Ever since it was released, Send Away The Tigers has continued to be a bit of a personal puzzle. On the one hand it was heralded by many as a triumphant return to basics for the Manic Street Preachers; powerful guitar rock, blowing away the cobwebs of a so-called ‘bland’ period of the band’s career. On the other hand (what I like to call my ‘Holy Bible hand’), I just didn’t like it. Over the 10 years since its release and multiple attempts to extract some substance from it, I’ve found myself in a perpetual like/hate relationship with an album which gets a ’10 Year Special Edition Release’ this week.
As James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore moved into the post-Richey, post-Holy Bible era, they struggled to maintain that universal acclaim they so richly deserved for 1996’s ‘come back’, Everything Must Go. This Is My Truth (Tell Me Yours) was seen as a move into the ‘bland’. Know Your Enemy, was apparently a failed and bloated attempt at recapturing their original politi-punk edge. The brave, sonic variations into electronic elements featured on 2004’s Lifeblood were largely ignored and instantly forgotten about. The Manics’ complex, romantic and incredibly successful career was in danger of going out with a whimper.
However, for fans of the band there was no need to be so negative. This apparent ‘dip’ in quality from 1998 onwards still heralded two Brit awards, two number one singles, two number two singles and the honour of becoming the first popular Western band to play a gig in Cuba, meeting Fidel Castro in the process. And sure, there may have been the intense and ever present longing for a Holy Bible Part II to contend with – but as a fan I was pretty happy with how things were going. The band, however, we’re apparently not so content.
It wasn’t just the press that proclaimed Send Away The Tigers as a “return to form” on its release in 2007, the band were pushing it as a “back to basics” too. The cover even featured a hint to the fact; featuring the return of the backwards ‘R’ first used in the band name typeface on the Holy Bible. There was even confusion over the cover image; many assumed it was a picture of the Severn Bridge and, in turn, a tribute to the band’s missing guitarist and lyricist, Richey James Edwards (it’s not the Severn Bridge. It’s the New York Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, if you’re interested). All signs were pointing towards a re-birth, whether it was needed or not.
From the opening song, title track ‘Send Away The Tigers’, there are indications that this will have all the elements to make it a truly great guitar rock album. The production sparkles, everything is crisp, and James Dean Bradfield’s guitar and voice gets the prominence it deserves; centre stage, free from competing with complex arrangements and instrumentation. The chorus is a rousing mix of raspy sing-a-long and powerful overdriven guitar. It’s no ‘Sleepflower’ or ‘Yes’ but it still makes a pretty good opening play.
Track two, ‘Underdogs’, is another good early sign. A total fan pleaser; palm muted guitar chugs along while Bradfield proclaims, “This one’s for the freaks…”, before an explosive Sean Moore drum roll brings in an incredibly satisfying chorus. There’s always been a bit of an underdog mentality with both the band and its fan base, and in this track we get a real and meaningful fan anthem.
From here, however, it’s a minefield of hits and misses that stem from two different Manics’ disciplines; ‘sweeping and anthemic’ and ‘hard, fast, get up and dance’. ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ straddles the two with disappointing results.
If the Manics’ wanted a return to basics, they went a bit too far here. After taking on full lyric writing duties after the disappearance of Richey Edwards, Nicky Wire has done a pretty good job; ‘A Design For Life’, ‘Everything Must Go’, ‘If You Tolerate This’, ‘Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’, to name but a few. Here, however, we’re presented with trite and overly sentimental lyrics that fail to maintain the subtlety the band have more than perfected over their many years. As it was written, in part, in relation to the disappearance of Edwards, a lyric like “I could have shown you how to cry”, in isolation, would be quite touching. But here it’s presented and split between Bradfield and guest vocalist Nina Persson (The Cardigans), and comes across as a sickly Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet. It worked with Traci Lords in 1992, but not here.
Tracks like ‘Rendition’, ‘Imperial Bodybags’ and ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ see an inclusion of the political, anti-imperial, anti-American messages so prominent in the history of the Manic Street Preachers, but there’s just nothing here to get too excited about. ‘Rendition’ is the pick of the bunch, both lyrically (“Rendition, Rendition, Blame it on the coalition / God God I feel like a Liberal”) and in its execution – it’s a playful mix of glam while still sounding like a march to war. ‘Imperial Bodybags’, however, seems to just throw away its message in an irritating attempt at rockabilly, bordering on pop-punk. It just doesn’t work.
We get our first taste of that more sweeping and reflective anthem with ‘Indian Summer’ which, despite the inclusion of a grander string arrangement, is mostly forgettable. But they make amends and fully realise their intent on ‘The Second Great Depression’. It goes one bigger than the previous track, with a more intense feel, beautifully layered vocals, and a soaring chorus. It has the grand feel of an ‘Everything Must Go’ or ‘Nobody Loved You’.
The remaining ‘anthems’ never quite hit the standard set by ‘TSGD’. ‘Autumn Song’, suffers from a similar lyrical malfunction that affected ‘Your Love Alone…’, although we do get an opportunity to hear Bradfield lay down an almightily huge pre-chorus guitar solo. Then there’s the final track, ‘Winter Lovers’, which tries to be the big, ballsy album ender, complete with a ‘na na naaaaa’ sing-a-long hook, but it just falls short. That’s perhaps why we get the bonus track; a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’, which is an absolute joy. James Dean Bradfield’s voice connects and emotively translates each and every word.
So ten years on we can see how and why Send Away The Tigers was so important in the history of the Manics. Yes, we get some pretty bog-standard guitar rock and dodgy lyrics, but we get glimpses of the fun, intelligent and genre defying elements that would continue into the next ten year of the band’s career. If this album was the bump start to drive them towards the masterpiece that was Journal For Plague Lovers, and the impressive Postcards From A Young Man, then Send Away The Tigers is fully deserving of its special edition release.
10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY EXTRAS
In recent years it’s become a staple of special edition MSP releases to include a mix of album demos. The home acoustic demos of ‘Rendition’ and ‘Indian Summer’, in particular, are a joy to listen to – if just for the appeal of hearing a raw, solo James Dean Bradfield work his way through matching Wire’s lyrics to basic song structures.
A mix of b-sides, covers and alternate versions, including Nina Persson’s solo acoustic version of ‘Your Love Alone’, and their fantastic (albeit bandwagon jumping) cover of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ – which includes some modulated guitar sounds taken straight out of ‘If You Tolerate This’. The b-side to ‘Your Love Alone’, ‘Boxes & Lists’ and a cover of the McCarthy classic, ‘Red Sleeping Beauty’ are also worth a couple of spins.
The full Glastonbury 2007 set includes a couple of SATG tracks along with a pretty standard, crowd pleasing ‘Greatest Hits’ set. ‘From Despair To Where’ and ‘Faster’ getting a welcome run out. The DVD extras include, among other things, an insightful ‘Track by Track’ interview with James, Nicky and a quiet, slightly uncomfortable/bored, but always incredibly articulate, Sean Moore.
Send Away The Tigers; 10 Year Collectors’ Edition is out now on Sony Music.