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The Great Western Review - Daily Mirror - ★★★★☆

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Gavin Martin

This album takes its title from the train line that marks Manic Street Preachers frontman Bradfield's rock 'n' roll journey. From Welsh working class pit village roots to the bright lights of London, it has often seemed that James was content to be the mouthpiece for the words of his colleagues.

By the singer's own admission, his early songwriting attempts were fraught with dissatisfaction, never coming out sounding the way he intended. Perhaps he just needed time to progress, or feel a subtle shift in the band's creative make-up.

The Manics' collective fire dimmed noticeably on their last album Lifeblood. Bradfield's affecting account of his final days with his cancer-ridden mother, Ocean Spray, had previously marked him out as a pointed and emotionally-naked writer.

The experience wasn't one he had wanted to revisit, but the time to grab the nettle had come. James' reflective, sometimes world weary, sometimes declamatory worldview is central to his solo debut. From the withering anger and musical exuberance of the opening That's No Way To Tell A Lie to the majestic closer Which Way To Kyffin - inspired by Welsh landscape artist Kyffin Williams - it sounds like the best, most cogent and direct Manics album since Everything Must Go.

That's no surprise. In a testimony to the deeper-than-blood ties that bind them together, his Manic colleagues are on hand to assist. Nicky Wire even supplies one song - the joyous but thoughtful Bad Boys And Painkillers - but you sense the others take genuine pleasure in Bradfield's discovery of his natural voice. Manics staples - the Spectoresque flourishes, harmony-rich Beach Boys requiems and flashes of punk grit - are present but, taking his cue from Welsh rock heroes Pete 'Badfinger' Ham and John Cale, James' own identity comes through.

A particular standout is An English Gentleman, dedicated to Manics mentor, the late and lovely Phillip Hall. Hall died, like James' mother, from cancer, just as all the love and nurturing he'd shown the young band was reaching commercial fruition.

The song is remarkable for the way it both brings its subject to life and evokes the period of carefree discovery that ignited Bradfield's early rock life. It is the sound in his head captured on disc - alive and unbounded. And if that isn't a recipe for great rock 'n' roll, please tell me what is.