By Manic Street Preachers
2009 sees the release of the Manic Street Preachers' ninth studio album, since their last release 'Send Away the Tigers' in 2007. However, although this may appear to sound like more Manic's fare, and there is nothing wrong with that, there is a twist to this long player as the lyrics were written by their long lost band member Richie Edwards. Now for those who aren't old enough to remember the mysterious disappearance of this important band member, he was last seen on 1st February 1995. Leading up to his disappearance, he carved '4 Real' into his forearm, so clearly something was troubling this young man. He has not been heard from since and was declared 'presumed deceased' in November 2008.
Enough of the history lesson, on with the music. This is a very listenable album with a series of well crafted songs from a band who have matured into experienced rock musicians. As with many works by the Manics, it is worth reading the lyrics as well as listening to them and in the case of this particular author, especially so. The lyrics play with philosophy with lines such as, "the figure eight inside out is infinity" with other songs making reference to existentialism and even Stephen Hawking. Album opener 'Peeled Apples' is strong with what seems bizarrely reminiscent of a noisy Haircut 100 song. 'Journal for Plague Lovers,' the song and album title is also one of the musical highlights with a hard rock that matches its divine theme of God and "doctor divinity." Clearly Edwards was thinking big just before he disappeared
However, it is the last song that deserves the final and most memorable mention. 'William's Last Words' is in an apt place as this haunting song is distinctly eerie, as its uncomplicated composition echoes with Richie's lyrics telling us, "I'll be watching over you" and "I'd love to go to sleep and wake up happy." Nicky Wire's vocals seem to almost break when he sings this and it is the simplicity of the melody that intrigues the listener most.
It is also worth noting the CD cover, which is a piece of artwork by Jenny Saville. It depicts an androgynous young person's face with what looks like either a port wine stain or after a horrible beating, with a vulnerable look towards the viewer and a more than passing resemblance to Richey Edwards. Parallels can of course be drawn from the picture to the album's content, but it is interesting to see that most of the major supermarkets stocking the CD have given it a cover as they deem the image unsuitable. For whom, one might ask.
'Journal for Plague Lovers' is not a disappointment, it keeps up the pace with lots of musical hooks to hang your coat on. It is also a good album for those unfamiliar with the Manic Street Preachers as well, as you will recognise the Manic's sound but with some interesting musical gems to convert you.