Release Date: Sep 15, 2009
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Richey James Edwards disappeared in February 1995, just months after the release of the Manic Street Preachers' lacerating third album, The Holy Bible. He was officially presumed dead in November 2008 and just months later the Manics released Journal for Plague Lovers, an album that's an explicit sequel to The Holy Bible right down to its Jenny Saville cover art. The Manics pay tribute to their lost comrade by setting his last writings to music, getting Steve Albini -- beloved by Richey for his production on Nirvana's In Utero, a clear antecedent and close relation to The Holy Bible -- to produce a record unlike any they've made since his vanishing.
DiS' number 4 album of 2009, originally reviewed back in May... For an outfit not long off their 25th year, Manic Street Preachers have always tried their hardest - some might say too hard - to confound preconceived expectations. Musically ambiguous, lyrically articulate and aesthetically disconcerting, their earliest recordings barged unapologetically into the early Nineties in loud and obnoxious fashion; not to mention the preposterous boasts about selling a million copies of their debut record then splitting, or the venomous verbal assaults on rival artists that made them to pariahs of the UK independent rock scene for a short while.
L yrics by Richey Edwards, bequeathed to the band before he went awol, music by the rest of them, this defies the odds: not just a dignified salute to an absent friend, but a cracking album in its own right..
Most artists spend their careers attempting to move away from their early work, refusing to look back or take inspiration from their past. Why? Is it embarrassment they feel when confronted with their younger selves? Determination to continuously improve on what’s gone before? Or is it the worry that, should they return to any previous incarnation, they’ll invite unwanted comparison with a time when they were, perhaps, better? The Manic Street Preachers have certainly invited comparison with their early years with Journal for Plague Lovers. It’s their ninth album since their 1992 debut, Generation Terrorists.
This is the Manics' catharsis album: its lyrics were written by Richey Edwards, who gave them to his bandmates just before his disappearance, and are heard here for the first time. It's taken the band 14 years to put music to what turned out to be his last words, and you can see why - composing songs around Edwards's often-impenetrable thoughts must have been one of their toughest challenges. The result does them, and him, proud.
On May 15 1991, Manic Street Preachers, then an androgynous glam-punk outfit on the up, played a gig at Norwich Arts Centre. After the show, an interview with the NME’s Steve Lamacq gained widespread notoriety when Richey Edwards decided to carve the phrase “4 REAL” into his arm with a razor blade. Stupid and misguided as it may have been, it’s an iconic moment that has gone down in rock folklore and was quite possibly one of the catalysts for the success of the Manics’ début album, Generation Terrorists, the following year.
In 2008, Richey Edwards' official status was changed from "Missing" to "Presumed Dead" at the request of his family. His fate has been a mystery since February 1, 1995, when he left the Embassy Hotel in London. His car was found on Valentine's Day near a notorious suicide spot, but he left no other physical traces. What he did leave behind was his band, the Manic Street Preachers, who continued as a trio in his absence with his family's blessing.