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Manic Street Preachers - The Ultra Vivid Lament (Album Review)

Wednesday, 08 September 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

It may sound oxymoronic to label something as ‘blissfully melancholic,’ but after you’ve heard Manic Street Preachers’ latest effort that tag should make complete sense. While Nicky Wire’s elegiac lyrics are his most personal and existential to date, the ebullient, retro-modern pop compositions they accompany could inadvertently make ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ this year’s surprise feelgood album.

After an imperious run following 2005’s icy and sombre ‘Lifeblood,’ the Manics  fumbled the ball last time out with ‘Resistance is Futile.’  Patchy, unfocused and trying too hard to be classically anthemic, it reflected Wire’s struggle to fully commit to the album as he dealt with both of his parents battling, and subsequently passing away from, cancer.

In contrast, the 14th record of the Welsh trio’s career, which features delightful guest appearances from Mark Lanegan and Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming, finds them energised and tuned in on a collection of songs that manage to be consistently uplifting.

Inspired by lockdown to explore his own ‘internal galaxies’, Wire has mostly eschewed obscure references to art, politics and culture in favour of an emotionally direct, lyrically economical and, as a result, effortlessly tuneful style that’s sure to resonate across the board.  

You don’t need to have toured Japan in 1993 with your mates, one of whom subsequently left a void in your life, to feel every ounce of bittersweet hurt emanating from Still Snowing in Sapporo.  Touching on lost glory days, dreams that turned sour and unprocessed grief, such sentiments will chime with a great many lives.  

As will Wire’s confused, ambivalent and unresolvable feelings—particularly on Orwellian—towards retrospective cancel culture, big tech corporations and a modern world that’s fallen prey to information overload. Elsewhere, on Happy Bored Alone the bassist offers a guilty and empathetic hand to people who, throughout the pandemic, have struggled to cope with the kind of isolation he finds comforting.  

Admittedly, this thematic approach doesn’t exactly scream ‘built to heal,’ but using the likes of ABBA, Glen Campbell and The Carpenters as their inspiration, the band have accomplished that very feat by marrying Wire’s troubled soul-searching to spacious and  warm pop compositions that epitomise how wonderful songs can be.  

The musical equivalent of a problem shared is a problem halved, even the darkest lyrics imaginable, when put to a spine-tingling melody, spirited beats and luscious instrumentation, can provide an outlet for our own turmoil and purge similar feelings.  

From Don’t Let The Night Divide Us and Quest For Ancient Colour to Complicated Illusions and Afterending, which seems destined to become one of those classic Manics album tracks a la No Surface All Feeling, this record’s sublime choruses pay off the gleaming interplay between James Dean Bradfield’s piano work and evocative guitar flourishes in a way that radiates pure catharsis.  

One of the finest album bands on the block, the Manics have crafted another great record that’s tonally and musically cohesive, committed to its theme and executed without concessions. Some might find these songs a bit safe, even MOR-sounding, but their undoubted accessibility doesn’t detract from what’s a perfect union between  musical style and emotional substance.

Manic Street Preachers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri September 10 2021 - HALIFAX Piece Hall
Sun September 19 2021 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Mon September 20 2021 - CARDIFF Motorpoint Arena
Sun September 26 2021 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 City Hall
Tue September 28 2021 - EDINBURGH Usher Hall
Wed September 29 2021 - DUNDEE Fat Sams
Fri October 01 2021 - STOKE Victoria Hall
Sat October 02 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Mon October 04 2021 - YORK York Barbican Centre
Tue October 05 2021 - GLASGOW Barrowland Ballroom
Thu October 07 2021 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri October 08 2021 - PORTSMOUTH Guildhall
Sun October 10 2021 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Mon October 11 2021 - CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Wed October 13 2021 - BATH Bath Forum
Thu October 14 2021 - BRIGHTON Brighton Dome
Fri December 03 2021 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley

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