Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers

Richey’s lyrics, Jenny Saville’s artwork and snippets of film dialogue.

Label: SonyBMG

Rating: 8

Richey’s lyrics, Jenny Saville’s artwork and snippets of film dialogue. So is ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ a sequel to ‘The Holy Bible’ or not? Well, what we can say for certain is that it’s no sequel to ‘Send Away The Tigers’, the groups previous album which if nothing else re-established them as a commercial and creative force, through stuffing the record with big hit singles. There’s nothing of that here, yet by the same count ‘Journal…’ lacks the suffocation and bile that made ‘The Holy Bible’ such a classic.

The songs are all short and unusually for a band who are getting a long time into their lifespan, totally lacking in indulgence. It means the album warrants immediate repeated listens. We’re not going to go into detail on the lyrical content here as much has been made of it in other areas. Needless to say with inferences to various cultural artefacts they retain all of the hallmarks of Richie Edwards’ style of writing. The opening song on ‘Journal…’ is ‘Peeled Apples’ that using a sample of Christian Bale really sets the tone for the record. It’s delivered with confidence and feels more considered than the onrush of fury and emotion that trademarked ‘The Holy Bible’. In not releasing any singles from the album Manic Street Preachers have made a wise move as there’s little here that would work out of the context of the record. The closes that a song comes is the absurdly named ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’ with a brilliantly delivered chorus of “Oh mummy / What’s a sex pistol?”.

Although solid, Manic Street Preachers ninth album is not all good. ‘Me and Steven Hawking’ an otherwise brilliant song let down by the annoying and pointless use of flange. On album closer ‘William’s Last Words’, which comes across as a suicide note from Edwards, is a touching piece despite being sung by Wire whose vocals are that much weaker than Bradfield’s. Still, there’s positive surprises elsewhere, the title song contains what is actually a really good sounding bassline and ‘Marlon J.D.’ use of a drum machine in combination with a driving guitar part adds some variety to the record. ‘Marlon’ even features a killer guitar solo at its close.

The Albini production has lead to the majority of the album being something of a crunching rocker (see the glammed up guitar riffs of ‘All is Vanity’ and ‘Pretension/Repulsion’ for the best examples of this), yet it still finds the space to settle down into some gentler sounding numbers. There’s ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ which is cleverly cinematic, gaining stately strings and a galloping drumbeat midway and ‘Facing Page: Top Left’ which is if anything this records’ ‘Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky’.

Overall, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ comes across musically as Manic Street Preachers re-evaluating their career, and with Edwards lyrics is a complex and dark record. Delivered with confidence and intelligence it’s a record with high artistic integrity and one that’s likely to fully cement the band as being the alt. rock legends that many have built them up to be over the years.