3 June 2009

>>>Manic Str
eet Preachers>>>Journal For Plague Lovers>>>
The Rs are backwards. The cover is by Jenny Saville. Vocal samples are scattered across the album. There are thirteen tracks. And, most of all, the lyrics are written by Richey Edwards. But, despite the parallels, the 9th album by the Manics is certainly not "The Holy Bible: Part II" . Whereas their masterpiece is dark, callous, bitter, acerbic, fiercely intelligent and a document of Richey's deterioration; both mentally and physically (as evidenced in "4st 7lbs"), JFPL is a different beast, for the most part.

The album's opener "Peeled Apples" begins with a line from The Machinist, Christian Bale whispering ominously "You know so little about me...what if I turn into a werewolf or something?" before Nicky Wire's best bassline in forever kicks in. The track instantly grabs you with the mix of superb guitar riffs coupled with an anthemic chorus of "Riderless horses on Chomsky's Camelot/Bruises on my hips from digging my nails out" that seems only a little less cool due to the fact it sounds like "Temptation" by Heaven 17. "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time" may be the most bizarre song title of the year, but the weirdness belies the typical Manics fare that it actually is. FM-friendly rock isn't something you'd expect looking at the album cover but the majority of JFPL's first half is pretty much this. Not that this is a bad thing whatsoever.

In fact, the Manics sound reinvigorated and fresh, buoyed by their critical and commercial resurgence. And with this newfound sense of purpose they've produced an amazing piece of work. "Me And Stephen Hawking" continues in the same vein as "Jackie Collins..." and is probably the only song ever to mention human cloning, Giant Haystacks and Stephen Hawking. In these two tracks, Edwards' rather surreal sense of humour is brought to the fore, giving us some of his best one lyrics e.g. "Oh Mummy what's a Sex Pistol?", "Oh the joy, me and Stephen Hawking, we laughed/We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical". Laughing at a Manics record (in a good way) isn't something that happens often, but there's good reason to here.

The album's first acoustic moment arrives in the form "This Joke Sport Severed" sounds epic, like it should be used soundtrack a battle in a Hollywood film. The simplicity of the acoustic strumming is at odds with the string section (possibly the best since Everything Must Go") but it gels together so well. Being overblown is what the band has excelled at for around 20 years and they show no signs of stopping now. The title track isn't much to get excited over musically (sounding a little like a distorted version of Foo Fighters' "Learn To Fly") but lyrically it's a continuation of Richey's long-term grudge against organised religion, showing that despite his diminishing state he was still as fierce as ever. "She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach" is far from the brutal imagery that the title suggests and provides one of many singalong moments that are sure to be a highlight of future Manics gigs.

From the energetic rock delights of "She Bathed..." and the title track to the sweet and tender "Facing Page: Top Left". Similar in structure to "Small Black Flowers In The Sky", harp and all, it appears to show Richey's most personal take on lyrics so far: "Here I am rise and shine/Weighed down of course I cry". You'd have a tough job trying to find a couplet as emotive as that on any album previous to his disappearance. The second part of the album delves into a somewhat more lyrically-obscure place. "Marlon J.D." is all post-punk guitars and programmed drums but references and includes quotes from relatively unknown Brando flick Reflections In A Golden Eye whilst "Doors Closing Slowly" starts with probably the most depressing opening lines ever; "Realise how lonely this is?/Self defeating, oh fuck yeah".

"All Is Vanity" was Richey's personal favourite lyric (according to the folders of lyrics he gave to the band before leaving) and with good reason too. Appearing to be a reaction to narcissism, and in particular the band's early "Stay Beautiful" days, it's a song that combines both the anger and futility rarely seen together in Edwards' lyrics. Musically it's James Dean Bradfield who pushes the song forward, passionately bellowing out "It's the facts of life, sunshine" and producing one of the best guitar parts on the album. "Pretension/Repulsion", seen as a companion piece to "All Is Vanity" by the rest of the band, 'resolving the issues...by talking about the idealisation of beauty, or what is ugliness' according to Nicky Wire. Again, Bradfield produces a great guitar line as well as making a chorus of "Shards oh shards, the androgyny fails/Odalisque by Ingres, extra bones for sale" almost irresistible to shout out.

"Virginia State Epileptic Colony" lightens the tone musically, sounding almost summery, in spite of it's fairly dark subject matter. Plus it gives the chance for all Manics fans to shout the word "Piggy" a lot a gigs, something not previously seen at their gigs. JFPL ends with "William's Last Words", which again brings out the tender, acoustic side of the album. Composed by Nicky Wire, he also sings on the track, which isn't usually something to write home about as most fans will know, but for some reason his Lou Reed-meets-Ian Brown drawl works perfectly. The plaintitive strumming eventually builds into a full orchestral backing and "Jimmy Page-esque guitar" and has a definite Beatlesy feel to it. The lyrics as they are on the song can be interepreted as a suicide note from Richey, or a kind of goodbye from Wire, who edited most the lyrics. For example, there aren't many ways to take lines like "I'd love to go to sleep and wake up happy", "Goodnight my sweetheart, until we leave tonight, hold me in your arms/Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me, you're the best friends I ever had" and others, found here But reading the original prose that it was taken from shows that it may not have either of those connotations, instead it could be an analogy or character piece. Noone will ever really know, but for now, the lyrics picked by Wire make "William's Last Words" the most heartfelt and beautiful thing the Manics have recorded.
Whilst the outrage and venomous anger are not as evident on JFPL as they are on "The Hold Bible", it shows that Edwards was jsut as capable as casting judgement inside himself and turning it into fantasic, complex lyrics as he was at doing it across society. This album could signal a new chapter in the Manics' career, pushing them into new directions musically and lyrically. Who knows what the future holds for one of the most important bands in British music? But for now, Manic Street Preachers have produced a work of art, an album that stands up to and betters almost all of their back catalogue, as well as a brave and emotional send-off for their fallen friend.


No comments: