Release Date: Sep 16, 2013
Record label: Columbia
On The Holy Bible the Manic Street Preachers used a sample from an interview with Hubert Selby Jr on Of Walking Abortion: “I knew that some day I was going to die, and I knew before I died two things would happen to me. That number one: I would regret my entire life. And number two: I would want to live my life over again.” Rewind The Film finds the band in a similar frame of mind; reassessing and wishing to relive it all again.
It's hard not to view the title of Rewind the Film as a conscious allusion to how the Manic Street Preachers are pursuing their career in the second decade of the new millennium. Journal for Plague Lovers, the Steve Albini-recorded collection of new songs set to abandoned Richey Edwards lyrics, functioned as ground zero, the new Holy Bible from which they moved forward, first with Postcards from a Young Man, the companion piece to Everything Must Go, and now to Rewind the Film, a corollary to the melodramatic MOR of This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. As with Postcards, the comparisons between Rewind the Film and its predecessor don't scan cleanly.
There’s a bad old adage that goes “The Welsh don’t die, they just DRAG ON!” (Look up a picture of the Welsh flag, allow yourself a groan, then proceed to read on). The Manic Street Preachers were one Welsh band that went into their career with just one goal in mind: make one album and then vanish. And to their credit, the debut album they made was part White Album and part commercial suicide.
Middle age was never part of the Manics' game plan, the trio having vowed, in 1991, to make one "statement" album then split up. Yet here they are, 22 years later, forswearing the bluster of their 90s work in favour of an austere, largely acoustic sound on an LP whose main concerns are childhood and death. The former is addressed on the stunning title track, on which Richard Hawley overshadows James Dean Bradfield, while another guest, Cate Le Bon, is quietly impressive on the urbane 4 Lonely Roads.
Eleven albums in, the Manic Street Preachers have discovered subtlety. Not in their lyrics: those are as blunt as ever, particularly when communicating their dismay at growing old. "How I hate middle age, in between acceptance and rage," from Builder of Routines, hammers to the heart of things: these are songs that wallow in nostalgia but also refute it, deny hope then wish for the impossible.
While many of their contemporaries had already passed their sell-by date before releasing an album (Fabulous or Credit To The Nation anyone?), the prospect of a new Manic Street Preachers album is still an exciting prospect now, much as it was when Generation Terrorists appeared back in 1992. Although much has changed from both a personal and musical perspective within the band, it's to their credit that even as forty-somethings, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore can still generate a level of interest artists half their age would probably sell their own grandmothers to emulate. Of course, it goes without saying that Manic Street Preachers version 2TK are barely recognisable to the band responsible for delivering arguably the most confrontational and at times abrasive music from the decade beforehand.
“We reserve the right to contradict ourselves.” You can interpret this Manic Street Preachers quote in two ways. First, as a promise that they will constantly strive to surprise people. Or second, as a licence to do things like headline the O2 Arena in December 2011, call it a farewell show, then start gigging again four months later. But even though the latter left a nasty taste, no band has earned the right to have their cake and gorge on it more than Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore.
Never a band to shy from grand schemes, this is the first of two planned albums recorded by Manic Street Preachers during a brief hiatus. Rewind The Film finds the Manics in reflective mood and, as such, most closely reflects 1998’s mega-selling This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. Like that record, Rewind… mainly deals in a sense of nostalgia, a propensity for wallowing in self-pity and a curious emptiness.
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.
Rhetoric, politics, activism and vitriol. That’s what the Manic Street Preachers are all about, right? We want them snarling, all balaclavas and feather boas, belting out ‘Faster’ at a hundred miles an hour. Well, maybe not, and certainly not on ‘Rewind The Film’. There’s barely an electric guitar on the Manics’ latest full length.
Fast forward The new Manic Street Preachers album, not the one I’m writing about here, but the one coming out in six months or so, will be called Futurology. Apparently, it’s going to be spiky, angular, angry, and a little bit Krautrock. Then again, they said Send Away the Tigers sounded like “heavy metal Motown” and, y’know, it really didn’t.