Manic Street Preachers – Postcards From a Young Man

Hmm, take back everything positive I’ve ever said in my life about late-period Manics. This is an album of overly symphonic glurge adult-oriented rock music for people who don’t know how to rock waste of everyone’s time shut down of the previous album holocaust denying annoying-ass trying too hard to get on the radio poorly written music.

In order. First, the last album was a return, not to MSP’s previous form, but to the form of a band that remembered how to put a message together. Sad lyrics from dead friend accompanied by staccato, angry guitars that perhaps marked a strong new direction. Nope! This album is filled with orchestral slop and production frills. There’s a freaking unnecessary gospel choir on no less than four songs. And not for any good purpose: the songs are so treacly that any meaning sunken deep in their fat is swallowed up in the caked-on strings and “anthemic” choruses.

This is slow, old man “rock” music. I can’t see anyone under the age of 30 enjoying something so neutered and unfeeling. I wish it was dead. Postcards From A Young Man? More like “music from a bunch of old men!” I know I already made that comment. I’m sorry for wasting everybody’s time. But seriously, this is a joke for a group that once confounded America so badly they were rejected forever.

If it wasn’t obvious, this album is designed with trying to get on the radio, at any cost. Every song wants to be “A Design For Life” so bad! But they lack the part where that song was socially relevant, artistically meaningful, and melodically memorable. This is a bunch of nothing that makes me sad, like recent U2 makes me sad. It sounds like the fires of ambition have gone out completely and the band dumped water on the embers at 1:00 AM and went to bed after three beers.

Except the kind of great anti-car rant “Auto Intoxication” and the wherewithal to title a (bad) song “All We Make Is Entertainment.” I don’t know where that came from, but it sure wasn’t the same thing that let them to title the lead singer “It’s Not War (Just the End of Love).” That was probably the sadness of years

3/10

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Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers

Well surprise, the Man Ix Treatp Reachers recorded another good album. Could it be that they’ve been a talented band all along? For the record, I think they’re a bunch of overachievers, but this is still a solid recording. For the first time in forever they don’t sound obsessed with making as many people like them as much as they possibly can. This album does many thins right: it entirely uses lyrics written by the doomed Richey James. It eschews (bless you) strings in favour of sounding like an indie rock band. It’s pleasantly concise, with only one song crossing the four-minute mark. It never tries to get cheerful or be anything other than vaguely bleak. It ends with a sad suicide note of a sad song that makes me sad. Most importantly, the band sound genuinely emotional; like they care more about the music than they do about how the music will be received. It’s nice to see from a trio of fattened 90s Welshmen who realistically have no need for money anymore. More importantly, this is an album that could pass for being written by a bunch of disaffected 23 year-olds without sacrificing the melodic know-how that comes from experience.

Oh sure it’s not perfect. Not even great. These aren’t by any means the best lyrics Richey ever wrote, and the more I try to glean his opinions about just about anything the more I figure he was a pretentious lizard who doesn’t understand the proper use of the phrase “beg the question.” Musically the album lacks a haymker to stick in your head muscle and make you excited and sad like The Holy Bible used to. The acoustic numbers are boring as Bohr. And my version includes an entire useless album of demo tracks while excluding the track “Bag Lady” that’s on the normal version, presumably so that “Real” fans will have to buy both.

But corporate shanningans aside, this album is the freest of corporate shannings for the Manics since before they existified. “Peeled Apples”? Awesome! “She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach”? Bleak and awesome! “William’s Last Words”? Baww worthy! “Marion J.D.”? Violently anachronistic and awesome.

Did you know that between this album and the one before it they recorded a cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”? Well, they did. And it’s freaking great – self-aware without being free of genuine admiration and application of rock godness to a Rihanna song. They shoulda put that one here. So that they wouldn’t sound so bummed out about their ol’ dead friend. And their cover of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. And the Benny Hill Theme. And a pony. That’ll show them!

