MANIC STREET PREACHERS : "Futurology" + live London Rough Trade East 08 July 2014
Where to start? After last years highly underwhelming, lifeless “Rewind The Film”, the Manic Street Preachers release their next installment, the yin to that albums yang, the second half of the whole, an assertive, confident, pounding record : and in some ways, they've done it the wrong way round - “Futurology” is everything that “Rewind The Film” isn't. Forward, not backward ; Outward, not inward ; Future, not past ; International, not national.
But one thing from repeated listens : “Futurology” is the single best, most concise, and most concentrated Manics record in a long time. Whilst over time, other records have slowly faded from memory, will this? It's a better record than any they have made in probably 18 years. From the opening salvo of the records title track, to the final closing moments of “Mayakovsky”, the record is a fiercely awake rebuttal. Lyrically, I bemoaned the lack of vibrant and articulate protest against the state of the condemned nation. Here? Instead of retreat, the Manics confront the world, in obtuse and articulate terms.
And whilst “The Holy Bible” hangs like an albatross over their heads in everything they do, so everything they do, even if it is as good, can never be as good. “Futurology” may very well be their twelveth album in 24 years – and who ever thought they'd get there?, for I wasn't looking 24 months ahead in 1990 – and traditionally bands start to run out of things to say. And with “Rewind The Film”, a career lowpoint alongside “Lifeblood” and “Know Your Enemy” for creative stagnation and indecision – The Manics started to feel that maybe they hadn't run out of things to say exactly, more run out of passion, run out of energy. And this, is a new world, and a new fire, and yes, it's up there with their best. On first listen, I am unashamed in saying its their best single record in 18 years. Since “Everything Must Go”, made of vision and passion and an achievement of vision. Having said for 20 years how much they love Simple Minds, and they found solace in the sound of a mid 80's retro-futurism of old school keyboards melded with guitars, they've gone and done it. Made a record that sounds like the best band of that era with all the crap stripped out. Sure, it's not as good as New Order, but nothing is. It opens with the stomping title track, a hymn to longevity, placing the band in the context of their own history, before the manifesto is made flesh. Sure, there's two instrumentals (including a fabulous Bowiesque romp through “Dreaming A City” that wouldn't be out of place on “Low”), and the odd mis-steps – for no record is perfect, and any Manics record should have one clunker on it – but this record is alive, awake, aware.. and alert. The songs are written as races to the end, the music epic and restrained, intimate and intricate, “Walk Me To The Bridge” sails on elegant keyboard strikes and guitar lines as if it were the band that Simple Minds simply could never be because they did not have the Manics brilliance ; following up with “Lets Go To War” - a marching assualt on modern life – and this is a record that, whilst not as vicious or barbed as their earlier albums – shows that the band are still, even now, questioning, exploring, not settling for mediocrity or soft complacency. As the rest of the record shows, the band seem refreshed, reignited. The cobwebs of softness seem stripped away. The band are back, at war. Only time will tell if these are the final embers or a resurgence.
At the launch gig at Rough Trade East (91 Brick Lane, in bloody Hoxton), meanwhile, The Manics perform a short 45 minute set as a trio- no secret guitarists or keyboardists in the wings – the raw trio that has been the core of The Manics all their life and one that has played just a handful of shows in the past two decades, in the belly of a record shop smaller than a train carriage As a veteran of 47 Manics shows over the years, it's the smallest I've seen them since a TV show in 2001, and possibly smaller than that. In the context, the band play a refreshing set – shorn of the usual crowd pleasers, not ending on “A Design For Life”, and one that is thematically correct : “Futurology”'s nearest cousin spiritually is “The Holy Bible”, and the band play a set of two halves, the first five songs being taken from the new record. And whilst the band are a trio, um, keyboards and some backing vocals come in from the PA which isn't strictly honest. It certainly seems a bit weird to hear Nicky Wire backing vocals when he's nowhere near the microphone.
In the intimate setting, the band are relaxed and joking, with no need for a TV screen or the usual elements of a show, James apologising for no single legged bunny hops on guitar as the stage is too small, and Nicky Wire moaning about the absence of scissor kicks. The new stuff – including a live debut for “Between The Clock And The Bed” with Scritti Politti vocalist Green Gartside duetting with the band, works well, though the audience is somewhat subdued – surprising even, given what happens next, but with the unfamiliarity of much of this material, the small crowd is absorbing the music, experiencing, having not had time to form memories or attachments or – in some cases memorise the words yet. The second half meanwhile, sees the band surprise, with a concentrated five song assualt of songs from their epoch “The Holy Bible”, the most songs from this record they have played at one show in other 20 years – and the first time they have publically played songs from this as a trio since August 1994. Opening with the powerful, alphabetti-spaghetti stuffmoresyllablesintothespacethanyouhavedonttakeabreath “Revol”, and following with “Die In The Summertime”, the band show and draw a clear link between past, present and futurology, with the songs of similar world view and imperial vision together. Next is the ever powerful “This Is Yesterday”, and the band then execute “Archives of Pain” and “PCP” as if they were murderers. It's short at 42 minutes, but there's no breath wasted. This is the future for The Manics : never settling for second best. Acknowledging the past, but not – never – stuck there.
Walk Me To The Bridge
Lets Go To War
Between The Clock And The Bed
Die In The Summertime
This Is Yesterday
Archives Of Pain
1) I liked "Rewind the film" and, in my opinion, it's a pretty damn long way from being the weakest record they've done. Just because it is reflective and elegiac, doesn't mean it's shit.
2) “Futurology”'s nearest cousin spiritually is “The Holy Bible”. No. No. No. I've just listened to the Holy Bible again, and it's brutally bleak in a way that this record just is not.
Other than that (and it's healthy to have different views on music), I like this album. it says a lot that this band have come from where they started, have recorded 12 albums over 25 years, survived the things they've been through and are still creatively vital at this stage of their career. Brilliant band.
They played a couple of tracks off Holy Bible at Glastonbury too. I hope this means they really are planning a 20 year anniversary tour of it. I'm all over that. Maybe misery, maybe nothing at all.
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