It’s been a hard road for the Manic Street Preachers. When they formed back in 1991, the cheeky band from Blackwood, Gwent, Wales, had the gall to claim they would become the biggest band in the world and then break up. Well, time has proven them at least partly right. Now beloved throughout the UK as the “nation’s band,” — Oasis having lost the plot and forsaken that role with Be Here Now — they are very much of the musical establishment, while remaining a potent force of artistic and political conscience. It’s just that they’ve finally overcome their Clash obsession and turned inward with lyrics that aim more at the personal and mundane aspects of everyday life, as opposed to their earlier grand, political sloganeering.
Weathering the disappearance of original primary lyricist Richey Edwards, the band has not only thrived, but also grown in new directions. This is My Truth Tell Me Yours is the first set of Manics lyrics written solely by bassist Nicky Wire. Wire’s self- professed domestic obsession, which takes its extreme form in his love of what the British call “hoovering” (or “vacuuming,” for the less Anglophile among you), differs drastically from Edwards’ grand neuroses. Essentially, Wire paints with much smaller brushes, focusing on self, relationships and family while penning the Manics’ most emotional and personal set of lyrics ever. Yet the personal is still informed by the political. The record’s anthem, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next,” is inspired by volunteers of the International Brigade who battled the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Meanwhile, “S.Y.M.M.” reflects Wire’s feelings about the Hillsborough Disaster, where 96 people died at a British soccer game.
Supporting Wire’s powerful lyrics, the Manic Street Preachers play with virtuosity and conviction. James Dean Bradfield’s voice has never sounded better — he’s evolved into one of the best rock singers around. The band’s music is also the most far-ranging of their career, incorporating a broader instrumentation that includes non-typical rock instruments like the sitar, melodica, omnichords, and organ. For example, “Ready For Drowning” possesses a moody, almost classical-sounding organ with some of the most intriguing harmonic shifts ever penned by a rock musician.
The Manic Street Preachers are also one of the few groups capable of integrating orchestral instruments in a way that still produces great rock music (check out the cello in “My Little Empire”), always avoiding the schmaltzy elevator music that can result when some rock musos get a hold of an orchestra. Meanwhile, they manage to infuse some quite dour lyrics with some of the most haunting melodies in rock this side of Radiohead. Bradfield and Moore seldom choose the obvious chords, arrangements and melodies, resulting in music that is heads-and-tails above almost any band on the planet. I’d say it’s my album of the year so far, but I picked it number one last year. (It actually came out in the UK last fall.)