Manic Street Preachers: Send Away The Tigers
Stuart Maconie, the impudent British music critic, once opined of the Manic Street Preachers that if they didn’t exist, one would have to invent them. That’s something the Manics themselves seem to have been trying to do for most of their career; aside from the proselytising and the provocative interviews, you always get the impression that the four or three members of the band are never quite being true to themselves, especially when each new album is both a considered and a knee-jerk reaction to the preceding LP. Hence with Send Away The Tigers, the more pastoral and electronic elements of 2004’s Lifeblood have been deemed surplus to requirements, and as with Know Your Enemy, the band have returned to the somewhat harder edge of their early oeuvre.
By accident or design they’ve managed to pay homage to each one of their previous seven albums here, and almost all facets of their output are represented. Especially if you carry out the same revisionism that the band themselves carry out from time to time. Mostly, this is the sound of the Manics in arena, if not quite stadium mode; the guitars are loud, the choruses louder. It’s not quite the full kitchen sink treatment though, as the band have decided to bless us with just ten songs (not including the cursory John Lennon cover). This means there’s no flab here, just South Wales steel.
Nowhere is this everything goes attitude more amply illustrated than on ‘Autumnsong’, one of three songs here named after seasons. The individual members of the band have long made much of the implicit and explicit influences that have formed certain albums and songs. Some are apparent, some less so, but on this particular track they’re loud and they’re proud. A Guns ‘n’ Roses riff, Queen harmonies during the bridge and a melody which manages to both sound Abba and Springsteen-esque, it’s probably the most unashamedly pop song they’ve written since…well, ‘Solitude Sometimes Is’ on Lifeblood. But let us not get dragged into the vagaries of record sales and the importance of radio airplay.
But more importantly than all that, there’s a point in the fourth verse of this song where James Dean Bradfield’s peerless voice takes flight in a way it hasn’t in years, and that’s the keystone point of this album; forget all the guitar pyrotechnics and the return of the scatter-gun prosody, this is the album when one of the UK’s greatest singers became comfortable with his own voice again, and that’s the single most important connection with the band’s youth.
Elsewhere, a song from a previous album is name-checked on yet another top ten single, ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’. Featuring the Cardigans’ Nina Persson on co-lead vocals, it’s a little reminiscent of James’ solo track ‘That’s No Way To Tell A Lie’. Similarly, ‘Indian Summer’ sails dangerously close to being ‘A Design For Life’, sharing a drum pattern, time signature, and at least one guitar part. All this would suggest a band desperately running out of ideas, but I’m not sure that’s the case here, mainly because the lyrics to the chorus intone “I guess we’ll have to test/until there’s nothing left”. Perhaps, just perhaps, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore set themselves their own little musical test.
‘The Second Great Depression’ is the first slow burner, sharing the same general atmosphere as ‘The Wrong Beginning’ on The Great Western, and ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham, a song James Dean Bradfield has been known to belt out on occasion. The Iraq-related lyrics of ‘Rendition’ are underpinned by the massive military might of the kendo-invigorated Sean Moore, and the drummer’s also prominent on the weakest offering of the set, ‘Underdogs’.
‘Imperial Bodybags’ is another explicitly political song, riding roughshod over a clattering beat like the subject of its lyric, and features Bradfield’s most outré solo since the Generation Terrorists album. The title track opens proceedings with a helter-skelter guitar riff and similarly twisting Bradfield vocal, but is perhaps let down by its workmanlike chorus. On the other hand, album closer ‘Winterlovers’ might just be the best song here; with shifting chords shedding new light on the main motif each time it comes round, Bradfield, at his heroic best makes a prosaic Nicky Wire lyric sound more vital than it has any right to. Featuring both a bass and a guitar solo and a drum breakdown, its rallies itself for a closing rock-out before stopping dead. Tantalising or frustrating, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
‘I’m Just A Patsy’ rolls into life with an i – III – VII – IV chord progression redolent of songs by fellow Skids lovers Green Day and U2. The song itself never quite manages to escape the gravity of its conception, but it’s another example of the willingness of the band to escape their pious image this time round, something that they slipped into during the darkest days of Richey James’ poetic peaks. It’s listening to this song that you realise just what this album is; it’s the first album they’ve released not to be haunted by the ghost of their missing lyricist, and it’s indicative of the music they would have made had Mr. Edwards never joined the band. It’s almost their debut.
Where does this leave the Manics? Contrary to what you might hear, this album isn’t a return to form, as that suggests that somewhere along the line, they departed form. That said, Send Away The Tigers isn’t a classic Manics album. It’s both something more and something less than that. Something which both connects with their youthful ethos and moves on from it. Maybe they’ve done what they once threatened to do, and finally shed their skins by, ironically embracing the leopardskin days once again.
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