Saturday, October 20, 2012

"I Was Born to Underachieve"

Manic Street Preachers: 'Send Away the Tigers' (2007)

 “I realised that The Manics had lost that element of fabulous disaster... And on this album, we've gone back to source” - Nicky wire on Send Away The Tigers 

And now for the triumphant return, the second second coming? Lifeblood’s fortunes had been mixed indeed – eschewed critically and by the fans for its different sound and introspective mood. By 2007 Manic Street Preachers were an old band, shedding ill-fated solo projects and looking with steely eyes to a twentieth anniversary in a handful of years. Surely after the lacklustre response to their last group effort, the next album would open quietly and fade away slowly? Well, not in this instance. It’s a strange element in the music and life of the Manic street Preachers that confounded expectation runs through their career. Generation Terrorists was not the incendiary monolithic debut the band had hoped to arrive and shorty retire on; The Holy Bible did not achieve its Important Album status by chart success, and the fortune of Everything Must Go is a matter of historical record by now. By 2007 though, you’d be forgiven for thinking the well was running dry after two albums whose reception had been, to put it kindly, ‘mixed.’

Send Away the Tigers was instead a great success, and widely regarded as that elusive thing for an ageing band, the ‘return to form’. Pipped to the number one album spot by fewer than 700 units, its first chart-eligible track, the grand and sparring Your Love Alone Is Not Enough with The Cardigans’ Nina Persson (the band’s first duet since Pretty Baby Nothing) took them back to the number two spot in the UK, and re-launched the group as a credible radio-friendly band once more. Certainly, speaking for myself the results were there. I bought Tigers aware that friends and family who had ‘til then had no opinion (or even awareness) of the band were expressing genuine interest in the single, and this far from Wales that had to mean something (Your Love eventually reached number 20 in the NZ charts), so all was well there. What of the rest of the album though?

Comeback albums are funny things; not as common an industry cliché as “the difficult second album”, but common enough that there’s a commercial imperative built in for any aspiring manager of a downwardly-motivated act to dream of. Send Away the Tigers as a whole for me recalls Green Day's American Idiot (2004), an altogether huger work with longer-lasting impact, but as an example of a return effort with little change to sound other than a renewed vigour, the albums are close. Tigers ups the ante a little, offering more politically-motivated tracks (Rendition, the Clash-like Imperial Bodybags) peppered among the ‘mature’ audience-friendly ones, and overall the efforts speak of Wire’s aforementioned intent to ‘return to the source’. There’s a lot that’s familiar and comforting to the established fan: Lifeblood’s keyboards open the album but are pointedly drowned out by another Adamson-styled guitar intro, and the band’s past works are referenced too – from You Stole the Sun From My Heart finding its way into the lyrics of Your Love Alone to the swinging 6/8-timed Indian Summer, which so resembles A Design for Life that Bradfield and Wire were at loggerheads over its inclusion, and soon after its release a YouTube wag demonstrated just how close the similarity was. Critically and emotionally as well as commercially Send Away the Tigers is a great success, probably well worth the return of the reversed-R cover lettering, I’d say. But for me it’s not a long player, being maybe too familiar, too rehearsed. It’s the sound of a band who knew they always had it in them, but because their past two albums had fared poorly, this return to form strikes me also as something of a shrug of acknowledgement. The hidden track, an unnecessary cover of Working Class Hero (also covered by Green Day for an Amnesty International album) tend towards lip-service. The Tiger burns bright, and where and when it needed to, but the follow up album for me is the big one; another resurrection of the past, but crucially less well-rehearsed, and the better for it.

Cover Story: Finally, a cover with legs. An astute choice, using a professional photographer’s work. This was borne out with the video for Autumnsong which came in two varieties – a label-sanctioned version, and a second pass instigated by the band themselves using the same models miming to the song and directed by the photographer. It’s an attractive sleeve. There, I said it.

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