8/10

Manic Street Preachers – Send Away the Tigers

Send away Tigger and such.

Ever had a Chicago-style hot dog? They’re the best. Here’s how they work: you won’t be able to get all of the ingredients so you have to approximate unless you live in Chicago. You want long poppy seed hot dog buns, sweet green relish, normal yellow mustard, tomato, normal white onion, dill pickles, pickled sport peppers (which are spicy and green), and celery salt. Of course, you’ll also need hot dog or hot dog substitutes. I can’t advise regarding real hot dogs, but jumbo veggie dogs do the trick just fine. Steam the bun, then add the ingredients. If you skip or add anything then creepy food bloggers will come murder you, so be careful. Ha ha, people who run specialized blogs sure are silly and obsessive!

Oh god they’re so good. So good, in fact, that I ran out of buns today and took to assembling little deconstructed Chicago-style hot dog plates with each ingredient having its own little block of plate space. The result – me delicately combining each ingredient with each bite – felt rather successful and haute cuisine-like, but also made me feel like I need to now deconstruct more of my food into its constituent parts. Literally nobody in history has ever thought of something so subversive.

I was so proud of myself that I cooled off with some old timey MSPs. And they do sound old timey, like they’re trying to have a hit in 1998! Big anthemic chorus, big stadium riffs, big sounding statements, even when they’re talking about changing clothing. Everything is really important, guys! Sound the foghorns!

Welp, that about describes it, but let’s get a bit more deeper and more uniquer: this is easily the most competent they’ve sounded in some time. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t include a hidden track of the dudes in a boardroom deciding to make an arena-rock album this time and stay tight, damnit. The keyboards are still around but they’re pushed to the back of the mix and reduced to accompaniment while the guitars play their big riffs.

Basically there are two kinds of songs here: political numbers and interpersonal srebmun. The format works pretty well for the political numbers: “I’m Just A Patsy” is pretty endearing, and rockabilly thing “Imperial Bodybags” actually sounds like a more suburban Dead Kennedys, while the title track ties drinking to setting animals free in Baghdad. And in these tough economic times, a line like “The second great depression / Lasted longer than I figured” sounds eerily prescient. I can dig! But the interpersonal ones, oh the interpersonal ones. Stadium rock does not apply well to songs with titles like “Autumnsong” and “Winterlovers” and their “Pedro the Lion cover” “Indian Summer.” I mean, the former literally features the band shouting at me asking me what I did with my hair in some bizarre catharsis that fails to cathar my sis, if you know that means.

Elsewhere, the band tries far too hard to identify with outcasts on “Underdogs,” ruining a nice little rhythmic pattern completely by going all “This one’s for the freaks / Cause you’re so beautiful” – no no no no no! Not everybody who does something unusual is a “freak.” I don’t want a band to make me feel like I should feel like a pariah for enjoying them, and I certainly don’t want to watch them pander to aging Smashing Pumpkins fans with awkward couplets. Stay away from me.

But sure, plenty of nice walking-in-a-bad-neighbourhood music here if you avoid the self-esteem circlejerk and focus on the joy of hearing a socialist complain in verse about sounding like a liberal. Hee! Also, the hidden track is a cover of “Working Class Hero.” It’s nice that they’ve heard of Jack Lemmon, but I wonder what they think about once bragging about laughing when he got shot. And that’s why you should have no esteem, for either yourself or others.

6/10

Manic Street Preachers – Lifeblood

The album that turned me off the Manics as a teenager! And probably for the best, too. Teenaged boys should never identify with identifying with Richard Nixon. Plus I was getting pretty fed up with any mention of “souls” in music, preparing as I was for being a little shit that liked to fuck with my campus Christian organizations (mine was tactfully called “Campus Crusade for Christ,” presumably to make brown people feel as bad as possible). It’s telling that eighteen year-old me was getting a bit old for some of the Manics’ stances, but more important that this album threw out the band’s musical past, aside form their last single, in favour of a Britty electro-rock sound that sounds more like Coldplay’s “Clocks” than anything else. Or maybe The Cure with silliness.

