Manic Street Preachers : Forever Delayed

It's all achievement, precious little essence...

So here it is, The Album That Should Not Exist. To the slogan-smothered, soul-bruised, scarred-for-the-cause skunkpunk heroes of 1991 - the scary/beautiful freaks claiming they'll self-destruct after one six million-selling album - this greatest hits would be musical treachery. It'd be an album available for purchase exclusively over their dead bodies and would come with a free poster of Richey hugging Slowdive. It would, undoubtedly, Never Happen.

But happen it has, and in the most un-Manic manner: the Simply Red Formula. Eighteen painfully obvious tracks, two unreleased fillers to rip off the completists, heavy on the dinner party-pleasers. 'Love's Sweet Exile', 'Stay Beautiful', 'She Is Suffering' and recent return to form 'Let Robeson Sing' are ignored in favour of lumpen populist dirges 'If You Tolerate This…', 'Tsunami' and the excrutiating 'The Everlasting' (immediately followed by 'Motown Junk' from when they were winning, presumably as a cruel joke on themselves). There's no denying the polished punch of the 'Everything Must Go' material that forms 'Forever Delayed''s backbone, but by compiling the album by chart position alone the Manics have wasted a valuable opportunity to retell their heartbreaking and triumphant story and diluted their vibrant technicolour history into a stodgy grey mulch.

Oh and, don't know about you, but NME vaguely remembers there being someone called Richey in the band once. Y'know, miserable feller, funny scratches, not big on pies. Okay, so Edwards probably didn't play a single note on this record, but the near eradication of his influence here is verging on the Stalinist. Songs about suicide, anorexia and self-mutilation can really ruin a good fish course, so 'Gold Against The Soul' gets a meagre two tracks ('La Tristesse Durera' and 'From Despair To Where') while the Manics' nihilistic masterpiece 'The Holy Bible' contributes only 'Faster'. The sudden appearance of a 'Little Baby Nothing' or 'You Love Us' out of the orchestral pomp-rock pea-souper is thrilling, but jarring too. 'Forever Delayed' details the Manics' sucesses without much reference to what made them special in the first place. It's all achievement, precious little essence.

Sure, 'The Masses Against The Classes' stopped the rot, the new tracks 'There By The Grace Of God' and 'Door To The River' are refreshingly diverse (desolate Depeche Mode and folk Sigur Ros, respectively), and there's talk of the next album 'doing a Radiohead'. Bright horizons indeed, but as a historical record of a magnificent band, 'Forever Delayed' is like remaking A Clockwork Orange without the ultra-violence. for the music, but for becoming your enemies…

Mark Beaumont

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