13 June 2009

Manic Street Preachers: "Journal for Plague Lovers"

One of the most touching stories in music. Manic Street Preachers started as a quartet: James Dean Bradfield (vocals, guitars), Richey Edwards (guitar), Sean Moore (drums), and Nicky Wire (bass). Forming in 1986, and releasing their first album in 1992 (“Generation Terrorists”), the band hit the 90’s not fully embracing shoegazing, post-punk, or glam. Instead, the Preachers drew influence and inspiration from a large array of scenes, political ideas, and musicians. Riding on top of the world, in 1995, Richey Edwards mysteriously disappeared. Last November, the British government officially declared him presumed deceased; however, a body has never been recovered. The band did not lose a member; they lost a friend, a brother, which continues to haunt them. Continuing as the Preachers, the band decided to put a quarter of all their royalties in a bank account, believing… in the hopes… that Edwards will reappear one day. Now releasing their ninth album, “Journal for Plague Lovers,” the Manic Street Preachers have turned back the hands of time, honoring Edwards by composing music to lyrics that he left behind. These are thirteen beautiful songs that echo across time and space.

“Journal for Plague Lovers” was released in the UK on the 18th May 2009 and available in the US as an import; I have sat on this CD for quite some time, listening to it over and over. You can’t shake the feeling that this is more than just another run-of-the-mill album, and, if you have been following the Preachers as long as I have, inevitably you are transported back, over a decade. And though typically I have no problem sharing my opinions on just about anything, I realized early on that this album would be very personal to not just the Preachers, but their fans as well. It is a surreal experience to hear the word written over a decade ago, echoing into our present, but more surreal is the stream of consciousness and poetic conundrums found throughout the words. The album opens with “Peeled Apples,” a typical, straightforward punkish rock song, which brings the surreal to a new level: “The more I see the less I scream, the figure 8 inside out is infinity. The naked light bulb is always wrong, they make your break complete, then blow it away to kingdom come.”

Tongue-in-cheek exist where you least expect it: “Oh the joy, me and Stephen Hawking, we laugh, we missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical” (“Me and Stephen Hawkins”). True to the Preacher style of composing edgy-rock pop numbers, the titular track “Journal for Plague Lovers” shows the growing maturity of these veterans. Though the lyrics are thickly demure (“Pretend prayer, pretend care, makes everything seem so fair, these perfect abattoirs, these perfect actors, these perfect abattoirs…”), the Preachers have perfected delivering music that is digestible, with real indie/punk credibility, but yet able to hook you with guitar riffs and thriving rhythms as well as any pop song. With the help of Steven Albini (producer of Nirvana fame), the Preachers deliver an array of short (they average three minutes each), powerful songs, that are never over-produced, over-developed, but are far from bare or stripped down. Even the closing track, “William Last Words,” where Nicky Wire takes over lead vocals, when the song sounds like it may be bare, an arrangement of strings flutter through the background. Yes, flutter, because they are there to fill in the soundscape, but not to take away from the other instruments or vocals of the song.

Though I have always felt that the Preachers have composed some of the greatest music (just think about “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”), but this album is not about the music, per se. For that matter, it is not about the lyrics either. The magic of this album is friendship, brotherhood. Yes, the Manic Street Preachers should be respected as great musicians and composers. Yes, they should be respected because they are amazing performers. But they should be admired because of their humaneness. Their distractors will say that they are capitalizing on Edwards’ lyrics, but whom are they kidding? Not only have the Manic Street Preachers continue to be relevant and receive critical acclaim (they did win NME’s God Like Genius Award in 2008), they still continue to divide their royalties four ways. If they were about money, they would not be doing that! No, this is about finishing something their friend started, something he is not able to finish; this is about making a friend proud. This in amazing album that should be admired not only for its musical/lyrical genius, but also because it is that candle in the window, left burning in hope.

Track Listing:
1. Peeled Apples
2. Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
3. Me and Stephen Hawking
4. This Joke Sport Severed
5. Journal for Plague Lovers
6. She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach
7. Facing Page: Top Left
8. Marlon J.D.
9. Doors Closing Slowly
10. All Is Vanity
11. Pretension/Repulsion
12. Virginia State Epileptic Colony
13. William's Last Words
14. Bag Lady - hidden track

Keep up with the Manic Street Preachers at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is their video for “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time” from the icolumbia (Columbia Records UK) YouTube Channel.

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