:: Article

Burning Bright

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Manic Street Preachers, Send Away The Tigers, Columbia, 2007

‘Comeback album’ is a phrase few bands like to hear. It’s positive, of course, but the entailment is anything but: it speaks of wilderness years, creative bankruptcy, even – whisper it – irrelevance. In short – something to come back from. As Cymru’s most outspoken politicos, Manic Street Preachers must be especially terrified by the last of those things. When your career is built on firebrand socialism patched onto an equally fiery glammy punk sound, there’s probably nothing worse than that moment where you and the public realise that the fire is out.

Despite an opening gambit of three beautiful, swooping, keyboard-led neo-80s pop nuggets, 2004’s Lifeblood descended swiftly into the tepid waters in which the likes of Coldplay and Keane are in constant danger of drowning. Luckily for – ooh, pretty much everyone – the Manics are back. With teeth.

The Manics have always been stupid. Even at their most intelligent, they straddled Oscar Wilde’s much-quoted ‘fine line’ and sprayed Sylvia Plath all over it. With main lyrical force Richey Edwards gone, many fans have bemoaned a steady decline in general excitement, culminating in the stillborn dud that was Lifeblood. But these doubters forget one vital fact – despite his headline-grabbing destructive personality and his contributions to the band’s image and manifesto, musically Richey did very, very little.

However, when their most obviously punk and most vocally intelligent member left, the Manics’ sound gradually petered out into a cliché-peppered stadium wash that committed the polit-rock cardinal sin of taking itself far too seriously. Why the big guitars disappeared with Richey is perhaps a topic for some interesting debate – but not here. Because it’s a moot point – baby, they’re back.

Roaring out of the den with its soulful title-track, SATT is already a whole new beast. James Dean Bradfield’s lyrical scansion is once again in tatters – and as better, the results are fucking brilliant. His voice, purged of all adult-alternative tendencies with his brief foray into solo work, is on full thrilling form again, as is the barnstorming (zoostorming?) bite of his riffs. Halfway through the instant, joyous, cathartically ridiculous ‘Autumnsong’, he reminds us he knows how to solo, and as he’s lying on his back in a glorious pool of his own guitar spunk, we realise two things. Number one: this is ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ by any other name. Number two: it’s absolutely fucking irrelevant.

Maybe it was Blair’s fault. Whatever the reason for the Manics’ self-searching meanderings between 1997-2007, old Tone’s resignation coincides with a satisfying neatness with the rediscovery of everything that made this band so great and so vital. It’s clear that the band is enjoying it too – from the clap-your-hands-and-assassinate-the-president glee of ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ to the waltzing, ‘Design for Life’ resurrection attempted by ‘Indian Summer’, nothing about it sounds tired or old or boring. This is Generation Terrorists FOR the Terrorist Generation – the three remaining old queens grew up, learned how to play, then underwent a beautiful regression, taking everything they’ve learned with them.

It works. ‘Rendition’ and ‘Imperial Bodybags’ are the catchiest songs ever written about the War on Terror – in the former’s case, metalloid riffs weld themselves to a simplistic melody and batter on the door of the White House. In the latter, snaky guitars wriggle around the verses to the beat of military-industrial rhythm, before JDB turns around and bites their head off with a sloganeering chorus about ‘prom queen disposable children wrapped in homemade flags’ that wouldn’t be out of place on Gold Against The Soul.

The Manics are tame no longer. They’re breaking out of their middle-aged cages and biting the hand that feeds. Nicky Wire has panda eyes again, and for the first time in ten years they sound like there’s a tiger in their tank. While Blur fade into side-project obscurity and Oasis decay before our eyes, along with Jarvis Cocker the true heroes of 90s British music – note, not Britpop – are emerging triumphant once more. Send Away The Tigers is proof, if ever proof were needed, that the Manics have earned their stripes. In fact, they’re grrrrrrrreat. And long may they roar.

161693623_feeab53a28_s-736506.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Richard O’Brien was born in Peterborough in 1990, and has been trying to escape ever since. He is currently still trying to get an education, and resides in a Lincolnshire village with his parents and his labradors with nautical names. He likes to act, listen to music, and write songs that will never be sung.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, June 10th, 2007.