Manic Street Preachers
Rewind The Film
, September 27th, 2013 12:06
There's a sense that 2009's brilliant Journal For Plague Lovers was a pivotal point in the career of the Manic Street Preachers. With Richie's last lyrics committed to music in such compelling fashion, whatever the band did thereafter would be free from some of the burden of the past. Did they now have a blank canvas on which to explore their later years?
Postcards From A Young Man confirmed that sense of freedom and it would have been the easiest thing in the world for them to have continued in the same vein with Rewind The Film. Yet this is an about-turn in every sense - the majority of the album is acoustic, introspective and very understated. Not that the concept of about-turn is alien to a band that chose to release the defiantly non-commercial The Holy Bible on the brink of mainstream success.
That's not to say that whatever they released post-Journal... would be immune from criticism (confirmed by the occasionally patchy responses to Postcards…). It just meant that while entering middle-age, they'd earned the right to explore whatever musical direction they fancied. Rewind The Film certainly explores new avenues, not least the title track itself, a touching duet with Richard Hawley which appears to be the musical equivalent of the closing sequence of Cinema Paradiso.
What's vital to acknowledge however is that while the record is certainly more subdued in terms of sheer bombast and volume than anything they've released to date, in no way does that dilute their core messages. In the same way as Springsteen's Nebraska was stripped back and largely acoustic but still exuded equal – if not more – depth than Born To Run, The Manics prove themselves capable of contrasting records like Everything Must Go and Generation Terrorists with something much more subtle, but with no less impact - quite a feat.
It isn't that they don't think they can change the world like they did in 1992, it just seems that they've become more realistic. The fire may not rage, but it still smolders (album closer '30 Year War' being a case in point). 'The Sullen Welsh Heart' (featuring Lucy Rose) is just beautiful and at the same time seems to be the most obviously autobiographical song James Dean Bradfield has ever sung - possibly summing up some of both his and Nicky Wire's sentiments. I'm not for a moment suggesting that either of them are becoming grumpy old men, but there's little doubt that there's an acute awareness of all aspects of the human condition. “The hating half of me has won the battle easily” Bradfield sings - just how many forty-five-year-old men feel exactly the same way? It's an acceptance that only age and experience can bring. 'Running Out Of Fantasy' – where (and I'm sure to get slaughtered for saying so) James somehow manages to sound like Robbie Williams – is equally touching; seemingly accepting of how the onset of middle age dilutes one's fervour.
The flipside in every respect is lead single 'Show Me The Wonder'; a hugely uplifting, horn-led sing-a-long which manages to deliver everything the Manics do best, while sounding like nothing they've ever done before.
'Anthem For A Lost Cause' perhaps best sums up the Manics' mindset of 2013. “Take this, it's yours…” seems like an appeal to their fans, a resigned but content admission that their work is almost done. Perhaps the song represents the baton being handed over to those with more energy to devote to the cause.
Regardless of whether you share the Manic's collective outlook on life, and if you're not forty plus you might not, you can only take Rewind The Film for exactly what it is: a band who know where they want to be and are comfortable with that. And, interestingly enough, this is maybe the closest we'll ever get to really knowing them.