Manic Street Preachers’ eleventh studio album Rewind the Film is a clear, cohesive product of a band whose members are currently going through middle-age and are reflecting on the past.
The sad, gentle album opener This Sullen Welsh Heart already indicates that the band have grown up. The first line, ‘I don’t want my children to grow up like me’, sounds particularly creepy, as lead singer James Dean Bradfield’s vocals initially sound like they are coming out of a radio from yesteryear. The track’s acoustic guitar-heavy arrangement keep things restrained and provoke the question of what could have been. This theme of regret is reinforced by the eerie chorus of ‘I can’t fight this war anymore/Time to surrender/Time to move on/Line up the firing squads’ and ghostly background vocals provided by English singer-songwriter Lucy Rose.
Show Me The Wonder is a contrast sound-wise, with its cheerful vibe making this track the obvious single off the album. Then again, the overall effect of the track is ambiguous due to the somewhat downcast lyrics.
The eerie opening guitar wails and chimes of the title track take listeners to a desolate metaphorical landscape, before the track transforms into a dramatic 1960s power pop ballad. Guest vocalist, English singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, croons like Frank Sinatra over a bombastic, ‘Wall of Sound’-like arrangement of loud strings and echoing drums. The band shows its versatility on this track, which is thus an album highlight despite running for more than six minutes.
Another memorable track is Builder of Routines, which continues the influences of the 1960s (specifically the year 1966), the running motif of middle-aged life and the combination of a seemingly upbeat arrangement with dreary lyrics (‘laminated all of my skins’, ‘oh I hate middle age’). The chorus is reminiscent of The Beatles’ I’m Only Sleeping (off Revolver) and the horn-filled post chorus is a fine tribute to the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows (off Pet Sounds).
Guest vocalist English-Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon sings on 4 Lonely Roads. This track is great to gently sway your head to whilst drinking wine and lying on the grass in summertime, despite its slightly experimental vibe. It even sounds like a carefree jam session as listeners can hear someone counting the beats in the background.
(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline is a nice tribute to Japan, with its oriental-sounding hooks and organic, electronic intro capturing both the traditional and modern sides of the land of the rising sun.
The track for listeners to slow dance to is Anthem for a Lost Cause. This is a slightly over-the-top, yet pleasant sing-along that is a hybrid of The Eagles’ Take It to the Limit and The Bee Gees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. Its harmonies are nice and thick, and it carries a 1950s country, doo-wop vibe. Meanwhile, As Holy as the Soil (That Buries Your Skin) is a bit silly in comparing the holiness of the Holy Roman Empire to the holiness of coffee.
3 Ways to see Despair, which trudges along but manages to give ‘I pray that you’d be beautiful again’ a nice hook, and on the gentle guitar ballad Running Out of Fantasy, which conveys a sense of disillusionment, wind down the album.
The instrumental Manorbier conjures a sparse yet alien landscape, with its out-of-tune guitar, high-pitched humming, multi-layered harmonies and wonderfully wacky rhythm. Listeners can imagine staggering in a desert, before stumbling upon extraterrestrials.
The synths on 30 Year War come straight out of David Bowie’s Low album, yet the track’s angry, forlorn tone would not sound out of place on the Lodger LP. This is hardly surprising since part of the album was recorded at Berlin’s Hansa Studios, where much of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy was recorded. The many filters and effects on this track create a sense of commotion and confusion. The band sounds like a synth pop band stuck in an alternative rock band’s body, as even the drums sound like dubstep. The throbbing, dying drum hits and guitar are an effective ending to a very good album.
It is apparent after hearing Rewind The Film that Manic Street Preachers still have life left and things to say. The band has no need to sound like younger bands and has stuck to what it does best: crafting three-dimensional, meaningful songs about life.
[CBC country=”au” show=”y”][/CBC]