Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

The wounded mind draws into itself, narrowing perception down to a hard, unarguable line, sacrificing perspective and judgement for an awful, logical clarity. The poles of this line are absolute and do not vary: strength and weakness, control and its opposite, caving in or not compromising. And gradually, every action seems entropic, seems to leave behind a silty, weakening residue of this compromise. The angle of descent steepens – from now, thankfully, I’m only projecting from experience, not writing from it – the line itself contracts to a point, a single undeniable action.

The best metaphor I have for the state of depression – partly because it’s so distanced and unromantic – is the Doppler Effect: everything looks and feels different to the depressive because the world is going past at another speed to them. For me, either I would wake up with my brain treacle and my words and actions seemingly having to pass through thick, slow glass, or I would feel superconducted, sharp and alien, afflicted with a terrible neural velocity under which I couldn’t hope to communicate: faster.

I’m writing about this not because I feel any great conscious identification with Richey Edwards (I’m plumper, squarer, less sensitive and luckier), but because through the Spring of 1997 I used “Faster”‘s parent album, The Holy Bible, like armour, and in order to write properly about the song I have to remember how I listened to that record, why it seemed to fit so well and hasn’t really since.

Of course, first coming to The Holy Bible three years after release I had the disbenefit of hindsight to deal with. It’s always difficult to discuss an album when someone who made it isn’t around any more, particularly this record, which comes on like that somebody relentlessly dismantling whatever defences they had left. An artist’s disappearance or suicide firms up their legacy but also corrupts it, sets up a black hole at the centre of their work which sucks all interpretation towards it. Writing about The Holy Bible without somehow addressing the vanishing of Richey Edwards would be pointless: you would only be tracing his outline as you gradually and gingerly tiptoed around it.

So that’s how I can say that I like(d) The Holy Bible, and particularly the wild-eyed spasmings of “Faster”, because I heard the mental contraction and tautening I felt in those bad times reflected in the metallic compression of a generally expansive band’s sound, in the jagged, seized-up guitar lines, and especially in the singing. The band built a reputation on tongue-tangling lyrics, ranting as their name suggested with a syntax-stripping urgency, but “Faster” goes further still, reducing James Dean Bradfield’s voice to a thick-throated bark, a machine gun rattling out harsh, undecipherable phonemes. The separation of lyricist and singer works frighteningly well here – the whole record stinks of alienation. Bradfield sounds like he can’t understand the words he’s singing, and that he doesn’t very much want to, but he screams them out anyway. What you can make out cocktails teenage-diary intensity with the brutalist, densely cryptic imagery the band’s lyrics had shifted towards: “I am an architect / They call me a butcher” rants Bradfield after the song has blasted itself into being. No explanation is given, or asked.

Jon Savage recently suggested of The Clash that they weren’t reflecting punk-era London so much as dramatising it. The Manic Street Preachers’debt to The Clash is oft-stated, and so “Faster” finds them doing something similar, but turned inwards. Internalised its savagery may be, but “Faster” is still dramatic, still an epic of some sort. Long after I’ve stopped needing it, I can listen to it and let the music excite me again. “Faster”‘s greatest strength, almost, is that it’s a failure: the lyrics – the message if message it is – are dissolved in the slash and surge of the guitars. So while The Holy Bible is a record I’ll always remember, it’s “Faster” that I take out and play, because it renews me and because, in its harsh and stilted way, it rocks. And while pop music may seem compromised and pathetic and meaningless, like it or not it’s still sometimes good for that.