Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Manic Street Preachers Is Enticing

In the late 90's, one of my favorite bands was the Manic Street Preachers. Maybe more than any band in history, I felt like the band themselves were occasionally more interesting than the music. At least Simon Price's Everything: A Book About the Manic Street Preachers certainly was more interesting than any of their albums (except for The Holy Bible).

The Manics (or MSP as I prefer) were truly unlike any other band - four friends from the dirty coal fields of Wales, exceptionally literate, self-referential, self-destructive, and occasionally brilliant. Enigmatic, charismatic "guitarist" (the quotations are in place because it is debated how much of his playing wound up on any of their albums, and live his amp would be so low as to be inaudible) and lyricist Richey Edwards (or Richey James) was a true original in rock. In 1994 he disappeared, a true mystery. No body has ever been recovered, and though legally dead, his friends and family still hold out hope that he might return or be found.

MSP soldiered on, releasing the excellent, Britpop classic, Everything Must Go in 1995. After that, it seemed like they got really soft, and the law of diminishing returns certainly came into play upon each respective release. They've had a few good songs here and there, but not an album that is even remotely memorable.

Journal For Plague Lovers is their soon to be released album. Why is this noteworthy?

We’ve been waiting with one hand on the feather boa to see what might come from the Manics’ first return to Richey Edwards’ lyrics since ‘Everything Must Go’. The first peek beneath the tarpaulin reveals a leopard-print beast that shakes off the weight of accumulated myth with a stern, gruff riff, betraying Steve Albini’s production in a heartbeat. Described by the band as “oblique, skewed punk pop” influenced by Pere Ubu, The Skids and Pixies, it picks a deft path between their past and their present. The track opens sweet and restrained, with the understatement of later work, before the refrain of “Oh mummy, what’s a Sex Pistol” breaks into the mile-a-minute, veiny-throated, word-spitting ferocity of old. Full circle and full throttle.

In other words, they are writing new songs with some of Richey's left over lyrics. I am totally OK with this because the writings were intended to be lyrics, not poetry or prose. I hope having to live up to Richey's lyrics cause them to rise to the occasion. I could go on about them all day, but instead watch this.

The cover is again painted by British artist Jenny Saville - one of the best contemporary painters in the world.