It’s not always black and white

Postcards From a Young Man****

For their tenth studio album, the schizosonic Manic Street Preachers have embraced pop music.  Well, the Manics have always had an agenda to subvert through catchy pop, and do so brilliantly in Postcards. Conceived as a last shot at ‘mass communication’, the latest album from the Welsh rockers follows 2009’s much-praised return-to-form and angry Journal for Plague Lovers. Postcards is an ode to the yesterdays in which we dared to dream in technicolour;  but with the passing of time, turned the arbitrary blacks and whites of youthful idealism into the mature, more focused lens that captures the world into various shades of grey. However, the Manics do remember that Pandora’s Box always contained hope. A constant in all their recordings.

The album’s cover shows UK actor Tim Roth holding and looking into a Polaroid camera with a yet-to-be-developed photo. What has caught his eye turns into the album’s vignettes of the band’s first musical loves. A wink to the past; an invitation to a new future.

Postcards opens with ‘It’s not War (Just the End of Love)’. The album’s first UK single. Strings, massive chorus. Instantly catchy. We then meet the title track, ‘Postcards From a Young Man’ : I don’t believe in absolutes anymore
I’m quite prepared to admit I was wrong.  Again, more strings, massive chorus and stunning, Queen-esque outro. James Dean Bradfield turns in another stellar vocal performance on this album. The vocal defiance of ‘this world will not impose its will, I will not give up and I will not give in’. Worth the price of the album.

‘Some Kind of Nothingness’ features a duet with Ian McCullough (Echo and the Bunnymen). His baritone complements Bradfield, one of the best singers in the rock biz today. A stunning song. A descent into melancholy, but strangely, incredibly uplifting. Gospel choir. Staggeringly beautiful. Some of the finest songwriting Nicky Wire has done since 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’.

Next is ‘The Descent’. Reminiscent of  70s Bowie, Oasis, and ELO. A love it or hate it song. No in-betweens.  For me, masterpiece.

‘Hazelton Avenue’ takes on consumerism with a slightly different bent than the band’s debut Generation Terrorists and ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’.  Catchy, slightly reminiscent of Lenny Kravitz. A song that reflects a private moment on a busy, high-end shopping street in Toronto, Canada.

The album then shifts to The Holy Bible/Journal for Plague Lovers Manics on ‘Auto Intoxication’.  Complex song, with many sonic shifts. Auto Intoxication serving as a societal metaphor. Features John Cale on piano.

Golden Platitudes takes on New Labour. Never let it be said that the Manics don’t have anything to say. And stunningly so. Nicky Wire’s finest work since Everything Must Go: Why colonise the moon? When every different kind of desperation exists. More gospel choirs, answering the song’s question.

The album takes an odd turn on I Think I’ve Found It. Could have been an epilogue on James Dean Bradfield’s 2006 The Great Western. The introduction of the mandolin. Bradfield’s fan letter gets its own song. An odd song, but likeable.

The Manics return to Everything Must Go form on A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun.  The dark side of the Internet:  A billion balconies facing the sun, A billion faces turned to their screens, The perfect attitude, camouflage our screams, A billion lives that can’t be the truth. Guess bassist Duff McKagan from Velvet Revolver/GnR. Features Bradfield being Slash, just for a moment. The view from my balcony is fine.

We then go to All We Make is Entertainment. A dig at Britain’s selling off of Cadbury, the state of its manufacturing industry and a self-dig at the band itself. Rock and roll is ephemeral. The Manics set out to change the world, but do so in their own way.

The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever features vocals from Nicky Wire. Good song, but I’m not a fan of Wire’s vocals. It’s his best to date. Pokes fun at The Godfather 3 and challenges the listener. Excellent trumpet work from drummer Sean Moore.

The album ends with Don’t Be Evil. Google’s unofficial motto. The song tackles the inaccountability of the Internet. Well, the Manics do need a cause for future albums.  The Internet isn’t going away any time soon. Malevolent, perhaps containing a subtle dig at Simon Cowell and the current state of the music business, based on manufactured talent via ‘X Factor’ and various ‘Idol’ shows.

Excellent album. Sean Moore’s drumming and trumpet playing is second-to-none. Nicky Wire proves himself as a songwriter and James Dean Bradfield again shows why he’s one of the best vocalists in the music business. I’ve listened to this album many, many times since August. I haven’t tired of it. An essential listen. The Manics never fail to surprise. Not one song that is truly ‘filler’. A great album. Gorgeous.

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~ by hooklineandthinker on September 20, 2010.

 
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