A new album from Manic Street Preachers is bound to be an interesting affair. Their music has ranged from brash guitar rock, to string-inflected arena grandeur and, on the quite wonderful Rewind the Film, restrained and reflective quasi-folk. Their new album also sees them returning from their longest ever break between albums.
As the Welsh trio grapple with middle age, they have produced an album that sounds both resigned (hence the title) and full of the energy of their youth. With an album that comes as far into a band’s career as this, it is impossible not to compare it to their previous work. Thankfully, Resistance is Futile brings to mind two of their best works: the majestic musical craft of Everything Must Go and the outrageous verve and enthusiasm of Generation Terrorists. When James Dean Bradfield’s guitar soars in on lead single “International Blue”, it is easy to see why Nicky Wire has likened it to “Motorcycle Emptiness” possibly their greatest ever song.
For their whole career the Manics have very much been defined by the culturereferencing, often overtly political lyrics of Nicky Wire (and for a time with the late Richey Edwards). Because the band have made a career out of raging against the political establishment and produced one of the bleakest albums of all time in The Holy Bible, it is easy to forget their positivity. As he has done before, Wire pays homage to some of the figures who have inspired him, including Yves Klein and Vivian Maier.
Most moving, however, is “Liverpool Revisited”. It combines the big-scale rock that the Manics do best, with a touching tribute to the Hillsborough victims, their families, and the people of Liverpool, all accompanied by a seething political undercurrent.
Musically, Resistance is Futile does not find the Manics stretching themselves. It is one of their simpler works; there’s no literary samples, and no historical recordings. All of the tracks present are big, too. The danger of the album becoming too uniform is averted, but not as much as one perhaps might have hoped. What continues to make the album engaging up until its close is the confidence and vitality that the 40-something rockers still possess, and their constantly fascinating lyrics.
The day the Manic Street Preachers make a bland and uninteresting album is the day they should call it a day. Resistance is Futile shows that they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.