Manic Street Preachers: 'Journal For Plague Lovers'
Published May 18 2009, 18:54 BST | By Mayer Nissim Manic Street Preachers
have had their ups and downs since their brilliant lyricist (and less brilliant guitarist) Richey James Edwards disappeared in 1995, his Vauxhall Cavalier left abandoned at a service station near the Severn Bridge. They rode the Britpop wave to mainstream success, hit number one with a song about the Spanish Civil War, went to Cuba to play for Fidel Castro, released some middling-to-poor albums, and somehow managed to bring it all together for 2007's Send Away The Tigers
, their best work in well over a decade.
It's a strange time, therefore, to take a step back and make an unashamed follow-up to 1994's The Holy Bible
, using only words from a notebook left by Edwards and another controversial
Jenny Saville painting on the sleeve. However, Journal For Plague Lovers
has none of the sense of paranoia, tension and terror of its predecessor. Instead, there's a feeling of release, a strained serenity in spite of the darkness and complexity of the lyrics. While it's the band's least musically-varied LP, it's also their most mature, lending a sense of cohesion and completeness that some of their more sprawling efforts have lacked.
The album opens with distorted bass, a caustic guitar riff and James Dean Bradfield's taut voice, which channels Edwards's spirit through his words. And what words they are. "The more I see the less I scream, the figure eight inside out is infinity... Riderless horses, Chomsky's Camelot." When Nicky Wire said recently
that nobody writes lyrics like Edwards, it wasn't an exaggeration. Said opener - 'Peeled Apples' - and hidden closer 'Bag Lady' are the two that most evoke The Holy Bible
Meanwhile, the rest of this Steve Albini-produced set alternates between a stripped-down, British take on grunge and more considered moments ('This Joke Sport Severed', 'Facing Page: Top Left', the Nicky Wire-sung 'William's Last Words'). Some of the melodies, like 'Jackie Collins Existential Question Time' and 'Marlon J.D.', are instant, while others unravel gradually in your mind with each play. All are shot through with an energy and authenticity the band have struck only intermittently since 1996's Everything Must Go
LP, the last that featured any lyrical input from Edwards.
After a few listens, you understand that Journal For Plague Lovers
isn't a step back at all. It's a short detour - something that the band had
to do, perhaps to give Edwards the tribute that his missing body made otherwise impossible. It's incredible, therefore, that what could have been an unlistenable therapy session sounds so right. This is both a fitting farewell and a perverse triumph.