Manic Street Preachers
Postcards from a young man (2010)
Postcards from a young man (2010)
*I Proud To Recommended!!!*
For a band who’ve effortlessly shifted identities throughout their career – glam-rock upstarts to grizzled AOR-anthemites to militant industrialists to Spector-pop puglists – the Manics now seem to have reduced it down to a dual personality. As Nicky Wire puts it, “there are two versions of this band. There’s the ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ and ‘The Holy Bible’ version and then there’s the ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ version. That over the top hysterical dignity, that flash of intelligence. There’s something glorious in celebrating what we really are.” Indeed, after last year’s ‘Journal…’ re-established them as a raucous, riotous rock band, ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ delves into ‘Everything Must Go’ territory. In a track-by-track guide, Niall Doherty finds a record of big-chorused bombast, hooky as hell, Nicky Wire’s lyrical eloquence firmly at the fore.
‘(It’s Not War) – Just The End Of Love’
The first single from ‘Postcards…’ sets out its grandiose stall from the off as James Dean Bradfield’s FM-friendly riff gives way to a warm orchestral flourish. Armed with a giant, indelible chorus in the ‘Your Love Alone…’ vein, it features a turn-it-up-to-11 guitar solo from JDB – in just over 30 seconds, he makes up for the lack of solos on ‘Journal…’ – and an atypically resigned-to-fate lyric from Wire. From anyone else, ‘(It’s Not War)…’’s lyrical theme would sound like a shrug – from Wire, it sounds like an embrace. Brilliant start.‘Postcards From A Young Man’
Is that a twin guitar riff thwacking me round the head as soon as the title track kicks into life? YES, IT IS. Rather than let the string section take the spotlight, instead JDB’s guitar sounds like its trying to spar with them. Lyrically, this is a distant cousin of ‘Enola/Alone’’s sepia-tinged nostalgia with a chorus that’s as melodically strong as anything the Manics have done in years, reinforcing the notion that ‘Postcards…’ will be a record of poignantly-executed singalongs. The stompingly defiant Queen-esque outro is stunning, chugging guitars and swelling strings backing a gospel choir and JDB’s cries of “this world will not impose its will/I will not give up and I will not give in.”
‘Some Kind Of Nothingness’
No-one quite lands upon the euphoric tip of melancholy like the Manics. By rights, ‘Some Kind Of Nothingness’ should be a droney, moany dwell on the past. Instead, though, it’s a triumphant, bombastic blast and the most soulful things they’ve done since ‘La Tristessa Durera’. Featuring a great co-vocal from Ian McCulloch – his mournful baritone contrasts brilliantly with the hi-end howl of James Dean Bradfield - it also has a big fucking gospel choir joining in on the “Will you find some kind of nothingness? Stale and lonely, like an old school photograph” coda at the end. Those lyrics shouldn’t be spine-tingingly uplifting, but fucking are.
‘The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)’
A Ziggy Stardust-esque riff begins ‘The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)’, its staccato strings echoing Oasis’ ‘Whatever’. “This is my last descent/I hope I’m making sense/I’ve lost my last defence/The pages that you left” goes its – once again – Big Chorus before giving way to another cool-as-fuck solo from JDB as strings swoop around him.
Mick Ronson guitars and Eleanor Rigby strings bring the forlorn grandeur of ‘Hazelton Avenue’ to life. Like much of ‘Postcards…’ so far, there’s a rock classicism at the heart of it, a simplicity of song that means the kitchen-sink production never feels hollow. It feels like Phil Spector taking Van Morrison’s intimate, intricate vignettes, putting ‘em in a Slash wig and sending ‘em stratosphere-wards. An awesome pop song.
Again, there’s a strong Bowie influence on the opening thrums of ‘Auto-Intoxication’. “The more I want to be me/The less I know myself” goes the opening lines – echoing the sort of self-identity crisis Wire expressed in the likes ‘No-One Knows What It’s Like To Be Me’ - before the song collapses into a dreamy psyche-rock breakdown that’s quickly replaced by a spluttery, riffed-up chorus where James Dean Bradfield gets to holler to the bottom of those airy lungs of it. Less string-orientated than anything that’s preceded it, ‘Auto-Intoxication’’s the heaviest thing yet on ‘Postcards…’, its pace exhilarating.
Beginning with plaintive piano and lamenting, soulful vocals, ‘Golden Platitudes’ is much more in keeping with the first half of ‘Postcards’. There’s a romanticism to both the music and lyrics, Bradfield’s croon backed with Pink Floyd-esque gospels harmonies – “Why colonise the moon/If every desperation exists/In every single home/where did the feeling go/Where did it all go wrong?” go the lyrics before it breaks out in a big Beatles-esque la-along. This is the sort of slow-paced, melodically strong song they were aiming for on ‘This Is My Truth…’, except here the song is strong enough – and the rest – to pull it off.
‘I Think I’ve Found It’
Holy shit, is that a banjo? I hate banjos. Blame Mumford. But I love the Manics. Arghhh I’m torn. But then I don’t like sitars and I really like ‘Tsunami’. Onwards I shall go… Ah the banjos have gone anyway. Whooo! One of the most straight-arrowed songs so far, ‘I Think I’ve Found It’ has a breezy, singalong nature but enough urgency to avoid veering into dadrock territory.
‘A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun’
A menacing, muted riff kicks off ‘A Billion Balconies…’, which features Duff McKagan, ex of Manics faves Guns’n’Roses, on bass. Armed with a gloriously shouty chorus and another ace solo from JDB, lyrically ‘A Billion…’ is basically Wire establishing himself – if he hasn’t already – as music’s most trusty luddite. The internet’s rubbish anyway, innit? Except for The-Fly.co.uk, whooo! Oh, right…
‘All We Make Is Entertainment’
More arena-destined big guitars burst out of the speakers at the start of ‘All We Make…’, which Wire has stated is about “Britain’s insatiable desire to off load and destroy anything it makes.” It’s as close to Manics’ trademark bile-spitting as anything yet on ‘Postcards’, but done in a way that echoes The Jam’s wriest moments rather than their usual format – a sonic ramraiding – encapsulation the classic-pop centre of this album. The best solo yet – it sounds like six guitars sumo-wrestling with each other – comes at its climax. Ace.
‘The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever’
The Nicky Wire-sung ‘The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever’ features a Keith Richards riff over a ragged cowbell-groove. Yep, just said cowbell-groove, what you gonna do? Sean Moore’s trumpet virtuosity crops up over the ethereal, blissed-out chorus, Wire’s voice guiding the melody more than it ever has before. “You can’t re-write your histories,” he sings, nostalgia and looking back one of ‘Postcards…’, and the Manics’, main themes.
‘Don’t Be Evil’
A stuttering malevolent riff and a viciously in-your-face James Dean Bradfield vocal establish that ‘Postcards’’ won’t be going out with a whimper. “God save us all from Satan’s stare,” he sings as ‘Don’t Be Evil’ surges into a caustic, fevered chorus, the song’s lyrical mocking of the internet in keeping with ‘Postcards’’ classic feel.
It’s in keeping with ‘Send Away The Tigers’ and ‘Everything Must Go’, certainly, but more than that, listening to ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ reveals the Manics are still finding out new things about themselves – here they’re poppier than ever, as lyrically biting as always and, on First Listen anyway, as brilliant as they've ever been.
Manic Street Preachers, ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ is released on September 20
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