BEST OF 2014: 3. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

I’m occasionaly  accused of blindly praising albums by the Manics due to my enduring enjoyment of their work. I appreciate that I do tend to be positive about them more often that not, however, arguably, they’ve not released a disappointing record since the rather filmsy ‘Send Away The Tigers’. There are those who’ll tell you that ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ didn’t quite work, but I’ll gladly argue with such individuals until they see sense. Or admit weary defeat, at the very least. Add in the fact that I’m often pitched against an editor who hates them – despite adoring all dadrock and being one of only four people willing to openly admit to having been a Beady Eye fan – and I can end up feeling rather defensive when it comes to this truly remarkable band. I’ve written before about their significance to me, but I have been a borderline obsessive fan for the last eighteen years. I have grown up with them and was genuinely staggered when I read the other day that, were Richey still with us, his recent birthday would have made him 47. From the bluster of 1992’s overlong, over-ambitious glorious failure ‘Generation Terrorists’, through the unstinting glory of ‘The Holy Bible’, past the elegiac beauty of ‘Everything Must Go’ and on through the fear of being left-behind that prompted ‘Lifeblood’, the Manics have never really been dull. They are a quite remarkably brilliant live band and rarely to be found hunched over a rhyming dictionary bashing out lyrics. They are flawed, they are achingly human and they are mine. But, with ‘Futurology’, they may just have stirred something in people who’d long since stopped caring or even never cared at all. And there’s a reason for that.

3 MSP

With the autumn 2013 release of ‘Rewind The Film’ came the news that a second album was already in the can and that its Krautrock leanings would offer a very different version of the band to that found on its immediate predecessor. The announcement did the the first release no favours, with many twitching expectantly for the bombast and riffing promised elsewhere. It was a shame as the album offered a different, yearningly melancholic take on the band’s sound. That said, final track ‘30-Year War’, with its moments of gnarled vitriol directed at the class divide in politics, was touted as a bridge between the two sets and so, to a point, it proved.

As ‘Futurology’ was gently pushed back and back until its release was confirmed for early July, the anticipation continued to build. Whatever was to come had its work cut out before anybody had even heard a note. The spring tour which, one suspects, was initially booked to launch the second album but, due to delays, became a rather more balanced affair, offered up live performances of ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ and the title track. I can remember beaming like an idiot in the middle of the CIA one Saturday night as a roaring take on the former demonstrated just how great this new record could be. Thankfully, despite having previously found the marrying of talking the talk and walking the walk a little uncomfortable, the Manics had truly done it. In many ways, ‘Futurology’ is close to being their definitive album. Now, I say this with a due note of caution, because it’s hard to envisage anything surpassing ‘The Holy Bible’, but put its mythology aside and remember that plenty of people find it pretty much inaccessible and you might just then be able to make a case for this being right up there. It has a little of the gristle and throb of that masterpiece, the sensational guitar playing of James Dean Bradfield plastered all over it and a neat array of styles and collaborators. ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ is endearingly simplistic in its reliance on an enormous riff, but it only takes a few listens to become a monstrous earworm. ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’, however, is hugely different, with its glacially poised Eighties pop wash making for a hypnotic cocktail in combination with guest vocals from Green Gartside. The band themselves made reference to Prefab Sprout in the accompanying press notes and they were on the money.

I adore ‘Sex, Power, Love and Money’, which seemed to split opinion a little. It’s huge, bold and stupid. It has a Big Audio Dynamite thing going on, mixed with what I described at the time as an update of the Pet Shop Boys‘ ‘Paninaro’ for the 21st century post-financial collapse society. I have my reasons – listen to Nicky’s Chris Lowe-esque bridge of ‘Obsession – Possession – Confession – Recession’ and tell me it doesn’t stir some PSB memories. It’s like ‘Generation Terrorists’ era Manics with an extra twenty odd years of technical proficiency thrown in. Turn it up very loud and leap about a bit. You’ll love it. The same formula applies to the aforementioned ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ which bursts menacingly out of the speakers, possesses a gloriously demonic guest vocal by Nina Hoss and features the best use of a cowbell in modern music in many a year. The band likened it to prime glam Goldfrapp and it’s the sort of song that, were we to still have smash hit, multi-formatted singles, would have been a smash hit multi-formatted single.

Add in the glorious thunder of ‘Let’s Go To War’ and the Motorik rhythms of ‘The Next Jet To Leave Moscow’, plus a stunning performance from the artist responsible for 2013’s Just Played Album of the Year, Georgia Ruth, on ‘Divine Youth’ and you’ve already got a very special record. Two instrumental pieces serve to be much more than mere filler, ‘Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)’ evokes notions of a 21st century bombastic evolution of ‘Low’, while ‘Mayakovsky’ is a gloriously tangled web of claustrophobic rhythms.

In short – which I’ve singularly failed to achieve thus far – ‘Futurology’ is the Manics album that even people who aren’t Manics fans like. Except my editor, of course. More fool him.

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