Tuesday 17 September 2013

Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film

The Manics are perhaps the latest in a line of bands that are best referred to as a Singles Band.  If someone were to ask me to recommend a Manics album, I would have no hesitation in pointing them in the direction of 'National Treasures: The Complete Singles'.
The problem (for me) was that their albums never really hung together properly.

And a case in point is their latest offering "Show Me The Wonder".  A single that just gets better with each listen, until it is firmly buried inside your head, popping out without warning when making a cup of coffee, walking the dog or brushing your teeth first thing in the morning.

"So what of the new album?", I hear you ask (or perhaps don't, fearing that I'm about to go off on some long meandering flight of fancy, and never really arriving at a recommendation or conclusion).

21 years ago 'Generation Terrorists' hit the shelves on a wave of hype and expectation.  The album was over-produced, overly glossy and over long.  But the singles lifted from it were some of the best noises to emerge in the dark days of 1992 (and there begins the 'Manic Street Preachers are a Singles Band' legend).
In short, the debut filed to live up to many peoples (including the bands) expectations.  It didn't sell the predicted 22 million, and they weren't able to split up in a crash of publicity and legend.
This meant only one thing.  They would have to re-group, re-think and return to the studio and do some more work.
Next off the blocks was 'Gold Against The Soul' which (and I'm being fair here) was OK, followed by 'The Holy Bible' in 1994.  Revisionist history identifies this album as the Manics masterwork, a work of genius, despite it's relatively poor sales.  Well, for me this is another OK album.

So, after 3 years of recording, they'd managed a slew of great singles, and 3 ultimately disappointing albums.
Maybe this was their lot, a promise of greatness never truly fulfilled.

Following the disappearance of Richey Edwards in February 1995, the remaining three piece re-grouped and in 1996 released 'Everything Must Go'.  5 of the tracks featured lyrics from Richey Edwards, but overall the album marked a definite change in sound, attitude and lyrical theme.  The sound was more anthemic, epic even, and much richer and tighter than any of it's predecessors (it's closest relation is 'Gold Against The Soul').
And they continued the stadium-friendliness, albeit with a tougher political undercurrent, with 'This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours' in 1998.
'This Is My Truth ...' was their biggest selling album, and the Manics were one of the biggest bands in the UK.  But still the album lacked cohesion.
It was 3 years before 'Know Your Enemy' was uleashed.  The album was a return to the punk propoganda of early releases, but lacked focus.
'Lifeblood' was wistful, in place melancholic and downbeat.  Thier are reminiscences of Joy Division/New Order and The Cure.  Whilst still not the complete album that the Manics should have been capable of, the change in sound and focus were refreshing (although the politics / protest / anger was still apparent in a couple of songs.

In 2007, 'Send Away The Tigers' was released (preceded by the single "Your Love Alone (Is Not Enough)").  At last, this was a proper album.  To these ears, it just worked from start to finish.  Big on the stadium-rock epic sound, electric guitars turned up to 11, bombastic drums, and even room for a cover of "Working Class Hero".
'Journal for Plague Lovers' was the bands attempt to lay the ghost of Richey to rest, and is admirable, if not the greatest addition tho the Manic Street Preachers catalogue
And then, to prove 'Send Away The Tigers' it was no freak occurrence, they repeated the cohesive album trick with 'Postcards from a Young Man'.

And so we arrive at the new album, 'Rewind The Film'.

The opening line: "I don't want my children to grow up like me" prepares the ground for what is to come.
12 brand new tracks, presented in the main in acoustic bareness, with a theme of reflection, and the omni-present feeling of loss.  The sound of the album is a departure from the expected punk/stadium rock which they are known for.  There are touches of folk, stabs of Motown/Northern Soul horns and even a gospel departure.  Parts of the album sound like a more accessible version of Radiohead.  The inclusion of additional of voices (Richard Hawley on '"Rewind The Film", Lucy Rose on "This Sullen Welsh Heart" and Cate Le Bon on "4 Lonely Roads") adds another dimension to what you would expect from the Manics.
Many of the tracks can be described as un-typical Manic tracks, and then you hear the voice of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wires reluctant backing vocals and the oft-employed string arrangements which bathe a selection of the songs, and it's back to business.
Special mention for "Manorbier", the most un-typical Manics track here. This is essentially an instrumental rooted in a spacey, almost ambient presentation.  If this were to be performed in a stadium setting, I'm sure that the lighters would be aloft for the triumphant, choir like chanting at the end.
This is album finishes with the only truly angry song here.  "30 Year War" is the bands Thatcher song.
Reads like a history lesson the working classes fight against "the endless parade of old Etonian scum" (would any other band write a song with those words in it?).  And it really is quite angry, and all wrapped in a musical package that starts with a simple horn lament, followed by electronic sweeps and then the archetypal Manic Street Preachers epic soundscape with personal and angry, almost spat out, lyrics

It's a political sentiment that I don't necessarily agree with, but when does that stop anyone enjoying an album as good as this one is.

The Manic Street Preachers are at their best when they are plugged in and turned up to 11, but this album works without the need for bombastic drums, histrionic guitars or stadium-pleasing anthems.
12 tracks of contemplation, reflection, and (as is always conveyed with their albums) honesty.
 For me, it's a competitor to 'Send Away The Tigers' and 'Postcards From A Young Man' as their most complete album.

And this is the most un-typical Manics track on the album, - Manorbier.