Manic Street Preachers - Lifeblood
Bill Cummings 08/11/2004
In the lyrics to Let Robeson Sing, Nicky wire wrote of Robeson: “A voice so pure/A vision so clear/ i gotta learn to live like you/learn to sing like you.” Well, on LifeBlood, the Manics' attempt to fulfill this wish of working towards the vision of producing a glacial “elegiac pop” rock record, they have created their best album for many years.
LifeBlood is an album from a band that have grown matured and moved on from their past. Not discarding it but accepting its truth and evolving to the point where they can show us they are now as people and musicians. Reviews that have compared this album to the early albums are as misplaced as those who compare Joy Division to New Order. The drive and inspiration of Richey Edwards hasn't been a part of the Manic Street Preachers for many years now.
They once wanted to take on the world and win now Nicky Wire (bassist and) lyricist placed a quote from Descartes' on the new artwork: *"Conquer yourself, not the world." "That's where we are now," says Wire. "Twelve years ago we'd have said, conquer the world and fuck yourself."
Tony Visconti was drafted in to help on a few tracks and his attitude and experience allowed the band to free themselves of their inhibitions as a band:
*“He's left a gap for the music to be more important," says Bradfield. It's the first time, he says, that the bands have admitted to themselves that they actually enjoy playing together as musicians. So much so that they've been breaking self-imposed musical rules, and trying things which would once have been taboo, like slap bass (Wire tried to think Ashes to Ashes, not Level 42) and harmonica (Bradfield tried to think There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, not The Alarm)
A lot has happened to them since they formed over fourteen years ago now, four boys from Blackwood on a mission to create the perfect glam punk band, they worshipped at the altar of The Clash and Guns And Roses. LifeBlood is an album of serene pop/rock tunes a world a way from The Holy Bible with its bile and punk driven dynamics, more consistent than Gold Against The Soul and more focused than their last effort, Know Your Enemy. LifeBlood's sound falls between the beautifully haunting melodic lines of This Is My Truth…. and the big rock anthems that characterised Everything Must Go. The Manics are a band who no longer want to take on the world, a band who would rather let the music and shape lyrics that examine the internal world. What critics of the album have missed, is that in paring down their lyrics and creating a more rounded sound through the use of shimmering beds of synthesizers that quite apart from producing a tepid MOR-driven sound, the Manics have created an album of rare poetic beauty and musical clarity that takes its cue from the eighties sound of early U2, The Cure, and late seventies Bowie.
Beginning with the delightfully wistful pop rock of 1985, its majestic lyric of a young Nicky Wire inspired by The Smiths: “Morrissey and Marr gave me a choice” before bleeding in to a magisterial chorus of “God is dead/ Like Nietzsche said/We've realised there's no going back”. It's a storming beginning and perhaps the band's best song for many years.
Next up is the robo-pop suss of lead-off single “The Love of Richard Nixon”. Coming on like Depeche Mode fronted by Bono, the bitter verses that attempt to reclaim Nixon's legacy “They Forgot China/And your war on cancer” is only let down by a tepid chorus.
Next single “Empty Souls” follows next and it's a corker, its sublime opening signature piano's and metallic guitars bringing to mind the sound of U2's “New Years Day” but "Empty Souls" is a great song in its own right. Its shimmering sound bleeds into an driving tune and exquisite falsetto from front man Bradfield as he delivers the powerful chorus line of: “Exposed to a truth we don't know/ Collapsing like the twin towers..."
"A Song for a Departure" begins like Billie Jean in slo-mo. Its thudding eighties rhythm, that is lit up by Bradfield's singing with his eyes shut croon and Wire's concise poetic lyrics. The Chorus line of “This is a song for Departure/This is a song to break your heart to” is simply beautiful this is tantamount to a poetic shrug of the shoulders from Wire. The ending doe-eyed solo ranks up their with James Dean Bradfield's best ( Motown Junk, Motorcycle Emptiness, if you Tolerate… and A Design for Life)
Elsewhere, “I Live to Fall asleep” is a gorgeous ballad, Bradfield again is the star turn, singing above a melodic piano line it at one point sounds like Nina Simone's “Loving You” before disappearing off into a shimmering pop sound, tainted by loss of a friend and band mate: “when did you become another distant friend everyone who loved you they waited till the end.”
“To Repel Ghosts” is gleaming melodic synth pop rock that is only perhaps missing a pre chorus that would have made the song complete. "Emily"- quite apart from being dull- is a tender hymn to a inspirational figure. Then there's “Glasnost” thats guitar line is deeply reminiscent of the Smiths whilst the world weary vocal, it exudes a sense of comfort through misery in the lines “And in defeat cling to these words so clear.” While “Always/Never” is a funky retreating of roses in the hospital with a sly nod to the work of Bowie's sound and Vision, whilst fragments is a syth driven pop song that fades in the chorus. Next up is ”Solitude sometimes is”. A stately anthem influenced by The Cure, it features oblique reflections on depression its words lingering in a tinkling and synth driven landscape.
“Fragments” is one of the few let downs its initial verses aren't matched its rather tepid chorus. Lastly comes the "Cardiff Afterlife", a decent attempt at chronicling the subject of Richey, as Wire attempts to reclaim his friends memory, whilst his band producing a futuristic folk pop swoosh.
Overall LifeBlood is quite an achievement. It's not their best album, but it's a mature serene and beautiful pop effort that sees the band growing up gracefully, and evolving to the point where they can let the music speak for itself. Who would have ever thought that all those years ago?