Few musical acts have done more to raise awareness of writers, poets and playwrights than Manic Street Preachers, with the thirteen albums they’ve released since 1992 being infused with a cutting literary and political power. On his second solo album Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield continues this in explicit, devoted fashion in addressing the life and work of Chilean poet, musician and political activist Victor Jara.
In the early years of his life Jara worked in directing various theatre productions but by the 1960s music had become his focus. By the time he was brutally murdered by the government of General Pinochet in 1973 he had released nine albums of socially conscious, protest-folk music that were to cast a wide and deep influence on a range of musicians (artists to have written songs about him include Calexico, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, U2 and Simple Minds).
For this album, Bradfield took a set of poems that playwright Patrick Jones had written and fashioned them into a prepossessing album that cover various chapters and events of Jara’s life with a clearly defined, empathetic zeal (a connection between Bradfield and Jones already existed with Jones writing a play about Manic Street Preachers’ album Everything Must Go in 1999).
Bradfield’s new podcast, Inspired By Jara, sees him talk about how Even In Exile developed and proves his interest in Jara’s life is deep and ongoing (as well as containing many thoughtful elaborations from Calexico’s Joey Burns and Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill).
The songs having an attention-capturing immediacy that bring Jara’s beliefs and actions to life. They show how Bradfield’s ability to take influences and re-channel them into other artistic pursuits remains as strong as ever. Opening track Recuerda features enlightening tempo changes and driving guitars that springboard away from his incisive vocals. The progressive instrumental Seeking The Room With The Three Windows goes further, Bradfield’s full-bodied guitar spiralling away and lighting up the sky like the brightest of fireworks.
On his podcast Bradfield explained how the guitar motifs found in The Boy From The Plantation were aimed at representing the bond between Jara and his mother, an example of the thoughtful way in which Bradfield pieced together the album. A similar sensitivity appears in The Last Song which has a beatific, uplifting quality despite the lyrics focusing on the cruel way in which Jara’s life was ended. Musically, it’s another love letter to the electric guitar, confirming that Even In Exile contains some of his best work in this respect for a few years.
Yet, there are variations in mood also, moments when the raining down of guitar pauses. There’ll Come A War is more contemplative, striking a darker tone and the acoustic-led Under The Mimosa Tree is equally wistful and reflective. Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles meanwhile has a gracefulness and elegance not seen elsewhere on the album. From The Hands Of Violeta has a tangible bite and sensuousness, seeing Bradfield address Violeta Parra, a key influence on Jara and an important player in the development and promotion of Chilean music beyond the country’s borders.
He also covers Jara’s track La Partida, giving it a transporting, dustbowl, Ennio Morricone-like quality. The powerful Santiago Sunrise closes the album, confirming Even In Exile to be an undoubtedly impressive outing, both in terms of being an engaging, impactful set of songs but also as an educational exercise in shining further light on an important musician and cultural figure.