on 17 September 2013
This is not a rock and roll album. I also maintain that it bears little resemblance to any other Manic Street Preachers album, except perhaps `This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours', and there are still differences.
The album opens with `This Sullen Welsh Heart', and Nicky Wire proclaiming "I don't want my children to grow up like me", setting an immediately reflective tone which is in place for most of the album. This song also features vocals from Lucy Rose, a delicately-voiced, critically-acclaimed singer from Warwickshire whose vocals here perfectly compliments James Dean Bradfield's, whilst also suiting Nicky Wire's soul-searching lyrics, such as "It's not enough to succeed, others must fail". Dissatisfaction, a common Manics theme, is here in abundance.
`Show Me The Wonder', the first single from the album has definitely grown on me. To begin with, I wasn't entirely sure about it, and it is certainly a lot poppier and more upbeat than a lot of Manics singles, there is no denying that when they want to, the Manics can write a catchy song, albeit using lyrics about "the birthplace of the Universe". For this single, they have embraced an old, nostalgic, cabaret style sound, with plenty of trumpets. It works well, after the initial shock of hearing the manics complete departure from anything resembling their rock `n' roll/punk roots.
My personal highlight of the album was the title track. `Rewind the film' contains vocals from Richard Hawley, with James Dean Bradfield joining in approximately halfway through. I consider the song a masterpiece. Richard Hawley plays Hawaiian guitar which begins beautiful, delicately, about thirty seconds in, like some exotic flower opening. The musical arrangement here is stunning, containing viola, violin and cello, and Hawley's voice has scarcely sounded so good, deep, resonant, but also strangely beautiful, with the entire song playing out in a hazy, dreamlike way. This song contains many elements of a piece of music called `A Little Girl Lost' by David Axelrod, but the original version contained no vocals, and in my opinion, Richard Hawley's vocals lift this into classic Manics territory. The title is actually very apt, since this piece of music reminds me of a film soundtrack. It would greatly suit a David Lynch film, or perhaps a Luc Besson film.
`Builder Of Routines' starts with an immediately distinctive intro using what sounds like a Xylophone. This song contains a sad lyric about hating middle-age, and startlingly, the lyric "so tired of being 4 real". Again, this song, in the minor key, and featuring sad-sounding trumpets, conveys many of Wire's favourite themes of disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and the feeling of a man trying to come to terms with getting older - something which crops up frequently on this album.
`Four Lonely Roads' is easily one of the most beautiful songs on the album, featuring vocals entirely from Cate Le Bon, a distinctively voiced Welsh singer who embraces many of the same lyrical themes as the Manics. Here, her voice is understated and pretty, towards the end accompanied by beautiful pianos. The arrangement creates a song which is simultaneously sad/beautiful, a juxtaposition which the Manics have always used to great effect. Wire's lyrics, about being `trapped in skin' and `darker hell' have been softened slightly, by using Cate Le Bon as a vocalist. It works well.
`I Miss The Tokyo Skyline' is another of Nicky Wire's travel stories, featuring a lovely piece of violin music and Wire's Love for the modernity of Tokyo and his fondness for it, encompassing the "non-communication", "emptiness" and silence. Musically, this is one of the more uplifting tracks on the album, mainly due to the enchanting violins which appear throughout.
"Anthem For A Lost Cause" a straightforward acoustic ballad, but with more violins, and more keyboards from the fantastic Loz Williams, contains more tender lyrical themes, accompanied by James' gentle acoustic guitar. "Redemption, love and departure" are mentioned as well as a "glittering prize", perhaps a sly nod towards Simple Minds, one of Nicky Wire's favourite bands. The entire song evokes a sense of loss, a common Manics theme.
Nicky Wire takes the lead vocals on `As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin)' and I maintain that he has come a long way, vocally, from the days of `Wattsville Blues'. Whilst he lacks the same vocal strength and dexterity as James, his voice is in no way unpleasant. Understated, yes, but not unattractive. More trumpets feature here, and saxophone, courtesy of Sean Read, as Nicky sings what essentially is a love song. Changed days for the Manics, but that's a good thing. Maturity brings wisdom, which Nicky possesses in abundance. This lyric also shows Wire's ability to jump from the mundane to the grandiose: "As Holy As The Roman Empire, as holy as the coffee you made for us". Sung by any other lyricist there could be a risk of this sounding awkward or stilted, but with Nicky it comes across as sincere and pure.
