Not close to love love love, but like! Still talented songwriting, but I’ll always prefer chaotic bleakness over soaring optimism. And that’s what we have here: an album of generally cheerful , at times generic mid-90s alt-rock.
What happened? I tell man. Their depressing lyricist and rhythm guitarist disappeared completely, presumably having leapt off a bridge and become a rotting, fish-eaten corpse, leaving only scraps of lyrics behind, so bassist Nicky Wire, whose name makes me want to smack him, took over the duties. He’s a passive socialist and he misses his friend, but he’s doing okay. So the lyrics are happier, and musically – whoosh! There’s only like one sad-sounding song here! Soaring choruses abound! Strings! Production tricks! Two songs even have harps!
Yes, on this album there is also the career-long balancing act. The awkward, awkward one. See, while I have no doubt that Richey is missed very much, the band also realized that his disappearance was their most marketable aspect, and occasionally play it up more than necessary. On this album it isn’t too bad because they get legit grief points, the guy having died only a little while ago. The Manics never feared actively courting success, but the sudden shift from trail of nihilism and despair to one of hopefulness and obvious power chords is aking to a politician going from railing to pushing bland optimism. Get it together and grieve for my ears’ enjoyment, guys! But every song here is played like the band suspects it might be a breakout hit. Nothing too long, nothing too short, nothing too happy, nothing too sad.
Now, they did title the album “Everything Must Go”, so a change in pace is to be expected. There’s one massive hit-worthy song here, and that’s “A Design For Life”, a lyrically thin but rich political sigh, with a fucking terrific chorus, though only one verse. What’s the matter, Nicky? In fact, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed here: there’s still little to no coordination between lyrics and music, and I get the feeling that the lyrics are always written first, so songwriter/lead singer/lead guitarist JDB has to fit some awkward turns of phrase in again. Maybe it’s the lack of enfant maladroit writing from Richey, but they bother me more here. The two main ones are the “A design fo-or life!” in the chorus of the song that I just can’t remember the name of , and the engorged screaming of “and if you need an explanation / ATION” at the end of “Everything Must Go” is inexcusable. While I’m at it, what’s with “Enola/Alone” aside from spelling “alone” backwards? Still, JDB works some magic and the lyrics are pretty damned good most of the time, and never engage in the awful claptrap that was starting to take over American rock.
The last song is “No Surface All Feeling”, and the Manics, as a band, always manage to both at once completely sincere and incredibly shallow and success-chasey. Here they turn personal tragedy into twelve songs that are all so gosh-darned likable that it’s worth accepting that this is a solid album. At least hearing it for the first times in years was a nice experience.