At least it isn’t narm. What is here is passable music, but it sounds dated by the time the sound has left your other ear. It’s all muted pianos and drums made to sound like drum machines and cavernous backing vocals and atmospheric and missing the melodic hooks that held together the tortured English and frustrating politics. The softer sound makes it much harder to stomach line after line that sounds incorrectly phrased. The politics are appropriately toned down, but what is here – mainly an ode to Richard Nixon called “The Love of Richard Nixon” – simultaneously flies as true as an 1800s musket-shot and is the most interesting thought here.

I don’t have much to say about this album because this album says so little to me. It’s rarely bad (maybe “Always/Never” and “Cardiff Afterlife”) but the moments of goodness are fleeting and sound derivative. For once they were in front of a musical trend, but this is nobody’s best example of synthy pop music. If you’re going to do that you have to be cute or dancey. This is neither, and for a young Myles the Manics faded from my perception. By the time I came back I’d seen so much of my little world that I’m glad to have broken up

5/10

Manic Street Preachers – Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of

A great big honkin’ 2-CD B-sides compilation, as was the fashion in the early 2000s. There’s also a song called “4 Ever Delayed” to remind you what 5-year period you’re dealing with here. The Manics sure were gregarious ignorant lovable Welshmen, and being exceedingly imperfect, the medium of the B-side works pretty damn well. See, here the blemishes are to be taken in stride. And the B-sides are often almost as the good as the album songs; they’re sure as shit less pretentious, for one, and less produced for two, so not competing for single release means added respectability.

Which is a cop out from expecting constant great song quality, but lick my love pump, I’m not going to consider a group of B-sides in the same vein as a bunch of A-sides. Besides, I only said that as an aside. Lawlawlawlawl!

The title comes from some combination of the band’s old adorbz cross-dressing early dayz and a Greil Marcus book tying rock’n’roll to culture as a whole, but luckily that’s the extent of the abject overstepping of their bounds. Also, it’s not a god damned history at all, unless your version of history involves events in no discernable order, with a few new stories thrown in as if they happened in the past. But I think such a historian would be fired. Can you IMAGINE? God, Josephus would have that guy’s ASS. Or maybe that girl’s ASS. And Josephus was a crap historian. I mean, those events were so biased they make Sean Hannity look like a see-saw. Of course that’s just my opinion, I might be wrong.

So what we have here is first a CD of originals, including two new songs, and a second CD of covers, including three newbies. Neither are remarkable, but neither are without their charms. As usually happens with such compilations, the first complaint is to the selection and amount of songs. The first CD has a solid twenty songs and plays over an hour, but there are some stinkers in here, specifically the album-closing porkers “Valley Boy” and first world problem facepalmer “We Her Majesty’s Prisoners”. The second record is only 45 minutes long, and it’s not as though they didn’t have other covers to release here, so I’m not sure what they were trying to pull. There’s only one gosh darned song from the “The Holy Bible” period and natch it’s one of the best on here.

But I did mention charms, and the surprise here is that the Manics are able to magick up so many great moments, even amidst largely unmemorable songs. Dig how the intro of “Sorrow 16” plays the next chord while the last one is still ringing, or the entertaining speed-up on “Sculpture of Man” or pulling sadness from the drama on “Spectators of Suicide”.  That’s to say nothing of the steady plusgoodness of “Prologue to History” and “Horses Under Starlight”. A lot of it isn’t the most exciting ever, but this is a B-sides collection. It suffers from buried hook syndrome and one-hook-song disease, but this sort of consistency is admirable.

I saved a whole paragraph for the disc of covers.

