Manic Street Preachers - Lifeblood

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They've been threatening to make an album like this for years.


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Lifeblood is a surprise. On first listen what leaps out at you is how clean and shiny the production is, but having been produced in part by legendary Bowie button twiddler Tony Visconti and engineered by Goldfrapp helper Tom Elmhirst it shouldn't be that unexpected. What's surprising is that it seems like a mellow album at first, but then, over the course of a few listens you realize that somewhere, deep underneath the shiny coat, is the same attitude we've always loved them for; it's just channelled in a different way. Musically, the album is a great leap forward. James and Sean have written some of their most anthemic and catchy melodies for this album, but perhaps they're not as exciting or abrasive as they used to be. It's lyrically (as always) where the Manics matter most though, and I think this is the album where Nicky Wire is finally standing out on his own. This is the most confident and self assured set of lyrics he's ever collated.


 


The disappearance of their friend and bandmate Richey James, in 1995, has shadowed the band ever since, and it's still almost impossible to write an article about the band without mentioning him once. As you see, I have failed already. In the beginning, when they were all eyeliner and spray paint, the band proclaimed themselves to be the 'most intelligent band on the planet.' Their clothes were emblazoned with slogans and every other sentence they spoke was either a reference to how terribly important they were or another piece of their political manifesto. It all seemed like a cry for acceptance, a desperate plea to be recognized as a band, and as people, of substance. (A working class trait if ever there was one.) I always got the impression that Nicky, James and Sean were happy to play up to their image, as a means of promoting, and simultaneously, protecting themselves; but with Richey there was always the impression that he deeply, truly believed it.


 


With Richey's disappearance, the sharpest teeth in the band's bite were pulled out and for a small section of fans, the band's story ends right there. Which is rather sad, I think. What has impressed me is how strong and powerful the band have developed since then. They seem a lot more focused and sure of themselves now and whereas Richey's lyrics were often abrasive and dark, Nicky's always seem to have a glimmer of hope, no matter how melancholy the subject. It's Nicky that's made the last three studio albums feel ultimately uplifting. With regards to Richey's disappearance, Lifeblood finally sees the band, and Nicky in particular, trying to find closure (see Cardiff Afterlife for details) and as such it is their most uplifting and 'poppy' album yet.


 



 


Lifeblood is clean, it's precise and it will probably appeal to Coldplay and Keane fans in the way that Everything Must Go appealed to Oasis fans. There's no shame in that. Yes it's as polished as a U2 album, and the songs seem to be written to be played in giant aircraft hangars, but this is the world the Manics live in. The Manics have travelled a long and occasionally haphazard journey, in music alone, but they've always stood up proud of what they've achieved, or at least what they set out to achieve. Yes, they've made some bad choices along the way, (this is the band that once supported Bon Jovi at Wembley, let us not forget), but they've always done it with a 'fuck you and what you think' attitude and with a smile on their faces. Gleefully contradicting themselves at any opportunity, the Manics have always been, and still are, a breath of fresh air in the stinking, manufactured world of popular music. Their interviews are always a great read, their live shows are consistently brilliant and their records all, and I repeat ALL, have something of merit on them.


 


They may not dress up like the New York Dolls any more, they may not hang badges of Mao Tse Tung from their breast pockets ever again and they may not even drape a Welsh flag from their Marshall stacks any longer, but they are still a band worthy of your admiration. They'll tour this album in big giant arenas, and they'll do it in style. In a world where U2 and Coldplay are seen as 'political' and cherished as world saviours, the Manic Street Preachers seem like the oldest, wisest and most knowledgeable bunch around, which is what they've been telling us for years. They've been threatening to make an album like this for years. Pristine, perfect, intelligent pop-rock of the highest order.  


 


The Manic Street Preachers aren't a band for the kids any more. They've grown up. They're a band for everybody now, your Mams, Dads and younger cousins will all find this album and hopefully they'll all love it. If there's any justice in the world, this deserves to sell in the quantities U2 and Bruce Springsteen tend to shift. The Manic Street Preachers deserve your respect. Hell, they demand it. Designed, produced and articulated to perfection, Lifeblood is one of the albums of the year.  


 


 


Words : Damian Leslie 


Illustration : Mark Frudd