If your only memory of the Manic Street Preachers has been the ‘post-Richey’period – an era of increasingly bland and uninspired albums epitomised by therather too polished Lifeblood – then you could be forgiven for wonderingexactly what the fuss is about the Welsh rockers.
Yet it’s hard to describe exactly how vital the Manics were back in 1992. In aera populated by ‘post-shoegazing’ bands and ruled by grunge, the sight of thefour piece bellowing “Repeat after me – fuck Queen and Country” on TV carcrashThe Word was almost impossibly exciting. And over the next few yearsthey remained one of the most intriguing acts around – culminating in thegenuinely harrowing The Holy Bible.
A lot of the credit for the band’s early years has to go to Richey Edwards ofcourse, but it would be wrong to play down the influence of his writing partnerNicky Wire. While James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore were the musical brainsbehind the band, it was Edwards and Wire who set out their aesthetic – the verything that made them unique when they first started.
For his first solo project, it appears as if Wire’s gone back to basics. Fromthe collage of the album sleeve to the raw, unpolished sound within, it’s amillion miles away from late period Manics. In sharp contrast to Bradfield’ssurprisingly successful poppy new direction, this is a much more experimentaland challenging listen. It’s not impentrable – Break My Heart Slowly iswonderfully catchy – but it certainly won’t be classed under ‘easy listening’.
The album itself started off as a poetry project and flashes of this stillremain, most explicitly in (Nicky Wire’s) Last. Yet the lyricsnever stray into pretentiousness, tackling both the personal (You Will AlwaysBe My Home) and the political (The Shining Path, about terrorism).
The one drawback with the album though is very clear a couple of tracks in -Wire is no singer. His voice is a characterless drone, and becomes incrediblywearisome over the course of an album. Goodbye Suicide pulls off the cunningtrick of seeming to go on forever while also being under 3 minutes long, whilethe piano dirge of So Much For The Future becomes almost painful to listen to.
However, perhaps that can only be expected. Musically, the album is pleasinglyvaried, ranging from the acoustic strumalong of Break My Heart Slowly to theJesus And Mary Chain soundalike of Withdraw Retreat. The excellent Bobby Untitled is acertain highlight, while the instrumental Sehnsucht at least gives us a breakfrom Wire’s vocals.
Ultimately, this should be treated as what it is – an excuse for Wire toexperiment and be unconstrained by the job of being in a band. It’s a differentbeast to Bradfield’s solo project and it’s useless even trying to compare them.It’s unlikely to appeal to anyone outside the Manics fanbase, and even a few ofthose may find it a bit hard-going.
It does possess a certain eerie charm though, and is likely to become a wellregarded curio when the history of the Manics is raked over in a few yearstime. Certainly if these solo projects have done the job of re-energisingBradfield and Wire, then maybe we’ll have a return to form for their bandbefore long.