No, two whole paragraphs! The Manics are unable to cover any song in any emotion other than utter seriousness, and the success of the cover in question tends to depend on the song’s temperament. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Music” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” not so much, but loud Clash covers and a Paul Robeson cover very much so. Two of the best covers are the melodic as fuck politic rave-up “We Are All Bourgeois Now” and The Rolling Stones’ “Out Of Time”, though in the latter case it’s just a matter of pulling hooks out of the Stoney air. Alas, the cover CD has a few too many acoustic forgettables, and that Nirvana cover should have stayed in the closet.

And where the hell is “Suicide Alley”, the band’s first release ever? That song is killer. No matter, this is a worthwhile release, even if the new original songs are misses and the boredom can set in if you stop paying attention, particularly on CD one. But the flaws are forgivable given the context; you’ll just spend your time wishing they’d play nice more often and focus on what we want to hear and yell at us more often. JDB is still the band’s real weapon, and quite a few of these are just that fine fellow. Though those often are the lame ones. I don’t know, but they sure as sugar pull off covering a gospel song and that’s pretty impressive. Nowadays, one hopes, they’d do right by their fans and release a comprehensive $44.99 box set and make their fans happy, since casual viewers wouldn’t want this anyway, but this was the fashion of the time. Me, I miss Montana/Autumn/78.

7/10

Manic Street Preachers – There By the Grace of God (CD Two)

IF you’re a diehard, there’s a third copy of a song you already have and two thin but quite passable B-sides contained here. I mean, if you can walk the line between agreeing with the prosaic nature of “Happy Ending” or hating it for its dramatic lyrics. I like drama in real life, but “we’ve made some enemies / Maybe too many to count” is more than a bit ridicks. But it’s nice that they want to be important. I need to go to the gym, but I’m going to go the way that reduces the odds of running into anyone I know. Funny! I want to review John Prine instead. All this being taken seriously wears a little reviewer down.

6/10

What’s that, Myles?

I SAID:

IF you’re a diehard, there’s a third copy of a song you already have and two thin but quite passable B-sides contained here. I mean, if you can walk the line between agreeing with the prosaic nature of “Happy Ending” or hating it for its dramatic lyrics. I like drama in real life, but “we’ve made some enemies / Maybe too many to count” is more than a bit ridicks. But it’s nice that they want to be important. I need to go to the gym, but I’m going to go the way that reduces the odds of running into anyone I know. Funny!

I want to review John Prine instead. All this being taken seriously wears a little reviewer down.

6/10

Manic Street Preachers – There By the Grace of God (CD One)

I rarely accuse smart people of following trends, being over a decade removed from high school, but right around the turn of the millenium (or the Willenium to a certain superstar DJ) every rock band their pops started to get electronic. First Radiohead put out Kid A and Amnesiac, then The Postal Service became successful, then some other bands did things. Somewhere right around the end of that period the Manics released this single, declaring that they, too, liked drum machines and felt increasingly alienated by technology. And who I am to say they don’t? I’m just a man who likes guitars and honesty more than distance and bloops.

But the Manics have the decency to still be a rock band, at least for now, and I appreciate it. The single is a winner, even if the message is either muddled or maddening. It’s not a killer and I won’t be playing it at parties. It’s a pop song trying too hard to be serious, but that’s the Manics for you. There’s a couple fresh B-sides too. and they’re almost as good. “Automatik Teknicolour” must have caused a tough decision for which became the single, taking the keyboard sound from “Trans-Europe Express” and using it to build a nice little rock song, annoying title and all. “It’s All Gone” sounds like Can getting some influence in, leading to another solid antler. Yes, antler. In fact, I’d say both besides are better than the single. So where’s my cookie? Pretty good for songs you can’t find anywhere else.

Also, there’s the video for the title track. Band plays in subway station. Your typical old timey music video consisting of alternating shots of some storyline and each of the band members playing, with slightly more time for the lead singer. Maybe this is still how they still make music videos. I wouldn’t know since I stopped watching MuchMusic six thousand years ago.

There. There’s your interesting review. I don’t like being unemployed anymore. Can I have a job now?

7/10