, The Pistols, the Dead Kennedys, AC/DC, Bob bloody Marley and, of course, yer Floyd. For girls: Tracy Chapman, The Cure. There were some goffs/NMA fans.

    I’m sure lots of them ‘fucking loved’ hip-hop and house in years to come, but barely any did yet. And no one was a fully fledged indie kid in mid/late ’80s terms.

    Every school I ever went to had at least a few kids into metal.

  10. 110
    tm on 4 Jul 2014 #

    I found …Tolerate… so disappointing at the time. I’d loved EMG, having been only dimly aware of them during the Richey era, as far as I was concerned, they were picking up the baton for big rock anthems dropped by Oasis (not sure if this fits with the release dates for EMG and Be Here Now but I may have come late to EMG, I remember thinking Design For Life was a Rod Stewart single when I first heard it – did he cover it on that album he did with the Oasis and Primal Scream covers?)

    On relistening, having since got into Gen Terrorists and The Holy Bible, I can’t say my opinion of Tolerate’s changed much: as others have noted, the best part is the synthy sounding guitars of the intro. I guess it’s best heard as a transition record between the pure rock of their first four albums and the wider ranging genre-hopping they’d do on later stuff but for the most part it still sounds to me like another slow, sad, overlong, overproduced late 90s post Britpop dirge (albeit with much better lyrics than The Verve or Embrace et al). I agree it’s great to see them at #1 but if Design For Life I can’t imagine this getting more than a 5. There are at least five singles from before and after this that, had they reached #1, are possible tens for me though.

  11. 111
    tm on 4 Jul 2014 #

    Sorry, penultimate sentence should read ‘if Design For Life had got there first’

  12. 112
    ciaran on 4 Jul 2014 #

    The Manics were liked by several in my school but I could never take to them fully. 1 or 2 half decent songs but not enough to make me a superfan or anything.A bit like the Chilli Peppers – liked by so many but just passed me by.Another bunnied Welsh band would join this list of groups!

    The disappearance of Richey gave them a much higher profile and the singles from Everything Must Go seemed a bit more stadium friendly. Australia was even used as on a tourism advert at one point.

    I like IYTT a lot more than I thought I would. Just about the right tempo and not as loud as the EMG era. Certainly a cut above most of 1998′s Number 1′s (especially compared to the kitchen-sink throwing of Oasis earlier in the year.)

    7.

  13. 113
    Tom on 8 Jul 2014 #

    Awesome effort here, and one that teaches valuable lessons about JDB’s scansion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV4CTHUFhig&feature=youtu.be

  14. 114
    fivelongdays on 10 Jul 2014 #

    @113 – I’d absolutely LOVE to see some homophobic, neanderthal Chavsabian fan go ‘Football! I must watch it!’, watch it, then check out the original – and have to confront Truth. ‘Twould be hilarious

  15. 115
    Nick R on 15 Jul 2014 #

    James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire turned up on The One Show last week. You’d think they’d be there to promote Futurology, but instead, they mainly talked about the origins and meaning of “If You Tolerate This…”, so it’s worth linking to it here. (But it’ll only be on the iPlayer for less than a day now.)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b047znw1/the-one-show-09072014

    They’re on it from about the 48 minute mark. The discussion of this song is followed by an acoustic performance of “You Stole The Sun From My Heart”.

  16. 116
    Cumbrian on 16 Jul 2014 #

    On Mertesacker Emptiness – it’s funny (re: Tom’s point) that I think JDB might have realised that his scansion is somewhat Germanic given “Europa Geht Durch Mich” from Futurology has just been released and Nina Hoss’ vocals (in German) fit the rhythm of JDB’s vocals from elsewhere in the song pretty well.

    Also on Mertesacker Emptiness – I hope he’s feeling at least somewhat empty this morning, given how drunk he seemed at yesterday’s World Cup celebration in Berlin – he’ll need the space in his gut for hangover food. He wasn’t quite at Flintoff 2005 Ashes levels but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

  17. 117
    Patrick Mexico on 20 Jul 2014 #

    Hola/top of the evening to y’all, I’m back.

