A Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz photograph called ‘Samurai Warrior 1881’ adorns the sleeve of the Manics’ 13th album, ‘Resistance Is Futile’. It’s a snapshot of one of the very last warriors of his kind. Much like the record’s title itself, is this a call to arms in the face of the changing tide, or an acceptance of defeat?
“People get tired, people get old – people get forgotten, people get sold,” pines James Dean Bradfield on opener ‘People Give In’, but rather than collapsing under the weight of the sorrow at how “there is no theory of everything”, the band gloriously rise from the ashes – driven by their hardened will just to exist and grow stronger.
‘Liverpool Revisited’ carries that same defiant spirit. Whereas ‘SYMM [South Yorkshire Mass Murderer]’ from 1998’s ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ was a song lost, lonely and aghast in the horror of the Hillsborough disaster and subsequent corruption, here Nicky Wire’s words celebrate the brotherhood and tenacity of the people of Liverpool in their victory for the lost 96. Oh, and to dispel the myth that Wire can’t play for shit – that’s his guitar solo.
The lush abandon of ‘Hold Me Like A Heaven’ makes for a true album highlight, as the band come as close to hope as the Manics possibly can when they admit: “I hate the world more than I hate myself”. Their classic autumnal euphoria also drenches recent single ‘International Blue’ – the “sister song” to debut album classic ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ – and showcases their idiosyncratic knack of writing arena-ready anthems that smuggle in curveball cultural references. This time, it’s honouring the vision of French artist Yves Klein, and it’s a greatest hit for a band with too many to mention.
The joyous bounce of ‘Vivian’ recalls the life of nanny-turned-street-photographer Vivian Maier, while ‘Dylan And Caitlin’ also looks externally for inspiration as the band recruit the criminally underrated Catherine Anne Davies, AKA The Anchoress, to deliver an ode to the doomed love of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas. File it alongside ‘Little Baby Nothing’ and ‘Your Love Alone’ under ‘greatest Manics duets’.
‘Sequels Of Forgotten Wars’ continues the thread of European influences and the haunted machine pulse that we heard on their last album, ‘Futurology’, while ‘In Eternity’ too has that glacial and alien shimmer of Bowie’s seminal 1977 album ‘Low’. The only real criticism of this record is that is doesn’t have the same sense of adventure as its predecessor, where the band were trying to find a new version of themselves. But it adopts the punk snarl of their debut album, ‘Generation Terrorists’, and the opulent, widescreen ambition of their fourth, ‘Everything Must Go’, allowing the band to spiritually bloom.
The true character of this 13th album probably lies on ‘Distant Colours’ and ‘Broken Algorithms’ – lamenting how transient culture has become, how social media and fake news have diluted knowledge in the echo chamber of digital hiss and zeroes and ones. The band who once told you to know your enemy now realise that the enemy is omnipresent, yet also invisible and unknowable. Still, the Manics are kicking against the pricks just as hard as ever. In their existence alone they continue to fight the good fight – but the sheer scale, pop-pomp and balls on show here render their survival an absolute victory. Resistance may be futile, but the Manics continue to advance.