Since their earliest days, Manic Street Preachers have excelled when it comes to writing affecting, melancholy songs, but they’ve never consistently managed to turn that into a great ‘mood’ album. Until now.
This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours was their first attempt at an album full of sad lyrics, acoustic guitars and string arrangements, and it had some truly wonderful moments, not least You’re Tender And You’re Tired, Black Dog On My Shoulder and I’m Not Working. But it was overlong and padded out with some fairly bland stuff too.
They tried again on Lifeblood, but despite a handful of good songs, that album just came off as a bit of a half-hearted shrug, with far too many duds. After its failure, the Manics regrouped and headed back to safer ground with rock anthems on Send Away The Tigers and Postcards From A Young Man, as well as the ‘Holy Bible Pt.II’ of Journal For Plague Lovers.
But Rewind The Film, their first album since the brief hiatus that followed their triumphant 02 Arena show at the end of 2011, sees them achiving the perfect blend of melancholy lyric with acoustic and atmospheric music.
The first glimpse of this came from the title track, a duet with Richard Hawley (a modern master at this kind of thing), which disappointed me at first. Having been excited by the prospect of their collaboration, it sounded a bit disjointed and flat on the first few listens.
However, in its natural place on the album, Rewind The Film works so much better and it makes much more sense to have James Dean Bradfield‘s vocal parts so few and far between on an album that also features Lucy Rose and Cate Le Bon.
Things start off promisingly with This Sullen Welsh Heart, featuring some of Wire’s most open and honest lyrics and a lovely duet between Bradfield and Rose as well as beautiful acoustic guitar work. Show Me The Wonder is almost a bit too jaunty but the rich instrumentation makes it a natural fit here anyway, as this is certainly the most sumptuously-produced Manics album.
(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline is my favourite track on here, managing to evoke an Eastern sound without sounding trite, while Manorbier is an intriguing instrumental and Running Out Of Fantasy is a beautiful track, both lyrically and musically.
The only real burst of electric guitar on Rewind The Film is on the excellent 3 Ways To See Despair, apparently written for Morrissey but actually sounding like a latter day Pink Floyd track thanks to Bradfield’s guitar playing on it.
I could go on to discuss how good Builder Of Routines or Anthem For A Lost Cause or As Holy As The Soil are, but suffice to say that the only track here that disappoints slightly is 30-Year War, which is the only one where Wire’s lyrical focus shifts from personal to political, which is quite jarring.
But apparently that’s a kind of ‘link track’ between this album and the next, due out next year and featuring more of a ‘Krautrock’ sound. That sounds good to me, but it’ll need to be really special to outdo Rewind The Film, which is probably the more consistently great Manics album since The Holy Bible.