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December 05, 2006
I am well aware that there are few bands out there who summon the spirit of Marmite quite like the Manic Street Preachers, so it was quite intriguing to watch the solo albums by the two remaining guitarists, lead guitarist/singer James Dean Bradfield and bassist/lyricist Nicky Wire, attract neither delirious praise nor acidic bile. In fact other contributors to this blog weren’t even aware that both had put out solo albums this year. Such is the journey to the quiet margins for one of the biggest, and most in your face, bands of the 1990s.
And it is just typical of this brilliantly perverse band that after one terrible album (Know Your Enemy) and one understated album (Lifeblood) it took them going solo to remember who they really are. It really is a blast of revitalised Manic Street Preachers, but that’s to say these are two Manics albums, rather two albums which demonstrate how the Manics came about from two different personalities.
In brief, James’s albums is big and glossy. This is where ‘Design For Life’, ‘If You Tolerate This…’ and ‘Sleepflower’ come from. It has big production, hand claps and sha-la-las. It also has a sense of melancholy and nostalgia about it. Lyrically simplistic but there are no furious attempts to cram the entirely of Das Capital into a three minute rock song so it flows. JDB has never been a man afraid of a soaring melody and The Great Western soars a lot, lush keyboards, his distinctive and brilliantly diverse guitar work. And the voice. If we forget that JDB has one of the bets voices of the 1990s then we are fools.
Nicky Wire on the other hand is famous for not having a good singing voice, more a ranting tool. He also plays bass, albeit not amazingly. So therefore logically his album features no bass and a newly acquired, punk rock, fractionally off key but almost always listenable singing voice (in my opinion, you’ll have to try it for yourself). But if JDB was always expected to come up with a solid album then Wire’s has been the greater triumph as even avid Manics fans did not expect him to come up with something as good as I Killed The Zeitgeist. It’s indie as indie used to be, lo-fi, low key and unexpectedly thrilling. Yes, he does still try to cram in big words and ideas into every song, but the excesses of recent times are gone and the angry poetry is back. Even better his handle on an unexpected softer side comes up with some of the best songs of the year.
Ultimately the only down side of both albums is the feeling you when listening to the best tracks (‘English Gentleman’ (JDB), ‘The Shining Path’ (Nicky), ‘Break My Heart Slowly’ (Nicky), ‘Run Romeo Run’ (JDB)) you find yourself wondering how amazing they would be as full band Manics tracks. But just like Star Wars Episode 3 made me want to watch 4-6 again, this is no bad thing. This is why these albums are here together. They belong together, like their creators.
Listen to these:
And whilst you’re at it, buy the 10th anniversary edition of the Greatest Album Of All Time, the amazing, wonderful, superlative ‘Everything Must Go’. It really is the most important thing in 1990s music! [/hyperbole]