The Ultra Vivid Lament- Manic Street Preachers

Sail into the abyss with me…

Nearly thirty years on from receiving a perplexing cassette containing songs about ‘neon loneliness’, high street banks and packed with thrilling riffs, I still get goosebumps when Manic Street Preachers release a new album. I can trace my life through their records- it seems there was never a time when they weren’t there- like David Attenborough or Paul McCartney. They’re an institution then, but one that still turns up with lipstick smeared and tie askew. The disgraceful uncles.

But that’s not quite true is it? It was probably just about correct until the mid-nineties when they became, as a creative force, statelier, more considered. Nicky Wire still had an acidic tongue, and the riffs at times still had the power to give you whiplash, but that became the exception rather than usual business. They elevated themselves into the room with those whose stock and trade is poetic lyrical wisdom; elder statesmen of rock when they were still in their late twenties. It’s sometimes easy to forget that they made Everything Must Go, just one of their masterpieces, before they’d even hit thirty. It was the emergence of that record that indicated a pattern that would become the next twenty-five years; that each album would be a reaction to the last, for better or worse, through the next ten cycles. Consider the (necessary) sharp turn that the lush Everything Must Go provided in comparison to the white-hot invective of The Holy Bible, Send Away the Tigers a triumphant ‘fuck you’ to those who disliked the shimmering Lifeblood (still the better record), Know Your Enemy a punch of the auto-destruct button after the multi-million selling This Is My Truth

And so we arrive at The Ultra Vivid Lament. What a title. What a cover. Serene, blue and twinkling, very much like the music it contains. When they released the patchy Resistance Is Futile in 2018, Wire called it ‘widescreen melancholia’, a descriptor that is arguably better suited to this collection. But where that record contained a patchwork of ideas, more akin to Know Your Enemy’s throw it all at the wall approach, TUVL is a complete, graceful beast. An album that works as a whole from beginning to end; increasingly rare in today’s single-track download focussed industry.

There’s a profound melancholic streak to TUVL that recalls the ‘elegiac pop’ tag that Lifeblood received. Like that album, it burbles with electronics and subtle dubs that create an undertow running through the record like a buried stream. They dovetail perfectly with the lyrics that mainline a sense of regret, sorrow and nostalgia for memories, experiences and people that can never be lived or loved again. It’s not miserable though, it is hopeful, grateful, and TUVL also has some absolutely stonking melodies and pure pop choruses. It is majestic. Where Rewind the Film and Resistance Is Futile were tilting at the windmills of digital progress, fighting physical decline, pushing water out of the door before the collapse, here the band are resigned to having lost the fight- ‘walls defeated by the sea’ according to The Secret He Had Missed. Who knew losing could sound this joyous? This glorious? Knock the Manics down and they come back back twice as brilliant. There are numerous stunning moments here that surely rank amongst their finest- the howling, keening guitar on Still Snowing in Sapporo, the entirety of Diapause– a lament for the departed Mr Richard Edwards (which brought me to my knees), Afterending’s ‘sail into the abyss with me..’. Magical.

Few bands hold the distinction of still being a vital creative force after thirty years, or have new facets to reveal if they have managed to stay together. They could have become a summer festival staple trading on their nineties hayday like so many other, lesser bands. That they keep pushing into the dark, mapping new continents of their music, makes them a very special proposition indeed; The Ultra Vivid Lament is another reason to be grateful for institutions.

The Ultra Vivid Lament is available from Friday 10th September.

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