Monday, February 10, 2014

"I'm No Longer the Centre of the Universe"

Manic Street Preachers: 'Rewind the Film' (2013)

“How I hate middle age - In between acceptance and rage”
-Builder of Routines

Over ten years ago while we were in our precocious early thirties, a friend David and I used to grimly joke about what we were supposed to be writing about 'at our age', penning songs of frustrated gardening, perhaps, or, like John Upstart, Smith and Jones' Slightly Irritated Young Man playwright, the broken demister on the Volvo. Joking apart, once the threshold has been passed, what is there left to say? 

Having dallied with its approach in recent albums, this is the Manics grasping the midlife nettle fully, exposing the disappointment and frustration of maturity, when simple championing and sloganeering will no longer do – much less the star jumps Nicky Wire once could afford to attempt on stage. Twenty years after the ravaged original, this is Wire, Bradfield and Moore’s own Holy Bible, muted and sullen, but more resigned to the reality of age, given the aural space of This is My Truth. There's very little electric guitar on the album, using more acoustic than any album before it, and harking back to traditional song structures - the opening This Sullen Welsh Heart and As Holy as the Soil (that Covers Your Skin) could be spirituals.

This is an important album for the Manic, and may be their best and most cohesive since This Is My Truth. The years colour and condemn, and a group "laminated" against its rigours look back on youth and simplicity. You could argue that previous albums have also visited this ground, particularly Postcard from a Young Man, but Rewind the Film willfully resists its predecessor's attempt at "mass communication" and is pointedly introverted, referencing the moribund likes of Morrisey (for whom 3 Ways to See Despair was written), Vidal, Lowry, Lennon and Lenin, as much as the band's own history, both happy (I Miss the Tokyo Skyline) and regretful. Wire's As Holy as the Soil calls his departed friend to "please come home, it's been so long but I can't let go."

Wire sings more here, and the band employing duets (which worked well for them in the past) but I wonder whether there's another tactic in distancing themselves from harder songs - the title track is shared by Pulp's Richard Hawley with Bradfield coming in on the choruses; Cate Le Bon provides all the vocals for 4 Lonely Roads, and Lucy Rose backs Sullen Welsh Heart. It, like Rewind the Film, covering the heavy confessions. I'm reminded of Nicky Wire opting to sing the closing song (bar one hidden track) of Journal to spare his bandmate the raw emotion of singing what has been taken by many to be a suicide note rehearsal.

Journal for Plague Lovers returns in sound with Running Out of Fantasy, a world-weary look in the mirror with some elegant phrasing and some of Wire's most economic writing:

The dying fall of my sentences / the magic of lost consequences
The seduction of a fading power / in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere

I love this album, I think, and I'm glad I discovered it a little late, away from press reviews and magazine articles (which have been largely highly complimentary.) in two months the companion album, the threatened 'Krautrock' influences Futurism will be released, its likely sound hinted at in this album's angry closer 30-Year War, Rewind's most overtly political song, driven by an intriguing array of keyboard washes, reverberating William Orbit-like percussive stabs and Wire playing the closest to a Peter Hook bass riff as he possibly can. It sounds an intriguing mix, and indicates a lot of life left in this band yet.

Cover Story: Railings on the Severn Bridge, that potent image of the band’s true crisis point, taken from a moving vehicle. This is a moving on from a past point of identity - not yet erased nor rendered ineffective, but able to be passed. A place of memory and temporary reflection.

Videos: The past returns in a Seventies-bleached slice of life in a Welsh community hall (the director apparently didn't need to put too much effort into dressing the location to period). Show me the Wonder is atypical of the album in general, being an up piece, but the past can be a happy, even wonderful place, too.

This is no threat, just an invitation
A sense of belonging, a sense of inspiration

1 comment:

  1. Postscript: Just adding to GuanoLad that this indeed is the post which should include my namesake, as '3 Ways to See Despair' was inspired by an article Wire read about Big Country lead Stuart Adamson.