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Down To The Wire - Daily Mirror, 24th September 2010

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Title: Down To The Wire
Publication: Daily Mirror
Date: Friday 24th September 2010

Nicky show Manics are as necessary as ever

Nicky Wire has a new record out. I'm joshing, Manics fans. Obviously it's the Manics who have a new record out - a very well received new record.

But it's Wire doing the heavy lifting. It's Wire who remains incredibly quotable. It's Wire who carries that original furious torch.

I am one of the never-quitebelievers when it comes to the Manics. I realise this is a form of heresy and Manics fans are welcome to throw eyeliner and copies of Aneruin Bevan's biography at me. I understand why the Manics inspire such devotion. I appreciate the lyrical heft of what they do. The music, simply, has rarely provoked an emotional reaction.

Motorcycle Emptiness and Design For Life aside, it has been always been about intellectual rigour before hair prickling. That's not enough for me.

And James Dean Bradfield's voice has also often left me cold. This week Wire said Bradfield could belt out vocals better than anyone since Freddie Mercury. He has volume, certainly. Melodic craft though? Despite my lack of commitment to the Blackwood veterans, this week I've been thinking the trio are more essential than ever. In an interview with the old parliamentarian warhorse Tony Benn, Wire bemoaned the lack of political engagement shown by the current crop of young guns.

In a later interview with NME he worried about the demise of Oasis and said the Manics were the last band standing. He said he was making a point about Britpop survivors, but really he was echoing what he'd said to Benn. It's a wasteland out there. Cast the net and you'll come back empty.

His is not exactly a political record - Postcards From A Young Man is the Manics at their least overtly chin-out for a decade - yet still Wire engages with the world.

He's happy to take questions about the Coalition, to skewer Nick Clegg as a David Brent, as nothing better than a buffed up motivational speaker. Also, you sense that if the Coalition keeps cut, cut, cutting and the Tories begin to show their colours then the next Manics record could be a call to storm the ramparts. There's an intelligence at work, a mind, an indignation that thinks of ways to retort as an artist.

There is a place for buddle-gum, throw-away music and there is a place for ballast. But there is no ballast around. And the throwaway stuff is anaemic and forgettable. I've become obsessed in recent weeks with Elvis Costello's Tramp The Dirt Down. It's a track from his brilliant, experimental, 1989 record Spike (I bought it on cassette, I remember).

It's a brilliantly crafted song that builds on a mournful, contemplative underbelly of uilean pipes and bouzouki. It's about, on the face of it, waiting for Margaret Thatcher to die and then tramp the dirt down on her grave. It's vicious. It's also bigger than that simple reading. There are fewer succinct renderings of everything that the Tory administration did, of the personal greed and avarice they fostered, to kill hope in a generation and why it's important to stand up against it.

If you go to YouTube you'll find an interview Costello gave at the time to journalist Tracy McLeod. He details what took him to the song and ends by calmly saying: "I'm a man. I'm 35 years old, and I'm fucking sick of it, of what's going on in this country."

I've played that interview and his live version of the song a lot recently. It is very moving. The line from that fury to where Wire is now is easily drawn. But where that line continues is far from obvious.

Where is the young team? Where is the indignation at a future closing in? Where are the records that can make hair prickle and anger surge. I don't mean sixthform protest like Jon McClure had with Mongrel, his attempt to sock it to the man. Engaging with the world and taking a stand does not mean being worthy and a bit shit - ask Curtis Mayfield, or SLF or Weller. Ask Dylan!

Ironically, Costello's new record, coming in late October, is called National Ransom. The cover features a wolf dressed like a turn-of-the-century Wall Street huckster on the make, taking off with a case full of cash as the cash is toppling out and heading into a bonfire. The old dog is going to rattle a few cages again.

It's just a shame that he and the Manics can find nobody to come and carry the torch.