“We reserve the right to contradict ourselves.” You can interpret this Manic Street Preachers quote in two ways. First, as a promise that they will constantly strive to surprise people. Or second, as a licence to do things like headline the O2 Arena in December 2011, call it a farewell show, then start gigging again four months later. But even though the latter left a nasty taste, no band has earned the right to have their cake and gorge on it more than Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore. And if that promised hiatus had materialised, we wouldn’t have ‘Rewind The Film’.
The Manics’ 11th album is a subtle, satisfying record that showcases their continuing ability to soar, albeit without digging anywhere near as deep as their politico-punk-pop totems, 1992’s ‘Generation Terrorists’ and 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’. Musically, it’s their safest album yet, reflected in new photos that show the trio seemingly modelling the new Cool Uncle clothing line in Next. Legacy-wise, though, it could be their most unsafe album. Guitar barely features at all, while the daytime TV saxophone of ‘Show Me The Wonder’, the friendly trumpet of ‘Builder Of Routines’ and Bradfield’s cosy duet with Cate Le Bon on ‘Four Lonely Roads’ push them closer than ever towards Radio 2 territory.
Thing is, there will always be a fire burning within these guys, no matter how many buckets of MOR get sloshed over them. Check ‘Running Out Of Fantasy’, which features tender acoustic fingerpicking and Bradfield’s reflective cry: “Has my fantasy run out of delusion?/Has my fantasy reached its logical conclusion?” Whether this is an acceptance that rock’n’roll escapism fades as middle age encroaches, or a lyrical reminiscence about Richey Edwards, it’s proof that Wire’s lyrical eloquence can still scorch.
The title track features Richard Hawley, who could read out your death sentence and it would still sound like a lullaby, and the crying-whale slide guitar and graceful strings make it a highlight not just of this album, but of their whole career. ‘Manorbier’ is cause for similar optimism: a largely instrumental stretch of filmic effects reminiscent of Super Furry Animals at their relaxed best, it offers another glimpse into possible future directions for the band.
Maybe that’s the most important function this album serves: to reassure us that no matter how many ‘farewell’ gigs they play, the Manics just can’t keep away. Like Primal Scream, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Forsyth, the Manics will stop when they die. And have you seen how young Nicky Wire is still looking?