Saturday, 17 May 2014

50 songs to take to my grave #9: A Design For Life

Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t a little more love in the world for the Manic Street Preachers. Even here in their south-east Wales homeland they seem to polarise opinion. When I told friends last year I was seeing the Manics in October, there was general indifference – no one really cared less. “Are they still going?” asked one of them who I would have expected to know better. Even Colin, one of my current gig buddies, can take or leave them. MrsRobster, as I’ve already stated, can’t bear them. Yet at that show at the Newport Centre, there was an overwhelming feeling of love and adoration for them, not terribly dissimilar to the vibe at the Morrissey show I attended a few years back. So why do so many people have this couldn’t-care-less attitude about one of Wales’ – Britain’s – very best acts?

Then I remember that at one point, I didn’t like them either. In fact, I hated them passionately. Firstly, I just didn’t get the hype. Why were these jumped up brats, smothered in make-up and emulating the likes of New York Dolls, Guns ‘n’ Roses and second-rate Sex Pistols tribute bands getting so much exposure? And how could any right-minded person like any band that espoused such nonsense as hoping Michael Stipe died of AIDS?

What turned me was seeing them at Knebworth in 1996 supporting Oasis. Now that’s really not the sort of event you would expect to have you perceptions and opinions challenged, but there was something about their performance that really sent shivers down my spine. I was a convert. Maybe it was the sheer defiance in playing to such a vast crowd so soon after personal tragedy (Richie Edwards had disappeared only the year before),combined with the huge anthems that transpired on the ‘Everything Must Go’ album. It was that record that began my transformation from loather to lover. My good friend Lisa had insisted I listen to it and lent me the CD. The two tracks that I just couldn’t shake off were Australia and A Design For Life. As much as I didn’t want to admit defeat, I eventually had to concede that this band wasn’t that bad. The more I played it, the more I liked it. That Knebworth show, and in particular their rendition of A Design For Life, sealed the deal.

Nowadays, I class myself as a Manics fan, and A Design For Life rates as one of my very most favourite songs. It is an anthem in every sense. Aside from its big, rousing arrangement, it tackles the issues surrounding class, particularly the disparity between the working classes and the privileged upper classes. It’s a rallying cry for the downtrodden masses with a helluva tune to boot. In the right setting, it can bring tears to my eyes. When I saw them at their Newport show last year, they closed their set with it and yes, I fought back those tears as every single person present (except MrsRobster) hollered every single word with as much gusto as a home crowd at the Millennium Stadium sing Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on match day.

In fact, if Wales ever needed a new national anthem, A Design For Life would surely have to be considered.


  1. I think like you I was put off by the initial hype plus having mates who sneered at them. But then I saw them at Glastonbury and thought they were brilliant (stupid comments aside!). Around that time I also got to hear Motown Junk properly and from then on I was a fan. Been through some ups and downs with them but thought their last album was superb and for the past few years I have been pre-ordering each new LP through their website so I get a signed copy.

  2. Could take them or leave them but then I saw them play live at a corporate event (I worked for hmv for a while and they used to have an annual conference with a concert in the evening) Now there cant be anything more soulless than playing these things ( especially when most of the audience were hammered by the time they came on) however they played as if it was a homecoming fan club gig. They threw everything into it and the audience responded. They were fantastic and showed in comparison to a couple of usual white skinny boys playing guitars pretenders to the throne who were also on the bill , showed how some bands become massive an others fade away. Also agree their last lp is fantastic