“I can’t fight this war any more”, sighed James Dean Bradfield on the gentle ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ from Manic Street Preachers’ even gentler last album ‘Rewind The Film’. “Time to surrender, time to move on”. That’s it then, folks: war is over, and peaceful middle age is here if you want it.
Only that’s not what you or I want from the Manics, and that’s not what they want, either. As ‘Futurology’ proves, they’re still a band to believe in; a band of high ideas and higher ideals who refuse to sit idly back when things turn to shit. If there’s a battle to be won, surrender isn’t an option –and if no-one else is prepared to fight, they’ll do it on their own.
For all the snarl and snark of the lyrics, though, it’s the songs themselves that are strange compared to anything they’ve done before. Two of the most ambitious, amorphous tracks are the instrumentals ‘Dreaming A City (Hugheskova)’ and ‘Mayakovsky’, which come on like dystopian spaghetti westerns with strange, fizzing blurts of space-noise and bass rumbling like a spaceship flying overhead.
There are more sci-fi touches, too. On the warped ballad ‘Divine Youth’, a strange Blade Runner-meets-East 17 mash-up that teams Bradfield with Welsh singer Georgia Ruth, the pair grump about how the digital age has destroyed imagination and creativity over wonky celestial keyboards.
In clumsier hands, such experimentation could smack of self-indulgence, but the outré tics have a purpose: to back up ‘Futurology’’s message that playing safe is no way to play at all. So while the sleazy ‘Sex, Power, Love And Money’ makes it clear that the Manics’ enemies are still greed, gluttony and corruption, they’re not just kicking against the pricks in power – they’re taking on the lazy swine too apathetic to stand up to them, too.
‘Let’s Go To War’ is a sinister groove with PiL-indebted guitars and a brutal, stompalong melody in which Bradfield, frazzled by tension and nerves, begs people to revolt against the career rock’n’rollers and cynical money-makers. The simple, smooth-edged ‘Black Square’ operates as both an attack on the ruling classes (“Let us choose our own wars and make our own mistakes”) and a demand for other bands to realise that they have power because “art is eternal”.
The splashy guitars of ‘Between The Clock And The Bed’ find Bradfield, like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, finding himself unstuck in time and trapped by old memories of failure as he remembers that “hatred and fear go perfectly together… I live through these moments again and again”.
Taking so many chances means there are inevitable hiccups, but they scarcely matter – if the eerie nursery rhyme of ‘The View From Stow Hill’ feels lacklustre, there’s also the sirens-blaring industrial grit of ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ or the spiky, creepy rumble of ‘Misguided Missile’. Ever since they outlandishly pledged to sell 16 million copies of their debut album ‘Generation Terrorists’ in 1992, the Manics have dared to think big and risk noble failure. This is a band who’ve been around for over three decades and have no right to be able to pull off being so different, so confrontational and so downright odd – but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Manics have never backed down from fighting against what’s expected of them.