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Manic Street Preachers
Journal For Plague Lovers Julian Marszalek , May 19th, 2009 12:41

Manic Street Preachers have always been risk takers. Having long broken their promise to break up after releasing their first album, the band would carry on as a trio after troubled guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared from their lives in February 1995, seemingly forever.

And here they are again, taking a gamble like never before. With Edwards officially declared dead, the erstwhile band conscience makes his presence felt by supplying all the lyrics from journals given to his bandmates prior to his vanishing act. Less kind observers would deem this the act of desperate band: certainly, the albums released between the first post-Edwards album, Everything Must Go and the partial return to form that was 2007's Send Away The Tigers suggested a band that was making all the progress of a one-armed man in a rowing boat; while the use of Jenny Saville's artwork — echoing The Holy Bible's packaging — is surely the last throw of the dice.

It's a view that may have held water at the turn of the century; but with the Manic Street Preachers once again lean and hungry, Journal For Plague Lovers actually sounds like the logical step to take. Yet, despite Edwards' indelible fingerprints being stamped all over the album, this is not the sequel to The Holy Bible that some were expecting. The sense of dread, claustrophobia and suffocation that characterised the 1994 album is replaced, on occasion, with humour; check 'Me And Stephen Hawking', with its droll "We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical", for evidence.

Opener 'Peeled Apples' is something of red herring. Ushered in by a sample of Christian Bale from The Machinist, the rumbling bass and James Dean Bradfield's post-punk guitar certainly hint at a retread of The Holy Bible; but the more streamlined classic rock of 'Joan Collins' Existential Question Time' soon puts paid to that. Nor does Steve Albini's production open the red-raw sores that were anticipated; the sound throughout is rich and lush, a continuation of the album's predecessor.

Predictably, there will be those who'll pore over every word to see if there are any clues as to Edwards' intent. But, if the glacially stark 'Doors Closing Slowly' confirms his state of mind in the run-up to doing a runner, there's still nothing here that hints at what would happen next.

Of course, Journal For Plague Lovers will do nothing to convert the haters; for them, the Manics have always been a poor man's Clash playing second-hand hair metal riffs. But that view does the band a disservice — their inner turmoil always elevated them above that status. For the majority of admirers who have been consistently disappointed by what followed Everything Must Go, this latest outing will be a cause for celebration: not only is Edwards providing his idiosyncratic words once again, but his bandmates have risen with grace to meet those lofty standards.

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