Review - Manic Street Preachers

Manic Street Preachers
by Nick Parker
Growing Old Gracefully but it's a Mixed Bag that results...

In the 1990s British music scene there were hardly any bands faster and more furious than The Manic Street Preachers. Leading the charge of Welsh guitar bands in the period, the Manics were also among the most radical of them, both musically and politically. Then of course, there was James Dean Bradfield’s voice: searing; hugely powerful; completely idiosyncratic.

James Dean Bradfield BBC photo - album

Most of all their story – enduring the (presumed) death of guitarist Richey Edwards, and still managing to produce very successful, sweeping musical anthems in the aftermath – was a narrative as moving as that of New Order’s birth out of Joy Division. We wanted them to win, out of such adversity, and they did.

This year’s new release from the band though, “Journal for Plague Lovers,” really retains only one of these three elements, which had commanded our interest. The album is still marked by Bradfield’s almost operatic singing. The Manics are something I think they would have been horrified by a decade ago though: there is some fear they are becoming tame.

album art by Jenny Savill

I will start out immediately, saying that, “Journal for Plague Lovers” is not a terrible album – it’s in fact ‘solid,’ and even ‘dependable.’ But this a band that has produced such powerful work in the past though. We can hardly be satisfied with that.

"This Joke Sport Severed"
from Journal for Plague Lovers

ONE WRITER'S HUMBLE OPINION - There are a lot of similarities with this story of gentle decline and that of Supergrass’s, another 90s act whose first album, ‘I should coco,’ had an energy that even admittedly engaging later work could never match. Supergrass had a great voice to lead it too, and an incredible force that has now dissipated.

PRODUCTION ELEMENTS / THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM - At fault I think is over-production that evens out both bands’ music to the point where it is just too clear and digestible, and has had the jagged thrall of energy that I feel sure they could still muster hammered out of it. After all, it seems unfair to assume age is the issue alone. There are plenty of older bands that keep up the pace (even much older – I saw the Buzzcocks a little while ago storm through a set at the old Axis). This over-polished production is remarkable, because no less a studio master than Steve Albini was responsible for it.

I suppose The Manics shouldn’t be expected to produce endless, increasingly worn-out parodies of their initial work. What we have from The Manics this time around though is a pale version of their early stuff, and it doesn’t offer a new kind of sound to replace what’s missing of the old one.

NEW REMIX ALBUM - Helping to keep things fresh, the band have released a sister remix album, featuring the likes of British Sea Power, Underworld (their first remix in 10 years), Saint Etienne, The Horrors and Andrew Weatherall. The digital version of the remix product is available om iTunes.


Unknown said…
Too bad you didn't get to review the Manics when they played the Paradise last month (October 8th)- they were killer live! They have such a catalog of music that Journal is but a small part of a large body of work.
nickparkersound said…
I bet they were good. I saw them over a decade ago in England, and they were explosive. I'm not surprised they can still deliver live. As I said in the review, the album's limitations might have been down to production issues rather than any lack of ability on their part.

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