Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Soundtrack To The Void: A Quick Review Of The New Manic Street Preachers Album

There's something so big, so majestic about the chorus of "International Blue", the lead single off of Resistance is Futile from Manic Street Preachers, that one marvels at how this band have consistently not been embraced on this side of the Atlantic the way they have overseas. Then again, look who's president now, eh? So much for the mystery of Yankee bad taste. As the Welsh band prepares to drop this, their 13th album, there's something reliably ambitious about the kind of pop being pursued and crafted by this lot here.

And what we're confronted with here on Resistance is Futile is an assessing and an assimilating. For as much as some of this sounds like bits from Send Away the Tigers (2007), or has flashes of the futuristic sheen of Futurology (2014), or even dashes of the odd punchiness of Know Your Enemy (2001), there's something new here, something slicker, more refined. If the Manic Street Preachers have done anything here on Resistance is Futile it's to swing for the fences (to use a baseball metaphor about a bunch of guys from Wales). And what this all means for fans, both old and casual, is that we've to give ourselves over again to that strange mix of brain-and-heart at work here in the music of Sean Moore, Nicky Wire, and James Dean Bradfield. What's here is, as always, the sound of a trio of smart fellows surrendering to their own pure-pop inclinations, with the result being the band's best -- and most consistent -- record in ages.

Now, for all that, there's also a lot of cribbing here, perhaps more than is normal for a trio of guys who've always worn their love of a bunch of diverse influences proudly on their sleeves. Maybe even more than on any recent release, the band seem content to nod in the direction of dozens of fine reference points: "In Eternity" is all Ultravox-pining-for-Bowie's-Berlin, echoes of the Manics' own Futurology (2014) abounding, while "Hold Me Like a Heaven" is easier to get stuck in the head, the tune's big hook decidedly radio-friendly, almost like an Imagine Dragons chorus. The song is, like a few here, almost catchy in spite of itself, the Manics pushing themselves dangerously close to the mainstream yet again, even as the more contrary "Broken Algorithims" ends up sounding more like Rush than anything else.

"Dylan and Caitlin", featuring guest vocals from The Anchoress, about Dylan Thomas and his wife, is this band's "Angel of Harlem", which is to say an unexpectedly peppy throwback to an era when Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick were in the Top 40, while AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" seems to have been the inspiration for "Sequels of Forgotten Wars", another clear winner here thanks to Bradfield's success with a skewed, understated guitar-line. On "Song for the Sadness", James nicks the faintest hint of a Slash guitar hook to serve as the central riff of the track, even as drummer Sean Moore seems to be channeling every John Bonham skin-smash ever sampled by the Beastie Boys. The cut is the more bombastic cousin to earlier numbers like "The Second Great Depression", but more buoyant, while the chugging "People Give In" has all the "Autobahn"-like precision of cuts from Futurology, even as it breaks into grand, sunshine-dappled string-breaks, the peaks of "Australia" writ even larger.

Those moments, and many in the first 2 singles ("International Blue" and "Distant Colours"), highlight the genius of this band, that unique blend of intellect and emotion that is rarely pulled off so deftly and precisely. The moments that move here -- and there are many, especially on the Hillsborough-referencing "Liverpool Revisited" -- season tracks every bit as big and shiny as those of, say, ELO, with the sort of smart pop that post-punk perpetually promised (and rarely delivered). Resistance is Futile sounds like the culmination of something, the search, sans Richey, for those moments when rock-and-roll truly can deliver us from our misery, and reveal something large and majestic within us as listeners and fans.

Resistance is Futile is out on Friday everywhere.

More details on Manic Street Preachers via Manics.co.uk

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture from band's Facebook page]