Anybody who reads Portsmouth Point will know that I am something of a regular when it comes to writing rock articles. So ,when my favourite band (bar The Who) released their first brand new album in three years, of course I had to instantly buy it and review it.
Admittedly I had my doubts. The Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh rock group who have had a constantly evolving sound in their 27 year history, though I had heard Rewind The Film would be melodic and based in acoustic guitars – a far cry from their glam/hard rock origins. The Manics gained fame in 1991 with obvious attitude, leftist politically motivation, extraordinarily clever lyrics and an incredible sound. Their 1994 The Holy Bible album was a poignant and sinister masterpiece, with strangely hummable tunes covering topics from anorexia to the Holocaust, prostitution to American Consumerism. They became more mainstream after the disappearance of their main lyricist Richey Edwards (he had depressive mental health issues, and in one interview carved “4REAL” into his arm after the interviewer said the band weren’t serious) . Then they moved into songs of powerful sadness in the gentler 1999 This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours no.1 album. The rock sound came back and in 2009 they seemed to have gone full circle with Journal For Plague Lovers (using lyrics left behind by Edwards), creating an evolved The Holy Bible-esque work of brilliance. Now, Rewind The Film seems to have brought them back to more gentle tunes, yet with untested musical directions.
This is true from just the lead single of the album. “Show Me The Wonder” is upbeat, catchy – an almost different feel from the rest of the album, as superb horns are played with a triumph of knowing the beauty in the simple things in life, found at “the birthplace of the universe” - the origin. The effect is to gloriously wash away those gently-forming tears induced by the previous song, “This Sullen Welsh Heart” – “I don’t want my children to grow up like me/It’s too soul destroying/It’s a mocking disease – a wasting disease”; the duet of frontman James Dean Bradfield and guest singer Lucy Rose emanates simultaneous melancholy and beautifying warmth, in its talk of their Welsh origins, despite the only backing coming in the form of an elegantly simplistic acoustic guitar.
The title track shares most with this song. “Rewind The Film” as a title might give a false impression of a band declining into the very decadence their ‘90’s selves were so greatly repulsed by – it would be an impression of a desire to relive former glories, to now create only mediocre tunes designed for commercial success and to give up and fade away. Dispelling any such views is the melodic grace of guest singer Richard Hawley’s tone: simply remembering a childhood of “old records/hoping they’ll never stop”. This is not a Manics acceptance of age – this album is a reinvention, emphasised immediately after the title track on the next song’s lyrics - “So sick and so tired of being 4REAL….How I hate middle age/in between acceptance and rage”. “Builder of Routines” has that sinister catchiness of their The Holy Bible album, yet modernised. Strangely, what gives greatness to so some of these tunes is their mix of both The Holy Bible and This Is My Truth… vibes – a hidden power and sense of knowing, hiding behind well-built patterns of musical sweetness and sadness. Others are special in such different ways. A harmonious violin adds to the subtle constant of synth, quiet electronic beats and acoustic strums that amass to translate Oriental wonder in “(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline". And there is “Manorbier”, a staggering instrumental – something the Manics usually reserve for their b-sides.