    First and foremost, I’d like to congratulate Tom on a heartfelt, well-researched and brilliant review of one of my favourite bands. A 7 is spot on – this isn’t quite my favourite Manics era. Problem is, in the 12 months since the Be Here Now/Diana tipping point for British guitar bands (especially Britpop guitar bands) who ya gonna call? Doubt it’s Hurricane #1.

    The Manics now had such a huge fanbase – both old militant fans and newer casual ones (albeit sometimes at war with each other – Richey’s disappearance a bleakly omnipresent pivot and borderline), plus the critical acclaim for the populist, but not totally uncompromising Everything Must Go, and thus such, they had a golden opportunity to reach the top even with music that could be the most challenging the charts had seen since post-punk. Shortly before his disappearance Richey Edwards left a note for James Dean Bradfield – “Next album: Nine Inch Nails meets Pantera meets Screamadelica.”

    Perhaps in 1998 it was too recently raw and painful for the remaining members to follow up this project, but the Prodigy struck gold with the above (albeit more staggering down the hard shoulder of the M25 in ALF pyjamas and less bunking off school to watch the TUC)..

    IYTTYCWBN did not “tear the music industry a new one.” It didn’t change the face of Western society. It didn’t make people rush out into the streets with Molotov cocktails a la Paris 1968. I’m quite sure it didn’t spawn millions of teenagers who would say “that record changed my life” – though some previous Manics hits quite probably did, including ADFL. However, in a year where the demographic of the single buyer became younger and more character and performer-centric rather than the best mid-90s British bands’ songwriting, satire and socio-politics, it’s an absolute triumph that the top spot was gained by a song of mature, stately, steely, peak Springsteen maturity. But – like much of the Boss’s work – there’s something moving but it could have been so much more. And also like a Springsteen hit, this was misunderstood as a nationalist anthem by sinister right-wing numbskulls.

    Indeed, if you are looking for 1998 analogies, check the euphoric reaction to Brimful of Asha and Your Woman – where a genuinely multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Britain seemed to be finally reflected on a global stage, and with wit, intelligence and humour in droves. Now think of the sad irony where the irresponsible management of “multiculturalism” by New Labour started sowing its unpleasant seeds which would cause many unpleasant events, a key one being the resurgence of the far right – just watch [I]White Tribe[/I], the 2000 Darcus Howe documentary where a few ominous rats are smelled. You realise Oldham’s problems won’t be cured by some guys from down the road reminiscing about playing in the garden and living forever, and the Dover Daily Mail readers won’t be won over by – well – any popular culture after 1963. I can’t help but admire the Manics’ “stand up to things you know are wrong, however hard it seems in such a brutal world” statements, given the last 15 years where the BNP, EDL, and Britain First have been constant elephants in the room – and even more pertinent with the often jaw-dropping UKIP and Tory naivety of about “newspaper cuttings of (the wrong?) glory days” and “We can’t be racist, we have Asian friends.”

    I just thought it could have been done with a musical palette a bit more rabble-rousing rather than the “wistful” soft rock template used by Travis, the Verve, Ocean Colour Scene and similar “Not very Exciting But I Listen to Them Because They’re Proper Music.” I’d rather not ruminate on its parent #1 album – let Marcello! – but Embrace would never have the confrontational frankness for Ready for Drowning or The Everlasting. It’s just a shame one of the most exciting bands in Britain were, for a while, lumped in with the dullest. Albeit with hugely mixed results, they’ve stuck around and outlived a lot of them to this day, so hats off to MSP!

    A final word on #113 – well, Kasabian are an unashamedly mainstream oriented band, but is there really any need for that blatant “Chavsabian” class snobbery? I very much doubt you’ve met many of their fans to warrant making that caricature, let alone in-depth discussion of gay rights. I know this will sound barbed but there’s an unfortunate duality with your post and the mocking of the traditional white working class which is the only social/ethnic group considered “fair game” for the middle class dinner party set to mock these days.. and is one of the things which fuels support for fascism… on this record of all records..

  18. 118
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Aug 2014 #

    The universal language of IYTTYCWBN… http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/reds-blues-march-premier-league-7611875

  19. 119
    more on 30 Aug 2014 #

    If anybody’s interested this video reveals how you can alter your ip to look at French TV channels like M6 Replay online from everywhere.

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