Perhaps more than ever over the past decade or so, Manic Street Preachers have been defined by their contradictions. Once the intense heat of their provocative early years was in the rear-view mirror - along with their mid-to-late ‘90s commercial heyday - they seemed to settle down into the peculiar role of a band considered part of the rock establishment’s old guard while, if you scratched beneath the surface, remaining politically cutting in their lyrics and, on records like 2014’s expansive ‘Futurology’, ambitious in their songwriting.
Every one of their late stages albums encapsulates this dynamic in one way or another and ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ is no different. The three years since 2018’s raw, confrontational ‘Resistance Is Futile’ have provided Nicky Wire with no shortage of real-world material to mine for lyrical inspiration, but instead, that last album’s rancour has given way to reflection; on melancholy tracks like opener ‘Snowing in Sapporo’ and ‘Blank Diary Entry’, the album feels like an elegy for what’s been lost in recent months.
Musically, too, there’s a sense of the trio reaching for a comfort blanket, turning back towards the intellectual pop that inspired them as youngsters in the ‘80s; the bright melodies of ‘Quest For Ancient Colour’ and ‘The Secret He Had Missed’ recall the likes of Roxy Music and Simple Minds. Such an approach helps sugar the pill on the avowedly topical ‘Orwellian’ and ‘Don’t Let The Night Divide Us’, bringing home just how accurate the record’s title is; ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ is a requiem, but one that looks for sonic positivity in the thematic darkness.