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Review: "Resistance is Futile" - Manic Street Preachers

by Andrew Welsh,

It's hard to imagine Britain's musical landscape without the Manic Street Preachers.

The Welsh outfit have been a near permanent fixture since their incendiary second single Motown Junk seared it way into the public consciousness in early 1991. One of the very few bands from that era to have never split up, the Manics' 13th studio LP arrives four years after 2014's Futurology — the longest gap between any of their albums.

During the hiatus James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore revisited their '90s touchstones The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, a nostalgia-tinged strategy predicated on the promise of new material to come. Forged out of trying personal circumstances and coming on the back of talk of going their separate ways, the first offering out of the trio's new studio near Newport quickly makes it clear that the Manics are back in business.

Resistance Is Futile's soul-searching opener People Give In examines memory and the sheer force of will required to go forward and evolve as summed up in its central couplet, 'Torn between the then and the now / Never really knowing the why and the how'.

Hinting at knowledge's reduction to a virtual existence as empty as social media, the track plants the first seed of a backlash against the vacuous internet age, with an appearance by the Vulcan String Quartet lending a sweeping, epic quality that simultaneously helps soften the listener up ahead of the album's high-octane lead-off single.

Wire's homage to performance art giant Yves Klein, International Blue is driven along at breakneck pace by typically soaring Bradfield power chords. With its bold lyrical brushstrokes and tinkling-keyboard chorus it serves as a companion piece in the Manics' occasional Great Painters Series to the likes of Interiors from 1996's arena-friendly Everything Must Go, a paean to Dutch abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning.

It's a track that'll doubtless sound huge when the Manics play the UK's biggest indoor venues later this month, and the same applies to the anthemic Distant Colours. Like a No Surface All Feeling or an If You Tolerate This for 2018, it swells up into an almost hallucinatory experience where reality and illusion become confused amid Bradfield's allusions to the increasingly disparate and Orwellian nature of party politics. The disappointments of the false promises and doublespeak are captured in the line, 'Say what you want, break my heart a thousand times', with the overall effect akin to a memorial to truth itself, reflected in almost hymnal overtones.

Pulling back from the brink, Vivian is cut from the same cloth as some of MSP's misfit but always interesting later period B-sides. Championing the late street photographer Vivian Maier, it's a middle-of the-road, folky curio whose lyrical motif personifies the album's chief concerns. It can be no surprise that Polaroid habituĂ© Wire closely identifies with an anonymous outsider who championed an analogue artform — shooting with film — and hid the fruit of her labours in boxes and suitcases in an all-consuming, all-sharing digital age.

More playful strings and the presence of Catherine Anne Davies, aka The Anchoress, helps give a Beautiful South / Heaton & Abbott vibe to the biographical Dylan & Caitlin, drawn out in key chorus line, 'Together the tenderness cries'. It's the Manics at their quirkiest with their guest vocalist showing why she's got the potential to make the step-up from cult status to mainstream recognition.

What feels like Act One ends with one of Nicky's most straightforward messages on Liverpool Revisited. Coincidentally released almost to the day of the 29th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, it's a rousing tribute to the city's working class values. Starting as a Further Away, Oasis-like throwback, the Manics' own form of Merseybeat quickly heads off in another direction altogether. Quite possibly the first song Wire has written across the band's 13 albums that has no chorus, it oozes positivity and healing, with the band's spokesman even supplying an effervescent guitar solo. Lines like 'Fight for justice, fight for life, there are angels in these skies' could have ended up sounding hackneyed, but context is everything and the track's euphoric energy reflects recent litigious progress in parallel to his caustic SYMM on 1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, a brave broadside at establishment collusion and corruption following the tragedy.

Changing musical tack, the progy effort Sequels Of Forgotten Wars feels like a remnant from Futurology and deals with dead rock 'n' roll dreams in a digital age. The recurring themes of memory and loss again figure prominently, with Wire at his most pessimistic as he suggests youth culture has been betrayed into extinction by corrupting influences we can assume are Facebook and X Factor.

After the bitterness comes a plea for faith and forgiveness in the shape of Hold Me Like A Heaven, with the bassist turning to the timeless verse of Philip Larkin for inspiration as he confronts his own mortality. Soulful verses and a lush, singalong chorus with backing voices makes for a mature, spiritually uplifting take on 'big music' pioneers The Alarm, Big Country and Simple Minds.

The album's most moving offering acts as a counterpoint to In Eternity, a bold and suitably stylish tribute to David Bowie that references his mid-'70s meltdown in L.A. and the subsequent relocation to Berlin that helped change rock's path. Here Wire captures something of the star's enigmatic force in his perceptive line, 'Dark is a way, light is a place', and the track's suitably reverential feel is arguably the most dramatic flourish on a largely understated set.

Pre-release talk by the band of harking back to their fearless debut Generation Terrorists seems now like a bit of a stretch, but if they've even come close it's on Broken Algorithms, a Black Mirror-like admonition to those in thrall to predatory tech companies. Bradfield cuts loose with the Les Paul in his oft-favoured Slash/Adamson punkee style in a riveting critique of fake news and cultural asset stripping that comes over less as a tirade than a chunk of Chomsky-esque analytic philosophy.

Wire turns his critical eye back onto himself on the woozy A Song For The Sadness, replacing rage with resignation. An archetypal celebration of melancholia, the song puts all his self-doubt out on the line while also paving the way for album closer The Left Behind to ram home the point that reflective solitude matters more than ever.

Not for the first time Nicky has his near obligatory vocal on the final track — it was the same on 2009's Journal For Plague Lovers — resembling a storyteller in the mould of a Hitchcock or a Dahl delivering his epilogue. The album's concerns with malignant anti-cultural forces and the Manics' place in an utterly transformed technological landscape three decades on seem to be encapsulated in the opening lines, 'From an open book to a closed shop / Feelin like an animal, the one that time forgot'. Wire's fragile yet battle-scarred vocal gives poignancy to the set's plaintive kiss-off, with his more immediate presence infusing the song with greater significance and intimacy for his very lack of physical voice on the rest of the album.

Still resolutely clinging to the personal and political tenets that have underpinned their epic career, Resistance Is Futile takes a gallant stand against the online void and makes for an always intriguing addition to the Manic Street Preachers' awesome canon. To deliver 13 albums that reward repeat listening is no mean feat in any band's lifetime, to do so in just 27 years verges on the extraordinary. It'll be a sad day when they finally decide to call time on the band, but the prospect of Bradfield, Wire and Moore having nothing more to say thankfully seems a distant one. Right now it's just good to have them back.