Manic Street Preachers
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
In the two years since Manic Street Preachers delivered their masterpiece, the exquisitely grandiose Everything Must Go, Oasis have produced a rather disappointing third album, Embrace proved less scintillating than their early widescreen efforts suggested, The Verve became world class, and Radiohead created music to melt candies. Meanwhile, a myriad other British guitar groups promptly took heed and enlisted a string section to suggest nascent maturity and secure Radio One airplay, but generally failed to convince, much less fill any temporarily vacated shoes. In many ways, then, Manic Street Preachers could not have timed their return better: here are the kings of anthemic'90s conscience-rock, formerly a four-piece who, three years ago, unintentionally found themselves slimmed down into a tighter, tauter power trio, whose music can prompt in the listener an effect not unlike looping the loop in a very small, very powerful airplane with a blind pilot at the controls. But they're contrary buggers at the best of times. Here, after all, is an act who are true mavericks in a world where the word is normally afforded to any band whose guitarist wears ill-fitting socks. And so the band's fifth album is no Everything Must Go Mk II. Instead, it doesn't so much prompt goosebumps as create great grey rings around the eyes and a stomach ulcer that's prone to bleeding. It's probably safe to predict that The Smurfs will never request to cover any of the songs here.
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the band's first complete work without any contribution from still-missing lyricist Richey Edwards, is quite their most personal and emotional record to date. Which, given the material they've produced in the past, says an awful lot. The strings are still present, if considerably pared down, the melodies more intricate and less bombastic and James Dean Bradfield sounds like he's singing with his eyes tight shut, and standing in the corner of an airless room, with the lights out. While 1994's The Holy Bible remains their most vituperative work, this is probably bleaker still. It's a record that hasn't shaved for days, has slept in its clothes and has had a Jack Daniels and a couple of pills for breakfast. It's erudite, articulate, belligerent, savage and utterly compelling. It's Will Self on one of the author's wagonless days, and Ken Loach would do well to snap up the film rights. Bradfield, as unassuming as he looks to the innocent eye, surely has one of the hardest jobs in music. looking wholly incapable of raising his voice until he actually does, he has the unenviable responsibility of putting the poisonous words that emanate from somewhere within lyricist Nicky Wire to music. Despite the fact that they don't so much rhyme as writhe, that they thrash about as if in considerable pain, Bradfield then presumes to actually articulate them orally and somehow make them malleable enough to drape around the tunes he and his cousin and drummer Sean Moore create. He does an admirable job with a bunch of lyrics that even Prozac couldn't calm. During The Everlasting, for example, he dolefully remembers a time, in the beginning, ‘when we were winning, when our smiles were genuine'. Later on, he wishes he were a girl 'and not this mess of a man'. And in My little Empire, a dark moment indeed, he sings, 'I'm sick of being sick/I’m tied of being tired/I'm bored of being bored/I'm happy being sad.' He even, atone point, suggests to himself that he stops smiling, lest it gives the wrong impression. Heaven forbid anyone presumes him capable of fleeting happiness.
And yet, despite a general disposition that makes a wet day in the north resemble Hawaiian high summer, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours is actually quite remarkable, if not quite remarkably uplifting. As a mood-setting opener, The Everlasting is pitch-perfect. A beautifully elegiac piece of music about despair and dislocation, its six minutes is hugely expansive, and seems to encompass every high and every low an average lifetime amasses, delivered with a maudlin sense of hindsight. It's like a shrug of the shoulders in slow motion, but profoundly poetic with it, and is one of the most accomplished things they've done. It's followed by the first single, the equally fine If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. Another anthem of gloom, its shimmering guitars cast oppressive shadows, while Bradfield sings great ugly lyrics like 'Monuments put from pen to paper/Turns me into a gutless wonder," in a voice that not only knows pain but how to wallow in it - and how to set it all to a tune of boundless, almost magical majesty. The indefatigably jaunty guitar introduction to You Stole The Sun From My Heart, which bursts from the speakers mere moments after If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, is, amid such surroundings, a bolt of pure sunshine. Its cute - yes, cute - refrain (imagine the introduction to Radiohead's No Surprises speeded up and blended into The Sun Has Got His Hat On) sounds unambiguously happy, no two ways about it. Well, actually there are two ways about it. Apparently, it's about the horrors of touring, but the way Bradfield sings it, you become convinced that here is a man secretly in love with what he does. The now buoyant mood doesn't last long, though, and is swiftly eradicated by three songs which paint the band at their most dour. My little Empire ('Fucked with being fucked'), I'm Not Working ('No dismal clouds/lust this fucking space") and Born A Girl ('No place around there where 1 fit in') are all deeply corrosive and conducted at funereal pace. Sure, they're impressively wrought pieces of music, but they also threaten to spread like cancer. Further respite does arrive, however, in Black Dog On My Shoulder and the boisterous Nobody loved You (despite titles that suggest otherwise) and the exquisite, Japanese-flavoured Tsunami, which, appropriately, is a tidal wave of melodic glee. And Bradfield's final intonation of the pre-chorus chant, 'in-between, in-between, in-between, in-between', is the album's most euphoric moment. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours finishes with S.Y.M.M. (South Yorkshire Mass Murderer), which attempts to articulate Wire's feelings about the Hillsborough disaster. Though heartfelt, and accompanied with a ghostly soundtrack, these must surely rank among Wire's most clunking lyrics ever. 'The subtext of this song / I've thought about it for so long/But it's really not the sort of thing/That people want to hear us sing,' it begins, rather obliquely, before continuing, 'The reason for this song/Well, it maybe a pointless one/But thank you Jimmy McGovern/For reminding ne,,1 what lives on,' and concluding, 'The ending for this song/Well, 1 haven't really thought of one.' Such abstract waffle - all skirting around the issue with only the vaguest of references - suggests he felt a reluctance to tackle the subject in the first place. It's not very good, so it's hard to tell exactly why they bothered.
But this is just a minor blip. As with everything Manic Street Preachers have ever done, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours is an awkward, initially unfriendly record. It panders to no one, makes very few concessions, and demands everything from a listener more used to three-chord tunes and a rousing singalong than nine slabs of wordy political indoctrination. That it ultimately stands as a huge achievement and a record that could well appeal to the masses is not only testament to their tenacity, but near-confirmation of their regular claim to being the most important band of the decade. **** Nick Duerden
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