“How could four become so strong/Yet break and leave too soon” closes ‘Still Snowing in Sapporo’, the opening track on the Manic Street Preachers 14th album, one on which the intensity of feeling the trio have for their lost band mate Richey Edwards still glows as fiercely as ever.
For all his misanthropy and anarchic spirit it’s hard to know what their propagandist-in-chief would’ve made of The Ultra Vivid Lament, a record which unironically embraces an era in which punk changed pop from the toothy, lite entertainment schmaltz of the mid-seventies to the bold futurism of Simple Minds a decade later. Certainly James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire make no bones about their devotion to ABBA – Motorcycle Emptiness in part an unlikely homage to Dancing Queen – and a clutch of songs written on piano unquestionably soften the growl of their previous outing Resistance Is Futile.
Occasionally the combination sparks, ‘Orwellian’ a superlative new entry to their cannon that rages against the shadowy covert observation of our lives by big tech, whilst Julia Cumming of New York psych-rockers Sunflower Bean helps to cast another edition to their list of worthy duets on ‘The Secret He Had Missed’. Too often though the atmosphere resembles that of 2004’s chilly, detached Lifeblood, despite an intimacy to much of Wire’s lyrics which deserves appreciation. The Ultra Vivid Lament‘s dignified reflections are at odds with the musical naivete that inspired it, a faultless juxtaposition that’s almost certainly the reason for the inconsistent and hard to embrace results.
You can read a full review here.