Welsh stalwarts given a polish by classic Bowie producer Tony Visconti
I can still remember the exact moment my perception of the Manic Street Preachers shifted irrevocably down from “three chart-friendly social thinkers with a fondness for Junior honours philosophy”. It was when I logged on to Napster one morning back in 2001 to find that they were attempting to sue me – and thousands of others – for downloading a new song. It was somehow wrong and antithetical to everything that I’d believed in. It was the first of two calamitous faux pas that the Manics have yet to really recover from; the other being ‘Know Your Enemy’, the album said (awful) song originated from. ‘Know…’ provided ample evidence of how just how far they’d deviated from their own blueprint in trying so desperately to stick to it.
‘Lifeblood’ is the fourth album the Manics have made without Richey Edwards, and the first where they have finally realised that his is a void that will never be filled. Where ‘Know Your Enemy’ strived vainly for relevance, ‘Lifeblood’ is seemingly content to exist as a highbrow rock record. Out go song titles that were half-baked political manifestos in themselves ( ‘Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’ anyone?), in come elegiac pop anthems ( ‘1985’) and the welcome presence of Bowie producer Tony Visconti to add a glacial sheen to the whole affair. Indeed, this is arguably the best Manics album since ‘Everything Must Go’.
That said, the nadir in between has been quite a plunge, so don’t expect lives to be changed. For the most part, however, ‘Lifeblood’ is the sound of a band entering middle-age with dignity and without embarrassment. It’s just that, for the band we
all fell in love with, that idea was once the most disgusting imaginable.