Manics declare war on the obvious

Manics by Alex Lake

Manic Street Preachers: inventing post-punk-disco-rock like there’s no tomorrow

Album review: Futurology by Manic Street Preachers, out now on Sony/Columbia by Simon Whittle When the Manics released their magnificent laid back, acoustic-tinged album Rewind the Film last September, we already knew it was the quieter cousin of a spikier, yet-to-be-released album recorded at the same time at the Hansa studio Berlin (of Bowie, Iggy and Siouxsie fame). Everything that was great about Rewind the Film is amplified (literally) on Futurology. Not that this is the Manics going back to their glam punk rock sound of old – not at all.

They’ve gone back to past to rediscover their future. Like magpies, the Manics pick and plunder from rock and pop’s past, and make a self-confessed situationist nest that is their own, and this time they sound like they’ve made a home for keeps.

Without ever sounding derivative or obvious, the Manics give a thankful nod to Dunfermline’s post-punk heroes The Skids, Glasgow’s stadium pop rockers Simple Minds, and they draft in Scritti Politti’s frontman Green Gartside (one of many guests on the album) for vocals on Between the Clock and the Bed, a homage to Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s late period self-portrait of the same name, main lyricist Nicky Wire referencing his own blabber-mouthed past in this tale of his/Munch’s mortality: “Yes, I’m as guilty as the rest – a man of little consequence, unable to forgive himself, still building the bypass in my head.”

The future is now
Futurology sounds like a fresh band at peace with themselves and their influences, be they early ’80s post-punk pop or early 20th century art. And the lines that hold these songs together are more evocative of European art movements than politics. Where Rewind the Film signed off with a hate-letter to Thatcherism on 30 Year War, Futurology‘s gentle but driving The Next Jet to Leave Moscow sees Wire drawing a line under the band’s jaunt to Cuba in 2001, painting himself as “An old jaded commie walking in Red Square… the biggest living hypocrite you’ll ever see”.

But what’s that marching over the horizon? It’s Let’s Go To War – a song more about the Manics kicking themselves up the arse than being anti-war (they are anyway) – a call to arms, what Wire calls the final part of You Love Us/Masses Against The Classes trilogy, Sex Pistols samples and all: “Working class skeletons lie scattered in museums, and all the false economies speak falsely of your dreams.”

The Manics never sounded so focused and forward driven – an apt analogy since many of the songs here were conceived on the tour bus travelling around mainland Europe, where ancient forests and mountain ranges are sliced open by smooth roads – clean, straight lines linking the natural to the industrial. Anyway, if you’re not won over by the time Europa Geht Durch Mich stomps in like an industrial/dominatrix Nut Bush City Limits, inventing post-punk-disco-rock like there’s no tomorrow, then maybe this album isn’t for you.

I thought Rewind the Film would be hard to top. It isn’t often I’ll play a new release album again as soon as the final track has finished. But with Futurology, the band have delivered another glorious curveball: monumental, epic, an instant classic, an effortless juxtaposition of textures, ideas, and uplifting melancholic melodies that serve up Nicky Wire’s words on the shiny platter they deserve.

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