`There Ways To See Despair' is another minor key ballad, containing one of Nicky's most confessional lyrics on this album, but also contains an excellent guitar solo which sounds, to my ear, like something David Gilmour might play on `Dark Side Of The Moon'. This isn't a happy song, Nicky revealing that he has seen all three ways to see despair, but hinting that there is also a fourth way, which is yet to come. Perhaps Nicky was on a low when he wrote this, as there seems to be more hope for the future, elsewhere on the album. Nevertheless, the song sounds fantastic, mainly down to aforementioned guitar solo, and Sean Moore's never anything less than fantastic drumming being turned up quite high in the mix.
`Running Out Of Fantasy' is yet another of Nicky Wire's exceptionally confessional and endearingly honest lyrics, and the lyric "I'm old, I'm strange, I'm confidential" is confessional in the same tradition as, for example, `Born A Girl' or `Ready For Drowning', in fact several of the songs from `This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours". These are definitely not `throwaway' lyrics, nor could anyone ever accuse Nicky Wire of being lyrically lazy. Yes, the Manics have reached middle-age, but they have definitely not become complacent. `Running Out Of Fantasy', a wistful, bittersweet acoustic ballad show a band who are still trying to make sense of the world around them, and perhaps, like most us, struggling to do so: "The Obsession with change has bled me dry".
`Manorbier', an instrumental, has a slow introduction which builds into an uplifting and dreamlike piece of music with more of Loz Williams beautiful keyboards, as well as some soft acoustic guitar which all adds to an atmosphere of beauty - this is definitely one of the Manics most attractive and striking albums, a stark contrast to the likes of `The Holy Bible' or `Journal For Plague Lovers' which were frequently harsh and angular in the great tradition of post-punk, but `Rewind The Film' is certainly no less a work of art than those two albums.
The album closes with another of the album's highlights, the Thatcher-condemning `Thirty-year war'. It's another Manics masterpiece, in my opinion, the type of angry, scornful lyric which Nicky Wire does better than anyone, as he heaps his trademark contempt onto "Old Etonian Scum" and the establishment in general. As a fan, it is pleasing for me to know that the old fire is still there. He is older, and wiser, but nevertheless can still produce polemic better than his contemporaries. His social and political awareness puts the youngsters in today's current crop of bands to shame. This is what great art is for; not just entertainment, but challenging convention, making a point. Musically, the song begins with another nostalgic sounding trumpet solo, moving swiftly into Vangelis-style synths and then a memorable, sing-along chorus, concluding with the question "What is to be done?" Lines such as "blame the poor, praise the rich" really are vintage Manic Street Preachers.
This album is in turns poignant, wistful, reflective, angry, disillusioned, but also, strangely, there are moments of love and hope. It is curiously timeless and cannot be directly placed in a particular musical category, as it spans many different styles and uses a veritable cornucopia of musical instruments. This is part of what makes the Manics so special. They are not afraid of experimentation; there are plenty of musical instruments here - more so than on any other Manics album. What the Manic Street Preachers manage to do is make every one of their albums different to the other in some discernible way. Here, they have created a vast and impressive musical landscape, evoking a myriad of emotions, a variety of moods and a powerful sound. It must be noted that even though they are now firmly rooted in middle-age, there is not a hint of complacency about the Manic Street Preachers. They are not `going through the motions', because if they were, it would come across that way, and it doesn't. There is not a hint of `resting on their laurels' about the Manics, and long may that continue. Even though 2005's `Lifeblood' was a disappointment to me, and many other fans, it wasn't irredeemable and the lyrical themes were still interesting, but ever since then, every Manics album has been of a consistently high standard, and they still continue to explore new musical territory with every album they release. It's ironic that Nicky says in `Builder Of Routines' that he is tired of being `4 real', because as a band, that's exactly what the Manic Street Preachers continue to be.