It’s good to see Manic Street Preachers being cut a bit of slack these days. It was getting a bit too popular to sneer back at the once-sneery Welsh trio. That was probably down to radio overplay and the release of one or two misfiring records, namely 2001’s Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood in 2004. Neither of these were particularly bad records in the same way a Razorlight record is a bad record, but there comes a time in every band’s life when the public will take them for granted. The Manics are emerging from that.
Journal For Plague Lovers is the Welsh contrarians’ ninth studio LP, and the trio’s long-departed and most iconic member Richey Edwards is the sole lyricist here. The story goes that Edwards gave bassist and glitter twin Nicky Wire a folder of lyrics, notes and images about five days before he disappeared on February 1, 1995. Wire has called this LP -a tombstone’ to Edwards, and hinted that making an album of songs to accompany their fallen comrade’s poetry was something they had to get off their chests. But this is no parenthetical pit stop in the career of a group you feel are in full control of their future, if not their past.
Steve Albini twists the knobs, giving each pummelling riff a bite (-All Is Vanity’ and -Bag Lady’ are particularly tasty) that clearly has The Holy Bible in mind. James Dean Bradfield, the man tasked with turning the lyrics of Edwards and Wire into proper rock melodies does typically sterling work here, twisting the wordy phrases and filling them with life. -Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’ and -Me And Stephen Hawking’ see him jumping from a crisp bellow into a punky yelp. There are tender moments too. Wire bravely sings a personal goodbye on -William’s Last Words’, his trembling bleat both endearing and vulnerable.
Journal’¦ will not have anything released off it as a single, which is understandable. This music is not only laying to rest a ghost that has hung over everything the band have done since Edwards vanished, but is also a celebration of what an integral part of Manic Street Preachers he will always be. On a simpler level, it’s proof they can still shit out arresting, no-nonsense rock n’ roll whenever they want.
The Manics headline the Heineken Green Spheres tent on sunday night (12th July) at Oxegen and play the Olympia tonight (4th June).