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A Work Of Genius - South Wales Echo, 15th May 2009

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ARTICLES:2009



Title: A Work Of Genius
Publication: South Wales Echo
Date: Friday 15th May 2009
Writer: Gavin Allen



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Manic Street Preachers release their ninth album Journal For Plague Lovers on Monday and few are better placed to evaluate it than the band's biographer and friend, Simon Price. He talks Gavin Allen though this 'unique' album

"I think it's a work of genius," asserts Simon Price about Manic Street Preachers' new album, Journal For Plague Lovers.

Price is a man who knows a thing to two about both the state of modern music and the band. He is the author of Everything, the best-selling biography of the Manics, and a respected music critic with the Independent on Sunday in which he reviews the band's ninth album this weekend.

Journal For Plague Lovers is notable for the fact that James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore have composed all 13 tracks around a folder of lyrics bequeathed to them by Richey Edwards, their former member who is missing and presumed dead, shortly before his disappearance in 1995.

It has taken the Manics this long to get around to using the lyrics for a variety of reasons, some obvious, and some not.

"They had originally planned to publish the folder in a book," says Price.

"But Nicky Wire revealed at least one of the lyrics in an interview - 'I want to cut the feet off a ballerina' - and Bloc Party used that in one of their songs.

"I think perhaps that influenced the Manics in thinking that if anyone is going to put the lyrics in the public domain musically, they wanted it to be them." Price believes it's no coincidence that JFPL arrives after the commercial renaissance that their last album Send Away The Tigers provided, with ensuing accolades including NME's Godlike Genius Award.

"I think they have been quite clever and crafty over the years in releasing big commercial records and then following it with something a bit more challenging," he says.

"Send Away The Tigers was radio friendly rock and I guess it went back to the spirit of their album Everything Must Go.

"But this album goes back to The Holy Bible, which is abrasive and harsh to listen to, harrowing and gothic. This is The Holy Bible part 2, from the lyrics and the same backwards font on the lettering to the same artist for the cover art.

"The cover image is proving quite controversial in that Tesco won't stock the album, because it's a beautiful, bruised and bloodied child.

The artist, Jenny Saville, says it's simply a child with a port wine birthmark, but I don't think anyone believes that.

"I think it is meant to symbolise Richey's personality." Price, who has interviewed everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kylie Minogue, describes Richey as "a magnetic personality and an impressive person to be around".

He said: "Of all the people I have interviewed Richey would be in the top two. The only other one who could compare as a towering intellect is Chuck D from Public Enemy." Having been missing since February 1995, when his car was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge,

Richey was legally declared dead last November, which obviously took its toll on his family and the band.

Over the years the trio retained the belief that Richey was still alive and well somewhere but Journal For Plague Lovers hints at some kind of acceptance of his death, closing with the track William's Last Words, a heartbreaking goodbye sung by Nicky Wire..

"I wouldn't want to put words into their mouths but I think people will read it that way," says Price.

"Legally Richey has been declared dead but emotionally I don't think it's as easy as that for them to accept.

"But perhaps the Manics are drawing a line under Richey's contribution to the band artistically with this album, which I think is a work of genius. The strange thing about genius is that people always think of it as the work of one person, but this is a collaborative work from across the decades, the music made by a band that have been doing it for more than 20 years and the lyrics by a man who hasn't been seen for 14 years.

"It is unique."

On Monday Manic Street Preachers release their ninth album Journal For Plague Lovers, with all of the lyrics written by Richey Edwards, their missing bandmate who was declared dead last year. Gavin Allen dissects it track by track

Peeled Apples
A brutal and brilliant opening. It immediately shakes off the Manics’ anthemic stadium rock shawl and puts you in The Holy Bible’s torn T-shirt. Lyrically it’s dense and bleakly poetic, while musically it’s loping and dangerous with Nicky Wire and Sean Moore contributing a real sense of foreboding. A statement of intent. 9/10

Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
A moment of humour with Richey Edwards’ lyrics raising black laughs from the refrain of “Oh Mummy what’s a Sex Pistol?” over FM-friendly poppiness. For an album that will offer no singles, this is conspicuous. 7/10

Me And Stephen Hawking
The album’s PCP (from The Holy Bible). Again the lyrics have a strong element of humour, putting Stephen Hawking alongside Giant Haystacks, but also a strong line in social comment. When James Dean Bradfield starts twisting his tongue to get those undulating lyrics out whole, a shiver goes down the spine. This is real Manics. No-one else makes music like this. 7/10

This Joke Sport Severed
The album’s adrenaline rush is arrested for a sparse track that finds an “untethered” Richey on seemingly defeated form; “Bruised and nailed and quit”, while Echo and the Bunnymen-style strings move in the background and swell to a climax. 6/10

Journal For Plague Lovers
Richey provides a serene acceptance of God’s contradictions while Bradfield’s guitar gets wound up on little arpeggios until he unleashes a solo, musically it aims at post-punkers Magazine. 6/10

She Bathed Herself In A Bath of Bleach
A song of undeniable impact that somehow rouses you musically and makes you back away from it lyrically. It echoes Nirvana’s In Utero. Wire’s bass grinds horribly in the background while Bradfield pushes his voice to shouting point. 8/10

Facing Page: Top Left
A slower acoustic track with twinkling piano and harp, lending a hint at Small Black Flowers in The Sky. Richey’s short clause-style lyrics are suggestive of a million things, and at the same time impenetrable. 6/10

Marlon J.D.
An opening shot of Johnny Marr segues into a woozy roll from Bradfield’s guitar, and then jars into focus for a chorus that has seemingly synthetic drums. A sharp little jolt of electric that comes in at barely over two minutes. 6/10

Doors Closing Slowly
Musically this could have come from This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, it’s a sort of slow doomed march down the aisle towards something ominous, but Richey it seems is accepting and forgiving of whatever he is facing. It closes on a ticking clock. 7/10

All Is Vanity
A companion piece to The Holy Bible’s Mausoleum. Richey offers “It’s the facts of life, sunshine” in a lyric railing against rife consumerism, while the guitars scrabble around desperately in the background and then judder into a chorus with a nod to Killing Joke. 6/10

Pretension/Repulsion
Arguably the album’s richest lyric comes, musically-speaking, with an REM-styled verse and a driving chorus. At just over two minutes it’s a song that takes a million times longer to unlock than it does to play out. 8/10

Virginia State Epileptic Colony
There are obvious nods to Wire for this post-punker, but also a little twirl of REM around another cracking lyric, this time targeting an institutional approach to care, which Richey experienced first hand. It comes with a coercing chorus you can’t avoid squirming along to. 8/10

William’s Last Words
This is heartbreaking. It stands out immediately with Wire giving the vocals a Lou Reed flatness, as he sings lyrics that read like a suicide note. It’s a song of mutual goodbyes and seems to indicate a line being drawn under something by the band. It’s an incredibly brave and remarkable track in an already remarkable band’s canon. 9/10

Conclusion
It’s not as aggressive or dense as The Holy Bible, and the music is more approachable in their post-Everything Must Go incarnation, but the Manics are somewhere near the top of their game. It’s an absolute must for Manics fans and a fantastically rewarding record for anyone who wants literate substance as well as the right to punk out. 8/10