Noisy and shouty, it was heralded as a proper follow up to ‘The Holy Bible’ in some quarters, but it was too much fun to listen to for it to be too closely associated with the aforementioned 1994 masterpiece. Whereas the Manic Street Preachers’ third album makes for heavy listening, their ninth made good use of the sizeable confidence boost they received as a result of the success of 2007’s ‘Send Away The Tigers’.
Watching them perform it, in full and in order, at Wolverhampton Civic Hall earlier this year, I was once again utterly captivated by one-man-whirlwind James Dean Bradfield as he charged through the album’s first twelve songs with the vim and vigour of someone half his age. The pride in the songs, based around lyrics left by Richey Edwards, was palpable and the performance did them proud. The final track, ‘William’s Last Words’ is sung by the band’s bassist and anti-singer, Nicky Wire. And, for anyone who’s been a Manics fan for any length of time, it’ll absolutely floor you. The delicately crafted music loses out in the battle for attention to lyrics like “I’m really tied. I’d love to go to sleep and wake up happy.” The full lyric, published in the deluxe edition – one of the packaging feats of the year – makes the subject matter rather more ambiguous, but in the edited form used for this musical rendering, it’s hard not to hear it as a message from Richey to his three best mates. I may have had something in my eye the first time I heard it. And the time after that, as it happens.
‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ also provided one of the great non-singles of the year in ‘Jackie Collins’ Existential Question Time’ which was farmed out to radio around the time of the album’s release. “Oh mummy, what’s a sex pistol?” chimes the chorus and it sounds even better than you could imagine. The band deserve further credit for inspiring a wonderful retooling of the track by pop legends, Saint Etienne, which was released as part of an otherwise largely unsuccessful remix version.
Spiky, awkward and twitchy, it was a renewed Manics and yet the end of an era. February will mark fifteen years since Richey disappeared. I’ll be marking that time with this record. A fitting tribute and no mistake.