Trio step outside themselves and emerge revitalised.
Over the years, what Nicky Wire calls the "mini tribute" has been a happy halfway house for Manic Street Preachers when they've needed a break from pin-balling between righteous fury and melancholic self scrutiny. They have a collection of these mini tribute songs that cover a broad cross-section of historical and contemporary figures, some well known, some not. There have been
tracks about presidents, about Dutch abstract artists, civil rights activists, the leader of the British suffragette movement, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers and Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. There's definitely been enough to warrant a Radio 4 series, or a podcast at the very least, on People The Manics Have Written A Song About. It's as if every now and then, Nicky Wire has needed to shift the spotlight from himself and take a mental weekend away into the mind of someone else.
There has been much stark introspection and looking back over the past few years, beginning with 2013's Rewind The Film and then through two anniversary tours for The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go. It's a period that seems to have prompted the band to apply for an extended tourist visa away from themselves on their 13th album. Resistance Is Futile is an album mostly about other people. French artist Yves Klein, street photographer Vivian Maier, the tumultuous relationship between Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin, and the death of David Bowie all fall under Wire's gaze. With no over-arching concept to try and neatly pack everything into, each song stands on its own merit, like a singles collection of brand new material. Musically, there are lots of signposts to their past. Opener People Give In combines the rock chug of Send Away The Tigers and the orchestral bombast of Everything Must Go and International Blue is like a 2018 reboot of Motorcycle Emptiness. A Song For The Sadness revisits the glacial pop they didn't quite pull off on 2004's Lifeblood but here its wintry chill is something to find comfort in.
The familiarity isn't restricted to their own material, either. Dylan & Caitlin was written with Don't Go Breaking My Heart in mind and sounds exactly like Don't Go Breaking My Heart. The Technicolor, speedwalking chorus of Vivian resembles ELO at their jauntiest and although In Eternity is the homage to Bowie, it's the preceding track Hold Me Like A Heaven that has a nod to him in its tremolo-style backing harmonies. The chorus of that song is one of the best things here, an instant, epic anthem that will almost certainly not get the pop kudos it deserves because it's sung by a stocky Welsh bloke in his late 40s. Maybe someone from The X Factor should murder it in exchange for more widespread coverage.
Not everything here is as immediate as that but with repeated listens, every track more than earns its place. As a song-by-song set, Resistance Is Futile is up there with their best work. They sound revitalised by the radiance of these songs, liberated from the heavy burden of being the Manic Street Preachers.