Monday, June 1st, 2009

William's Last Words

Review of Manic Street Preachers' Journal For Plague Lovers

Photo viaaktualne.czI only came to the Manic Street Preachers with their 1994 breakout album Everything Must Go and thus missed the Richey Edwards years, only discovering the music and the legend retrospectively. And while I could submit the Manics v2.0 as having superior pop songs and Nicky Wire as a worthy lyricist with moments of brilliance, if a devout Edwards acolyte were to claim that with their original songwriter’s disappearance, the band had lost a crucial, ineffable creative fire that all the chart-toppers in the world couldn’t compensate for, I don’t think I could argue it.

While the first two Manics albums were decidedly flawed – Generation Terrorists overlong, Gold Against The Soul undercooked and both with production that’s aged badly – the band’s third and Edwards’ last, The Holy Bible, was and remains a masterpiece. Still one of the angriest albums I’ve ever heard, it mated Edwards’ seethingly articulate vitriol with a dry and intense sonic attack for a truly harrowing yet cathartic listening experience and after he disappeared, it’s not surprising the band was unable or unwilling to tread in such territory again – not many would be able to tap into such a vein of inspiration and come out of it whole.

But after fifteen years and five albums of varying quality – things went parabolic post-Go, hitting a nadir with 2004’s anaemic Lifeblood but they rebounded with the 2007’s solid Send Away The Tigers – the band surprised all by turning to notes and lyrics left behind by Edwards for their latest album Journal For Plague Lovers and consciously creating a sequel to The Holy Bible, right down to the sleeve artist and typeface. You’d have to be a special breed of cynical to view this as some calculated stunt – the Manics have said and done some questionable things over the years but their earnestness has rarely been in question – but good intentions don’t necessarily make for good albums. The trio are not the angry young men they were a decade and a half ago – could trying to recapture that spirit really end well?

Amazingly, yes.

Journal manages to take the live-wire energy of the Manics of old and mate it perfectly with the weight of experience of the Manics of today. Edwards’ lyrics, still verbose, literate and tongue-twisting, remain fixed on topics of body, blood and anxiety and it’s a testament to James Dean Bradfield’s abilities that he’s able to deliver them with the both the righteous fury of a young man and the seasoned nuance of an older man, and all while delivering his typically ripping guitarwork. Much was made of the use of Steve Albini as engineer on this record, but his sonic signature isn’t especially present – it may be a touch more abrasive than their last couple records, but is still stadium-sized.

The Manics have managed to take the tension and nihilism of The Holy Bible and temper it with the melodicism of Everything Must Go and the elegiac beauty of This Is My Truth and in the process, perhaps made the most defining album of their career. It’s hard to say how where they’ll go from here – after all, there are presumably no more words left from Edwards to frame – but even if they never reach these heights or degree of focus again and return to making decent if uneven records for the remainder of their career, that they not only attempted a project as fraught with risk as Journal but made it a triumph will stand as a tribute to their fallen bandmate and a testament to their own excellence.

Seeing as how the band viewed Journal as less a conventional album and more a personal project – at one point Nicky Wire didn’t even want to release it – there were initially supposed to be no singles or videos from it. It appears they’ve changed their minds on that as a video for “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time” has surfaced, complete with slightly sanitized lyrics – on the album, it’s not “if a married man begs a Catholic”… I wonder if Richey would have approved? The two downloads that NME put up a few weeks back – one a remix by The Horrors which will appear on a forthcoming remix album and the other a cover by The Manics of The Horrors’ “Vision Blurred” from Primary Colours – are still available, so grab those. A BBC documentary on the band, Shadows and Words, is also available on YouTube in three parts and there’s an interview with Wire at The New Statesman. I’ve heard nothing about a North American release for the record and touring over here is probably never going to happen again – I don’t think they’ve been back since the This Is My Truth tour way back in 1999.

MP3: Manic Street Preachers – “Doors Closing Slowly” (Horrors remix)
MP3: Manic Street Preachers – “Vision Blurred”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”
MySpace: Manic Street Preachers

I’ve not gotten a formal press release about it yet, but the listing on the venue’s website is official enough for me to be absolutely stoked about the fact that Elbow will be playing their own headlining show at the Phoenix on July 29 before opening up for Coldplay at the Rogers Centre the following night. This is definitely one to file under “wishes fulfilled”. Cannot wait. Tickets are $26.50.

LA2Day has words with Doves drummer Andy Williams and MPR is streaming a studio session with the band. They’re in town tonight at the Kool Haus.

The Guardian assembles an oral history of Blur from the beginning to the end. An ending which itself ends next month with the band’s reunion gigs in the UK.

Daytrotter has a session with Anni Rossi, with whom Toronto isn’t seeming to have much of a choice but to get acquainted with. She was here in late April opening for Noah & The Whale and will be returning not once but twice this Summer – she’ll be supporting Camera Obscura at Lee’s Palace on June 27 and then Micachu at the El Mocambo on July 14. Westword and SF Station have interviews with Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell while Clash talks to Micachu’s Mica Levi. Micachu also have a new vid.

Video: Micachu – “Golden Phone”

JAM and The Globe & Mail talk to Elvis Costello about Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, out tomorrow. He’ll play Massey Hall on August 28.

The Line Of Best Fit asks Fanfarlo what they’ve been listening to.

Bat For Lashes have a new video out.

Video: Bat For Lashes – “Pearl’s Dream”

Maximo Park have also released a new clip from Quicken The Heart, which has grown on me since I first got it but is still more forgettable than I’d like. They play Lee’s Palace on September 18.

Video: Maximo Park – “Questing, Not Coasting”

Face Culture has a series of video interviews with Patrick Wolf, Metro a print one and Virgin Music covers online. The Bachelor is out today in the UK and tomorrow in digital form here in North America. The CD is out August 11. He plays the Mod Club on June 17.

Glasswerk interviews White Lies, coming to the Phoenix on September 26.

By : Frank Yang at 8:19 am
Category: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post4 Responses.
  1. shane says:

    The new record is indeed a pleasant return to good Manics – but it’s interesting, I never realised I was in such a minority as a Lifeblood fan. I couldn’t stand Send Away The Tigers.

  2. Frank Yang says:

    I don’t mind Lifeblood as much as some, but with the Manics I think people have had them on death watch for years and years, expecting every new record to be the one that confirms they’ve finally lost it and Lifeblood was probably as close as they came to meeting those expectations. Tigers had some great singles and had more energy, so I enjoyed it more for the fact that it showed they weren’t done yet and the new one, I think I love without any sort of qualification.

  3. Jim says:

    I think Journal… is going to inspire the band, and fuel their fires again. They haven’t sounded this intense since Holy Bible, and I totally agree that they’ve found the balance between angry young men and wise old sages on this. They’ve been trying to distance Richey’s spirit since Holy Bible, and I think they’ve finally come to understand that, whether in body or spirit, he’s always with them.

  4. Frank Yang says:

    hope you’re right, Jim – Journal made me remember how no one does what the Manics can do when they’re at the top of their game. Love to have them stick around and remain vital a while longer.