On hearing the Manics announce another 'indefinite hiatus' recently, I thought of one of the many reasons why Bono is a tosser. On the release of one of their many interchangeable, pleasant albums, Bono remarked that he was "re-applying for the job of the Best Band in the World'. The thought that this role is something that one can apply for sums up everything that's wrong with Bono. You can imagine him, sat in some neutrally decorated reception somewhere, running over his just-affecting-enough lines, smoothing his sensible hair and polishing his rebellious shades (hinting at the morning after) before entering to a panel of elder statesmen and listing his merits. The Manics, in contrast, wanted nothing more than to be the Best Band in the World and failed. If only they'd not mentioned the Holocaust repeatedly in the interview, they might have been ok. The Manics really wanted to be the Best Band in the World, whereas Bono wanted to get the job to pad his CV when he applies to be Pope.
The Manics wanted to be the Best Band in the World because rock music really mattered to them, as it does to millions of people in derided backwaters all over the world. The openness and freedom matters when your horizons feel very near, the chord hangs on long enough to suggest a future and a far-away, a happy-ever-after. They added to this, a resolute refusal to patronise their listeners (which is why their fans adore them, and I'm writing this now).
Think of Bruce Springsteen, and the words he puts into the mouth of the protagonist of Thunder Road. Addressing his beloved, he mumbles "You ain't a beauty/but hey, you're alright". Now, the Manics' protagonist responds: "Life is full of cold made warm and they are just lizards"; "Anxiety is freedom"; "Rock and roll is our epiphany/of culture, alienation, boredom and despair". The mode remains the same, now weaponised by intellect, fortified by reading. The refusal to accept that living in a back end of arse-nowhere meant a focus on your own bubble, an ignorance of the rest of the world.
Of course, for Manics fans, the period where they meant that is long gone, and the above paragraph is mere jumpers for goalposts stuff. But even when the Manics changed course and turned inward, it was done with a lacerating lack of self-regard, another reason why they couldn't be the Best Band in the World. Their last truly great album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, dealt relentlessly with the possible suicide by drowning of their hitherto most important member. The perversity of naming songs "Ready For Drowning and "Tsunami" in this context is admirable. The specificity of this album makes it a fucking miracle it ever got the Number One. Everything must go, never say goodbye, drift away and die.
Except they didn't, and wouldn't. The Manics have trundled on for more than ten years making songs that sound a bit like ones that they made when they were great. The best album was based on the work of their departed comrade. Their best songs, Indian Summer and Postcard from a Young Man, have sounded like goodbyes. So, goodbye.