Release Date: Jul 7, 2014
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Always aware of the import of even their slightest movement, Manic Street Preachers place a lot of weight on their album titles and 2014's Futurology is designed as a conscious counterpoint to 2013's Rewind the Film. That record wound up closing an era where the Manics looked back toward their own history as a way of moving forward, but Futurology definitively opens a new chapter for the Welsh trio, one where they're pushing into uncharted territory. Never mind that, by most standards this charge toward the future is also predicated on the past, with the group finding fuel within the robotic rhythms of Krautrock and the arty fallout of punk; within the context of the Manics, this is a bracing, necessary shift in direction.
Review Summary: He who controls the past controls the futureHistory hangs over the Manic Street Preachers more than most bands. Be it their combative early days, the disappearance of Richey Edwards or the strong body of work they’ve released while still in their erstwhile guitarist’s shadow, MSP have remained stalwarts of British music despite any number of accidental or self-imposed obstacles. Their most recent records have leaned very heavily upon the concept of history and the self-imposed mythology that surrounds the Welsh trio.
“We’ll come back one day / We never really went away.” Comeback rhetoric is one thing, but I truly hate it when the press touts the “return” of a band that never really went away in the first place. Rock bands that have managed to sustain themselves for at least 20 years and release an album every three years or so are common victims of this kind of chatter. They make an album, the press says they are “back”, they make their next album, the press says they have “returned”.
Manic Street Preachers' 12th studio album opens with its title track. The music is taut and punchy and urgent: the vocals swirl with reverb, James Dean Bradfield's serrated, Skids-influenced guitar toughs it out for space with icy draughts of electronics. It sounds triumphant, but the lyrics tell a rather different story. They're racked with self-doubt and disappointment, a litany of failure and "broken plans".
“I can’t fight this war any more”, sighed James Dean Bradfield on the gentle ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ from Manic Street Preachers’ even gentler last album ‘Rewind The Film’. “Time to surrender, time to move on”. That’s it then, folks: war is over, and peaceful middle age is here if you want it.Only that’s not what you or I want from the Manics, and that’s not what they want, either.
“We’ll come back one day / We never really went away / One day we will return / No matter how it hurts / And it hurts” sing Manic Street Preachers on the title track of their 12th release after 25 years of playing together, Futurology. Sporting the same surefire tenacity of their previous albums, albeit considerably toned down, Futurology is full of glam-pop hits that demonstrate the Preachers’ ability to write good songs with a distinct sense of Britishness. One of the more striking aspects of Futurology is what appears to be an understated classical music influence in some tracks, as if the Preachers are taking cues from The Divine Comedy, including the latter’s cryptic allegories.
With their twelfth album and one of their best in years, Manic Street Preachers display a stylistic freedom that one might call reinvention if it didn't still sound just like the Manics..
On their twelfth album, the indestructible Manic Street Preachers enthusiastically embrace the sounds of the new wave – particularly early Simple Minds – in a manner that might lead some wags to conclude that in the quarter century they’ve been together, the trio have evolved from a homage to the sounds of 1977 to a homage to the sounds of 1978. That, however, would be to unduly snark at Futurology, the second good Manics album in nine months, and one that shares many virtues with last September's Rewind the Film while sounding surprisingly little like it. To me, the rest of the trio’s post-This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours output has felt in thrall to the band’s past: either a reaction against their monstrous late-Nineties success (Know Your Enemy, Lifeblood), an attempt to recapture their monstrous late-Nineties success (Send Away the Tigers, Postcards from a Young Man) or a stab at reconnecting with their hip, serious younger selves (‘The Masses Against the Classes’, Journal for Plague Lovers).
Last year’s Rewind The Film saw Manic Street Preachers at their most bucolic-sounding and introspective to date. It’ll be no surprise to followers of the band that they’ve followed it up with something completely different. Futurology is their selfconsciously “European” album, recorded in Berlin’s Hansa studios (made famous by Bowie’s late-70s run of classics) and ditching the acoustic guitar and strings in favour of synths and pulsing rhythms.
The future has always been a concern for Manic Street Preachers. In the last few years, they’ve notched up three songs on the subject, the titles of which – “So Much for the Future”, “Love Letter to the Future”, “The Future Has Been Here 4Ever” – in typically less-than-subtle Nicky Wire fashion, speak for themselves. Futurology was announced as the next phase of the band’s grand three-year plan while they were doing the rounds for last year’s Rewind the Film (keywords: reflective, acoustic, organic, Welsh).