NME has learned to anticipate new Manic Street Preachers albums with the same dread and suspicion with which one might look forward to a colonoscopy. Reviewing the band’s last album – the underwhelming ‘Lifeblood’ – in 2004, we had the temerity to suggest that it was something other than an unimpeachable masterpiece, resulting in a barrage of hate mail, death threats and computer viruses that had us considering emergency facial surgery before walking the streets again.
Three years on, however, and we stand by our convictions; it’s been a solid, decade-long wait for Nicky Wire and co to deliver something as vital and vibrant as ‘Everything Must Go’, and an even longer wait for the bilious, misanthropic rage of ‘The Holy Bible’ to be repeated. In the interim there’s been sanitised arena rock (‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’), eclectic, well-intentioned failures (‘Know Your Enemy’), the stale sound of a band putting their feet up and embracing their own middle-aged spread (the aforementioned ‘Lifeblood’) and a spate of solo oddities, but little in the way of the kind of ball-hair-tingling, punk-rock majesty that made them so special in the first place.
Well, bugger us gently with a ragman’s trumpet if the wait would appear to be over at long last. ‘Send Away The Tigers’ is easily the best thing the band have released since 1996. Concise and focused, bristling with political ire and with unabashedly lowbrow salutes to the trio’s guiltiest musical pleasures (Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith, ELO for fuck’s sake), the Manics are far healthier-sounding than any band on their eighth album and third decade of existence has any right to. It is, quite frankly, special. And that’s something we never thought we’d be able to write about a new Manics album ever again.
Kicking off with the title track, described by Nicky Wire as, “‘All You Need Is Love’ played by Guns N’Roses” but sounding far more like The Who gleefully defaming the national anthem, it’s a magisterial couple of minutes that references everything from the ‘liberation’ of Iraq to comedian Tony Hancock’s rampant alcoholism. From the off, it’s clear that Manics have rediscovered the element of “fabulous disaster” that was lost in the safety bubble of mainstream success, and the genuine shock of how brilliant it all sounds is weirdly disarming.
Even better still is lead single ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’, a sugar-coated call-and-response pop gem with a cynical heart which hints at the shadow still cast over them by Richey Edwards’ disappearance.
If it’s a morose point to linger on, however, it doesn’t show on record. For the first time in longer than we care to remember, the Manics sound like they’re having fun.
‘…Tigers’ is the sound of a band who have accepted themselves and learned to embrace and enjoy it. By turns wantonly dumb – the glam-metal riot of ‘Underdogs’ or ‘Autumnsong’’s unapologetic FM rock chorus – and incisively intelligent, this is Manics in their comfort zone, and rarely have they sounded so much like, well, themselves. They’re guttersnipe punks clutching at Camus and oiky gobshites who are unafraid of their own overachievement. It’s just taken them a long time to realise that this is not to their detriment. At various points they even appear to lightheartedly reference themselves, from ‘Your Love Alone…’’s lyrical nod to 1999’s ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ to the gorgeous ‘Indian Summer’’s unmistakable musical similarity to ‘Everything Must Go’.
At just 10 songs and 38 minutes, there’s none of the filler that can crop up on Manics albums – everything, from James Dean Bradfield’s vocals to Wire’s politically charged lyrics, is operating at the nth degree. ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ – which quotes perennial fall-guy Lee Harvey Oswald – and the snarling boogie-punk racket of ‘Imperial Bodybags’ tick the requisite boxes of social relevance. Indeed, Iraq, 9/11 and the fallout from them, are themes that permeate the album. But ‘Send Away The Tigers’ is a record more about mood than any sort of agenda. It’s a euphoric, anthemic acceptance of self – the eureka! moment of a band realising what makes them so special and not feeling the need to shirk from it.
Manic Street Preachers really have no business sounding as good as this. If it doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of ‘The Holy Bible’ or ‘Everything Must Go’, it certainly comes close and is, in many ways, the quintessential Manics album – the cathartic regeneration that the band really needed in order to become relevant again. It’s the triumphant comeback of the year. And it’s a pleasure to be able to review it without having to fear for our lives.