“We’ll come back one day / We never really went away / One day we will return / No matter how it hurts / And it hurts” sing Manic Street Preachers on the title track of their 12th release after 25 years of playing together, Futurology. Sporting the same surefire tenacity of their previous albums, albeit considerably toned down, Futurology is full of glam-pop hits that demonstrate the Preachers’ ability to write good songs with a distinct sense of Britishness.
One of the more striking aspects of Futurology is what appears to be an understated classical music influence in some tracks, as if the Preachers are taking cues from The Divine Comedy, including the latter’s cryptic allegories. The most obvious example is lead single Let’s Go To War, whose main riff is identical to Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King. A similar but less blatant inspiration is found in Divine Youth, which features harpist Georgia Ruth Williams of Cardiff. The trade-off between hers and James Dean Bradfield’s distinctive accent is quite enchanting, underpinned by a martial beat and guitar work with a similar rhythmic texture to cellos.
In a contemporary music climate where Britishness is toned down in favor of a more universally appealing tone, it’s refreshing to hear that the Preachers’ wear their European attitude on their sleeves with a bit of the sneer that made their single Generation Terrorists one of the classics of the ’90s Britpop craze. Sure, Beady Eye may attempt the shock and awe the crowd with Liam Gallagher’s brashness, but after two decades we’ve come to expect that. The Preachers, thankfully, recognize that change does in fact occur: although the confrontational style that dominated the Richey Edwards era of their career is over, their dedication and continuation to sing in actual Welsh accents about actual British issues along pop backgrounds is revitalizing. See no further than Black Square and Between The Clock And The Bed, where Bradfield is topically stoic but retains the zest for life in all its years that’s been there from the start of their career.
The Preachers must have been inspired by the tensions between East and West and the societal impact of the Sochi Olympics, seeing as how one-third of the songs reference Russia in either lyrical content or directly in the song titles. The instrumental track Mayakovsky refers to Russian futurist and artist Vladimir Mayakovsky, underlying a common theme in Futurology: excitement, but trepidation toward what exactly the future holds. Perhaps that’s the point in all of the Russian references: the Preachers’ adolescence was the ’80s, when the fate of the USSR and Western ties with Eastern Europe was more volatile than now. The clip of Ringo Starr shouting “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the beginning is rather a non sequitur, and besides, don’t Oasis hold the monopoly on Beatles references?
The second instrumental, Hugheskova, is an interesting case of the intersection of Welsh and Russian history in the context of futurology. The title is a reference to the city of Donetsk in the Eastern Ukraine – a city not untouched by the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine – that was founded by Welsh businessman John Hughes. Although the city was officially founded as Yuzkova, an approximation of “Hughes” in Russian, the Preachers’ decision to name the song Hugheskova demonstrates an awareness of the deep ties that the East and West have toward each other, despite contemporary politics’ proclivity to understand their historical relationship in almost exclusively the context of the Cold War.
Futurology is a welcome return by Manic Street Preachers to the forefront of pop, featuring no lack of technical prowess or instrumental capabilities. Every track is quite full of life and holds no lack of energy that characterizes good, classic British rock ‘n’ roll. Despite past hardship, the future continues to be bright for these modern legends.