Let me start with a rhetorical question, why is it American music lovers do not know more about Manic Street Preachers? This is a band that has been around for a long time and has put out solid, remarkable albums, yet very few folks on my side of the pond know about them or have heard them. Manic Street Preachers are a perfect example of what is wrong with the music business today. I knew almost nothing about them when I was tasked to review them. The one thing I did know was that my friends across the pond had gone wild for them at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival.
I can usually suss out a great band from the UK but I totally missed them. Imagine my shock when I found out this was their twelfth album. Shame on me and shame on the American music scene, I particularly blame our subpart radio stations for overlooking this remarkable band. Keeping all this in mind, I am reviewing this from a “lead from behind” position, it is what we Americans do these days, so be kind if your a long time Manic Street Preachers fan as I attempt to catch up to speed.
Futurology crashes to the surface as an amazing sonic delight. It is not only impressive to the first time listener but a joy for the devoted Manic Street Preacher fan. There is so much to love, and enough influences that it would take more space than I have to list them all. Some of the influences are Bowie, Simple Minds, U2, Prefab Sprout, PIL, Goldfrapp and various Krautrock influences. The disc reflects the best of the European musical ethos.
At times I felt like I was walking through a sonic rendition of 20th century Europe. This recording is a love song to late 1980’s Europe. Many groups by the time they have put three decades under their belt, have long since started to mail it in, cease to exist or are doing the reunion tour route, Not Manic Street Preachers, they still dare to think big and risk noble failure. They never back down from the fight against what is expected of them. Dare I say they won big with this disc and are within a whisker of have a masterpiece on their hands?
The band personnel are the same, James Dean Bradford on lead guitar and vocals, Nicky Wire on bass and lyrics, and Sean Moore on drums. They are aided by a score of contributions from the likes of Cate Le Bon, Georgia Ruth, Cian Ciaran, Green Gartside and Nina Hoss. Produced by Alex Silva and recorded notably in Hansa Studios Berlin and Faster Studios Cardiff, Wales.
This disc is the sister release to “Rewind the Film”, last year’s release by Manic Street Preachers but it is an entirely different recording. “Rewind The Film” was a quiet very introspective disc. In contrast Futurology is out in the world, brash and demanding. This is an album that should be making serious headway in the States and deserves all the recognition it gets.
“Futurology” – Title song has this smooth early Simple Minds feel; with a great anthemic chorus. “We’ll come back some day. We never really went away. One day we will return. No matter if it hurts and it hurts” The song catches your attention as the preamble to the rest of the recording. Fantastic.
“Walk Me To the Bridge” For those who know the history of the band; it is not a reach to see this song is about the original lyricist and Guitarist Rickey Edwards. Edwards went missed in 1995 just before the release of “Holy Bible” and was never found. The prevalent belief is that he jumped off a bridge in his hometown to his death. The song itself reminds me of an amalgam of Simple Minds and U2. A very modern version of what made good mid 80’s music so great.
“Let’s Go To War” – Bring on PIL with a healthy dose of Tchaikovsky’s Slavonic March and Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” How often do you meet the later two composers in a great dance tune? Brilliance. My other thought is that Muse wishes they could sound like this song. This tune is one of my favorites on the album.
“Next Jet to Moscow” – With a title like this, one would think here comes an eye roller, but is a really great song. Wire attacks his own lack of commitment to his ideas and leftist politics. “I’m the biggest hypocrite you have ever seen.” “So take your badges off and do your show. Then catch the next jet to Moscow”.
“Europa Geht Durch Mich” – (Europe Goes Through Me) – Kraut Electro Glam – whew this could have been a kitschy song, but they pull if off. The chorus “European skies, European desires, European roads, European hopes, European sons, European love, European dreams, European screams” centers the song. I love the Nina Hagen turn by Nina Hoss. The song brings to mind Simple Minds “I Travel” with a 21st century twist. The song title will be revisited in at least two more songs on the release.
“Divine Youth” – Georgia Ruth, famous Welsh harpist, plays and sings on this ethereal track. The singing imparts a soulful feel to this track. The chorus “and I sing to myself my civil wars within”. “The victories and failures I daily lose and win” Expresses the struggles of the singer in the song. Pair that with the great use of percussion, which brings counterbalance to the song. Really well done and a small masterpiece all by it’s self.
“Sex, Power, Love and Money” The power chord opening explodes. The song itself questions of the four, which is the actual driver of which. Three of them are understood to be the root of most of the trouble in the world. All four things are the main motivators of everything. Great rocker and the guitar work in the song is noteworthy.
“Dream A City, (HughesKova)” Great Krautrock-Esque instrumental. I could almost imagine Bowie coming in over it at any point. Great dance tune that lends itself to endless remixing for the club.
“Black Square”- Love the intro so, early Simple Minds, Jim Kerr could be singing this song. “”Let us wipe the slate clean let us dig our own graves. Let us choose our own wars, and make our own mistakes”. – I could listen to this song for a long time and not get tired of it. “Europa Geht Durch Mich” reappears in the song. The title of this song is a reference to artist Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Square, Malevich was a pioneer of geometric abstraction. He founded the Suprematism movement. He also believed that painting had to be free of political or social content. A very dramatic song and my personal favorite on the album.
“Between the Clock and the Bed” The first time I heard this song I was like, wow this sounds like Scritti Politti and then I saw why. Green Gartside lead singer of said band did the vocal. Nice! The song itself is named for Edvard Munch’s self portrait of his twilight years. “Hatred and failure go perfectly together, like quick and the sand beautiful and damned. I live through these moments again and again. Repeating images of enemies and friends.” Simply put an amazing song.
“Misguided Missile” The rhythm section goes to town on this song. Once again a great mix of Krautrock influences. “I am the strum and drang, I am the schadenfreude, I was the little boy who sang I can still fill your void.” The song seems to focusing on how we can dwell on the wrong things for a life time, thus the misguided missile of the song’s title.
“The View from Stow Hill” In 2013 the local council in Newport, Wales, Nick Wire’s hometown, decided to remove the commemorative mural to the November 1839 Chartist uprising. The song points out you can try to erase those memories but the bullet holes are still on the walls of the Westgate Hotel. The song is an everyday man’s view point of how everything changes yet it never really does, the same problems plague generation after generation, we just have more cool toys to distract ourselves. Each generation thinks they will be the ones not to repeat the mistakes of the last one. This song has a very U2 Unforgettable Fire era feel to it.
“Mayakovsky” The song is named for and a tribute to the Russian poet and playwright who died after shooting himself at the age of 36. It has a very psychedelic feel. Here the journey ends on the disk with the otherworldly dicon announcement of the title of the song Europa Geht Durch Mich. What a journey it has been.
Futurology is Manics Street Preachers best work in a while, rich with these kinds of political, cultural and artistic references. It sends the listener chasing after the pointers and following clues. A deeply complex recording which has so much going on, that to catch it all, you have to replay it multiple times. However, you can also just let it all wash over you and still enjoy the recording. This is a record that is decrying the waste of potential. Be the cause war, suicide, unemployment or concentrating on the wrong things for a lifetime. The disc is so good; I am concerned MSP’s prior recordings will be a let down. ‘Futurology’ is available in all the usual locations, but rest assured, you probably won’t hear it on American radio.