Manic Street Preachers, ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ – First Listen

There’s something marvellous about Manic Street Preachers’ shameless declarations that they want this record to be huge. Or, in their words, “One last shot at mass communication”.

It’s more than just an awesome soundbite. The way the Manics see it, it’s not about success, or money, or fame. Even at the age of 40, they’re still powered by that renegade spirit that marked them out as that mess of eyeliner and spraypaint all those years ago.

They exist for that dialogue; to use their music to connect with as many people as possible. And with that in mind, they’ve thrown absolutely everything at the wall.

This is no sequel to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’; wisely they realise that they can only be that band with the wordplay of Mr Richard James Edwards.

This is the sequel to ‘Send Away The Tigers’, the vast return to form that saw them refine the gleaming stadium version of themselves into something more in tune with their old sex appeal.

There are big, big choruses. There are more strings than we’ve ever heard on a Manics record. There are gospel choirs. There are guest appearances from Ian McCulloch, Duff McKagan and John Cale.

‘(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love’ dropped on radio last night. Wire has been dripfeeding lyrics on his Twitter for weeks now. And we’ve heard five tracks. They’re excellent. This is what they sound like.

(It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love
Holy parentheses! The lead single is quite literally the daftest, campest, most outlandish stadium pop song the Manics have ever put their minds to. But in a really excellent way, with one of those choruses you only need to hear once to remember forever.

Lyrically it’s a a grumpy old man update of ‘Stay Beautiful’, an age-appropriate renewal of their destroy-culture manifesto, a fizzing reminder that no amount of world weariness can dampen this band’s spirit.

Postcards From A Young Man
When I heard this for the first time at their Faster Studios in Cardiff a couple of months ago, I told Wire with a half smirk that it sounded like Queen. He punched the air with delight, beaming, “That’s exactly what we’re going for.”

Although the Freddie Mercury-compressed vocals tell only half the story. As the album centrepiece it concerns the romantic yearning for the old fire they have reclaimed, told through the yellowing, dog-eared postcards the young Manics would send each other: a love-letter to the tangible, physical nature of rock’n’roll.

Some Kind Of Nothingness
Ina McCulloch guests on the Manics’ first-ever boy-on-boy duet, his gravelly lugubriousness providing a graceful counterbalance to JDB’s higher-end serenade.

This tones down the bombast to reveal the more sombre side of the band’s reinvention, floating along on more emotive and reflective plane, awash with strings and choirs. Pop fact: James, Sean and Richey’s first ever gig was Echo And The Bunnymen.

The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)
Just one song this, but an utterly and instantly memorable one. Channelling early Oasis at their most Mott The Hoople, via ‘No Surface, All Feeling’ and a chorus the size of the sky, it’s a tour de force and high crescendos and swooping dips.

Where the record is at times the most political for years, lyrically this is more a poetic reflection by Wire: “This is my last descent / I hope I’m making sense.”

Golden Platitudes
More strings. More gospel choir. More emotive button-pushing. And yet more melodic tributes to rock’s greats, this time paying lip service to The Beatles on their more wistful and psychedelic moments.

If that sounds like a universe away from anything the Manics have done before, it’s just the surest sign that even at their most radio-friendly, they can still find new ways to be obtuse.

Manic Street Preachers, ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ is released on September 20

There’s an interview with Nicky Wire in the new issue of NME, on sale from Wednesday 28 July

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