Saturday, September 15, 2012

"We Used to Have Answers"

Manic Street Preachers: 'Lifeblood' (2004) And now the mid-Nineties synth job. Produced by industry veteran Tony Visconti, there’s little redolent of his long-time collaboration with David Bowie here, unless you count the late-era slapped bassline in Always/Never. Instead, the overall sound reminds me more of early Steve Lillywhite, producer of Big Country, a later incarnation of Manic influence The Skids, and certainly album opener 1985 contains a decent likeness of a typical Stuart Adamson guitar fill, but elsewhere is reminiscent also of late career U2 and mid-career Coldplay. Which goes some way to saying that while James Dean Bradfield’s guitar is present, it once again shares the roster with other instruments, namely keyboard washes and piano lines (more Lillywhite), muting the tone and softening the edges.

 Lyrically Lifeblood improves on Know Your Enemy, although there seems a less obvious polemic at work. Nicky Wire described the album as ‘elegeic’, and maybe that’s more apt than first appears, because I sense more resignation than protest in its songs, of offences being commented on after the fact; Emily, Wire’s comment on the usurping of heroine status of Emmeline Panckhurst by the likes of Princess Diana (“So pity poor Emily / You have been replaced by charity”.) We’re leagues away from the inflective of The Holy Bible, and even now listening to the album certain phrases come to mind: ‘domesticated’, ‘middle-aged’, almost ‘dinner party’. Nobody’s nose is going to be put out of joint by this offering – even in 2004 a reference in Empty Souls to “collapsing like the twin towers / falling down like April showers” was overdubbed for the single release.

 If anything, Lifeblood is perhaps a little too homogenous, succeeding in recovering the sense of continuity that its more celebrated predecessors (Bible, Everything, Truth), but the risk run here is that the songs, particularly after the first half of the album, tend to merge rather too well, and as a result the album drifts off to sleep shortly before closer Cardiff Afterlife and its Smiths-styled harmonica wraps things up. The eighties are all over this album for me, from the aforementioned Lillywhite sound (To Repel Ghosts could have come off U2’s October), to the lyrical opening of 1985 (“In 1985, Orwell was proved right / Torville and Dean’s Bolero, redundant as a sad Welsh chapel”) and its nod to the bands who would inspire the Manics’ creation (“Friends were made for life / Morrissey and Marr gave me choice”)

Cover Story: Slick and somehow anonymous. Text is along the lines of Everything and This Is My Truth (which seems apt and sensible after the less than spectacular efforts on Know Your Enemy). Computer-enhanced blood splashed over a nude figure against a white background. The motif’s presented further inside the liner notes, but the shots of the band members posed ‘reacting’ to splashes of red don’t work so well – it looks like it may well be – Ribena spilled on some black and white photos.

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