Mine has been a very long love-affair with the Manic Street Preachers, stretching back to the release of The Holy Bible in 1994 which was, and remains, one of the most startling, eye-opening, brilliant albums ever released. Like every love affair, when it turns into a long-term relationship, there are ups and downs and, sometimes, the object of your affection sometimes behaves in a way that you don’t particularly appreciate, but, if there is something deeper there, you still love them anyway. The honeymoon period (“Everything Must Go”) saw that giddy love go on unabated. Then, although everything was still pretty wonderful, little signs that they were going through the motions started to creep in (“This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours”). Then there was the big row that almost led to a trial separation (“Know Your Enemy”) and, although they promised to change, what came afterwards (“Lifeblood”) was only a brief glimpse of what used to make us such a suitable pairing. After a few years apart, our worlds collided once more in a spectacular way (“Send Away The Tigers”), we had a second honeymoon which almost felt as blissfully good as the early days (“Journal For Plague Lovers”) and we’ve been inseparable ever since, as they continue to delight and vindicate my love with excellent album (“Postcards From A Young Man”) after excellent album (“Rewind The Film”). I feel ashamed for ever have doubting them. Despite a few people raising their eyebrows and saying that they’d moved into pipe and slippers territory with their last record, to me it was a beautiful piece of work full of depth, versatility and maturity… and I loved them all the same, together with their laughter lines and the grey hairs dyed away. Their music still holds the key to unlocking this sullen English heart.
Their dazzling new album, “Futurology” is almost the polar musical opposite to “Rewind The Film” and proves something they really didn’t have to prove, that they still have the ability to excite, to surprise. The fire is still burning relentlessly in their creative hearts and this, as a result, is a big album in every way. Although it is, without doubt, a Manics album through and through, it has a very different feel to it, with discernible Krautrock influences and late seventies/eighties style synths; a sound that, combined with the quality songwriting and powerful hooks, could win them an army of new fans. It may even be the record to win over those people who didn’t consider themselves to be Manic Street Preachers fans before. “Futurology” kicks off with the title track, which, although being perfectly enjoyable and includes one of those trademark James Dean Bradfield guitar riffs between lines in the chorus, is certainly one of the lesser songs on the album and may give a false impression of the quality of the whole project. The real cream begins on “Walk Me To The Bridge” which, despite Nicky Wire’s explanation that he was describing himself and the pressure of being the band within the lyrics, is too close to the Richey Edwards story and all of the surrounding emotions to ignore that interpretation of the song. Whatever the song means (and I think people will make up their own minds), it’s a blindingly good quiet verse/explosively loud chorus track and an instant Manics classic. “Let’s Go To War”, with a riff and melody line borrowed partly from Greig’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” and backing vocals from Cate Le Bon is a deliciously dark, infectious piece, a call to arms for the working class to reclaim their broken dreams; it’s nothing short of magnificent.
The beautifully honest “The Next Jet To Leave Moscow” sees a wry Wire tearing his younger self apart for the gestures that seemed empty and naïve (“So you played in Cuba/did you like it brother?/I bet you felt proud/You silly little fucker”), but perhaps he should be a little easier on himself. I don’t think it’s naivety to share the frustrations of a generation, to dream of ideas and solutions and, let’s face it, not all of us have our entire body of work under such a microscope that comes with being the Manics’ lyricist. I first heard “Europa Geht Durch Micht” (translation: Europe passes through me) in April 2014 at one of their live shows and it’s as startling and striking on record as it was when I sat there transfixed by their hypnotic performance at the Brighton Centre. Militaristic, relentless and detached, yet somehow addictive and irresistible (especially that klaxon), it utilises the purposely dispassionate vocals of Nina Hoss to perfect effect. The solitary song on “Futurology” which could have easily fit in on “Rewind The Film” is the sublime duet with Georgia Ruth, “Divine Youth”, which provides an oasis of calm right in the middle of a jaggedly powerful album. It is a rather melancholy, defeated piece full of life-weariness and cynicism, but it is undoubtedly beautiful. “Sex, Power, Love and Money”, on the other hand, is a big brilliant brute of a track, reminiscent of late seventies pop-punk bands such as The Undertones and The Buzzcocks, as well as a little dash of The Rolling Stones’ “Undercover Of The Night”.
The Berlin influences continue with the uplifting “Dreaming A City (Hughesovka)”, an instrumental that tips its hat to the vocal-less compositions on Bowie’s trio of albums, but specifically the more upbeat instrumental moments on “Low”. It does, however, have a little touch of Jean-Michel Jarre to it as well, resulting in a more wholly European sound, rather than simply Teutonic. Hughesovka (or, rather Yuzovka) is also the original name of Donetsk, where Welsh miners were shipped by industrialist John Hughes. So, just by scratching below the surface of this instrumental, you’re given a history lesson; in fact, you get the impression that between them and Gruff Rhys, they will eventually educate the world about all things Welsh. “Black Square”, with its early eighties-influenced sound, carries on the connection between Manics songs and the art world, with several profound quotes referenced. It’s not the best moment on the album, but it’s certainly interesting. Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside takes lead vocals on “Between The Clock On The Bed” and, although he often sounds distractingly like Lenny Kravitz (which may be handy if they ever bring back Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes), which is almost a tribute to the man himself, electronic drums, light synth sounds and all. It’s a decent song, but the album then cries out for something strident and memorable to counter a couple of musically lightweight numbers. This comes with “Misguided Missile”, a beauteous but mighty slice of Krautrock-influenced Manics, resplendent with memorable chorus, understated guitar solo and self-loathing lyrics.
The album ends on a high note, both figuratively and literally with, “The View From Stow Hill”, a superb, if painful, song about the “crushed dreams” of the Newport communities and the “misguided tweets” and “sad Facebooking” of its people and then the second instrumental, “Mayakovsky” (which references The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” with the opening shout of “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”) which somehow, through music, conveys optimism and hope. It’s odd, but there are very few Manic Street Preachers albums I have enjoyed it from start to finish, without any reservations, but “Futurology” is one of those elusive pieces of work. The bonus disc on the deluxe edition which contains all of the demo versions of the track on the album is well worth hearing, plus it also contains a few songs that didn’t make the final line-up, including an excellent composition, “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, which arguably really should have. Is this the Manic Street Preachers’ masterpiece? I really cannot go that far. It’s certainly brilliant, but “The Holy Bible”, “Everything Must Go” and “Journal For Plague Lovers” are arguably more wholly compelling releases, all for different reasons. However, “Futurology”, produced and engineered masterfully by Loz Williams, can be easily spoken about in the same terms because, whilst this excellent and wildly creative collection of songs cannot surpass such a high benchmark, it’s quite clearly one of the best albums they’ve ever made and they deserve every single bit of acclaim and praised lavished upon them for this one. Es ist fantastisch.
“Futurology” by Manic Street Preachers is out now on Columbia Records. Released on July 7th, it is available in both regular and deluxe editions in physical and digital formats.
Andy Sweeney, 8th July, 2014.