If ever there was a band with split personalities then it would be the Manic’s. Broadly speaking there are three variations of the Welsh Rockers – the glam punk of Generation Terrorists (1992), the isolated despairing post punk of The Holy Bible (1994) and the string laden indie anthems of Everything Must Go (1996).
But whatever incarnation they choose to adopt there is also the air of intellect and a reaching for something more than what the average rock song provides, a sense that the working class can provide statement and art through popular culture.
The sound has always encompassed James Dean Bradfield’s passionate rock guitar and rich vocal. And then there was the twin effect of Edwards and Wire, providing lyrics of alienation, despair and a commentary on the injustices of modern society.
The group’s return to form started with 2007’s glammed up anthem inspired Send Away the Tigers which saw the band enjoying their music again and finding a new edge after several records that were interesting but only hinted at former glories.
2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers was inspired by the last lyrics left to them by rhythm guitarist Richey Edward – the group produced what some already call a classic and with it’s lyrics of disgust at modern culture and a sense that perhaps the troubled songwriter was coming to terms with his own inner demons, the album signalled a return to the barb wire post punk of The Holy Bible whilst remaining reflectively touching and introspective.
So have the Manic Street Preachers managed to continue their latter day purple patch and which incarnation of the band appears on the new album ……. ?
Postcards from a Young Man returns to the orchestrated epic sound of Everything Must Go, it’s bold with Wire commenting that this is the band’s last shot at “Mass Communication” to a wide audience.
Indeed Wire and Co throw everything into the mix from the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch (guest vocals on Some kind of Nothingness) to Wales’ finest John Cale (keyboard duties on Auto-Intoxication) whilst encompassing choirs and strings and occasionally becoming unashamedly pop.
The opening (It’s not War) Just the end of Love immediately signposts the group’s intent with a guitar riff to kill for, strings and Bradfield’s snarling vocal. It’s the one track people will mostly identify with the Manics.
The group go Beatles with hints of Hey Jude on the jolly but disenchanted Golden Platitudes (a song addressed at the failed optimism of 1990’s Labour and current mess that is Britan).
The Beatles influence is again apparent on the title track and The Descent (Pages 1 & 2) with sliding strings, swinging riffs and a lyrical nod to Dylan Thomas.
Some Kind of Nothingness combines guest vocals by Ian McCulloch, strings, guitars and an entire choral section. What initially appears as a classy throw away pop song transforms upon repeated plays into something eurphoric, subtle and reflective.
A Billion Balconies facing the Sun (a J G Ballard influence?) and All we make is Entertainment warn against the inherent dangers of the internet, mass media and consumerism.Â The theme is continued with the closing Don’t be Evil which borrows the riff from Masses against the Classes (1999), razor sharp and taking a swipe at the modern world’s obsession with branding and loss of individualism the Manic’s are back to what they do best – crashing against the absurdities of modern life.
There are a few tracks which are growers and the pop edge does take a little time to adapt to, but Postcards from a Young Man is the sound of a band searching after almost twenty years of records and with something still to say. In an age of disposable stardom and lack of intelligent popular music, thankfully they are still around.
Now for some Manic: