Manic Street Preachers – Resistance is Futile (Album Review)

If you think about it, the Manic Street Preachers are a band that, by all accounts, should no longer be around. They were meant to release one debut album, sell 16 million copies “from Bangkok to Senegal” and then split up in full rock star glory… Yet here they are, 32 years later, threading on the edge of 50 years of age themselves, releasing their 13th studio album, Resistance is Futile. After a rather contrasting couple of albums with Rewind The Film and Futurology in quick succession (2013 and 2014, respectively), you wouldn’t have been completely foolish to think the Manics were taking their final agonal breaths after one last creative spasm. Conversely, being one of the most prolific acts of their time, perhaps they’ve been around for so long that we take them for granted as they bounced from genre to genre.

Resistance is Futile’s album artwork is adorned by a photograph by Baron Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz titled ‘Samurai Warrior 1881’, depicting one of the last of his kind, with the sadness and resignation of a figure relegated to the annals of History – in the words of Nicky Wire, “someone who knows his time is over, thanks to the coming of the gun”. We can draw a parallel between that image and the band itself – once blazing and revolutionary, covered in eyeliner, glitter and Situationist slogans, they must now face their own history – and in doing so, they created their best album in years.

Resistance is Futile opens with ‘People Give In’… and it’s glorious. Rather than collapsing under the heavy sorrow of its opening lyrics, the band rises and soars, making it clear there’s life in the Manics yet. However, if you’re still unsure, everything will be clear once lead single, ‘International Blue’ kicks in. Wire’s anthemic tribute to French artist, Yves Klein, has drawn comparisons to one of their best known, and oldest tracks; ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, and you can see why; with its classic singalong euphoria, robust riffs and squeaky-clean production.

“Blue suggests the sea and the sky, and they, after all, are in actual, visible nature what is most abstract” (Yves Klein)

It’s undeniable that the Manics have a long history of paying tribute to famous figures through their songs; such is the case in Everything Must Go‘s ‘Kevin Carter’ and ‘Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning)’, Know Your Enemy‘s ‘Let Robeson Sing’, and Lifeblood‘s ‘The Love of Richard Nixon’. ‘Vivian’ naturally follows, a joyous and bouncy recollection of Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny-turned-secretive-street-photographer, whose collection of 150,000 unpublished photos garnered critical acclaim on its discovery after her death.

On ‘Distant Colours’, James Dean Bradfield dwells upon politics and fragmentation, with a huge sky-scraping chorus, doused in the disenchantment and regret that only middle-age can bring; it’s astonishing how powerful and energised his voice sounds throughout the album.

“To live in Wales is to be conscious at dusk of the spilled blood that went into the making of the wild sky” (R. S. Thomas)

Yet despite his unquestionable vocal talent, Bradfield is no stranger to sharing the mic, boasting a number of duets, such as Send Away The Tigers‘ ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ with Nina Persson of The Cardigans, a particularly prolific Rewind The Film‘s ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ with Lucy Rose, ‘Rewind The Film’ with Richard Hawley and ‘4 Lonely Roads’ with Cate Le Bon, Futurology‘s ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ with Nina Hoss, and perhaps the most famous of all, Generation Terrorist‘s ‘Little Baby Nothing’ with former porn actress Traci Lords. With Wire choosing a rare character-based approach to his lyrics, the stormy, alcohol-fuelled relationship of Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin is explored in ‘Dylan & Caitlin’, an infectious duet between Bradfield and The Anchoress, a.k.a. Catherine Anne Davies, whose rich voice is showcased magnificently. Bradfield and Davies’ voices compliment each other perfectly, capturing the push-pull of an intense but mutually destructive relationship.

“Though lovers shall be lost, love shall not” (Dylan Thomas)

‘Liverpool Revisited’ isn’t their first song about Hillsborough, but it’s undoubtedly their best. Lyrics and melody come together to form an upbeat and poignant tribute to the 96 and the city that dared to fight, going as far as including a Wire guitar solo. Whereas ‘S.Y.M.M.’, from This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, was a bleak and horror-struck song, ‘Liverpool Revisited’ commemorates the tenacity and stoicism of the people of Liverpool in their quest for justice.

“Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool” (Bill Shankly)

‘Sequels of Forgotten Wars’ is the closest to the lithe Futurology industrial sound, continuing the thread of European influence, but it’s unfortunately followed by a radio-friendly number, ‘Hold Me Like A Heaven’, which gives us very little to hold on to and as a result is rather forgettable. A shimmering, emphatic ‘In Eternity’ pays homage to the immortal legacy of David Bowie and rightly sounds like it could’ve been recorded at the Hansa Studios in Berlin. ‘Broken Algorithms’ is somewhat reminiscent of Guns’n’RosesUse Your Illusion and it’s as broken as its title may suggest, in a substantial misfire of digital focus in an album drenched in faded analogue beauty. A far better incursion into memory and loss, ‘A Song for the Sadness’ beams with huge, arena-ready riffs. Resistance is Futile’s final track, ‘The Left Behind’, is a gentle comedown and probably Wire’s best vocal contribution to date.

Resistance is Futile is an imaginative, nostalgic, reflectively melancholic yet often uplifting album that’ll certainly be a fine addition to the Manics’ extensive back catalogue – and most importantly, it’ll translate well across to the band’s live shows. While there are a couple of less inspired moments, this is generally a great return to form. The vast majority of Resistance is Futile is undeniably very impressive, writing another chapter in the story of this Welsh band whose imperfections are one of their most endearing features.

Resistance is Futile is out on Friday, April 13th via Columbia.