Manic Street Preachers Review

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Manic Street Preachers, Cardiff International Arena

A band like the Manic Street Preachers will never slip into cultural irrelevance, especially when younger bands fail to tap into the current political disillusionment around the UK, which has resulted in a nationalist party enjoying unprecedented election success. The Welsh veterans may not be as spiky, angst-ridden and destructive as in their youth, but then you can’t expect a band in their mid-forties to not evolve both musically and lyrically, something which has helped maintain the Manics lofty position as ‘National Treasures’.

Most recent album ‘Rewind the Film’ saw the band reflecting on middle age and their own significance “I’m sick and tired of being 4Real, only the fiction still has the appeal”, sounded like a band contemplating the exit door. Fear not, this current UK tour represented an opportunity to show that they hadn’t reached the 18TH hole just yet.

On home soil at the Cardiff International Arena, they produced a blistering, career-spanning 23-track set that showed the vitality that keeps them selling these types of venues.
Beginning with the ‘Holy Bible’s’ signature track ‘Faster’ the tempo and aggression was set out early, and they then ran through a flurry of hits: ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’, and ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ to great acclaim of hometown heroes.

After the four-track opening burst, they throw a curveball in the shape of new track ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’, a disco punk-rock number, complete with Jah Wobble-esque basslines and a heavy lyrical focus on all things European. Given this was a precursor to their forthcoming twelfth album ‘Futurology’, it is remarkable how the Manics retain their capacity to try something different while continuing to make the make listener think from an intellectual standpoint.

With the back catalogue now so diverse and vast, it’s a set that’s schizophrenic in its ordering. This never more evident than when they play the glorious ‘Everything Must Go’ followed by the poignant, lilting ‘Rewind the Film’, which misses the seductive crooning of Richard Hawley, whose absence is somewhat offset by the majestic imagery that plays in the background, showcasing the melancholic beauty of the Welsh valleys.

As is MSP tradition, singer James Dean Bradfield indulges in a near to mid-set acoustic slot, playing a taut, gritty ‘From Despair to Where’, and the elegiac ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’.
When his bandmates return, the mood intensifies with the caustic ‘Archives of Pain’, sounding immense as Bradfield indulges his guitarist ego with a faultless, sublime guitar solo – a set highpoint.

Another new track ‘Futurology’ is despatched to a largely muted reaction, but recalls the guitars of the ‘Everything Must Go’ era, and continues with the European theme that will define much of the next record of the same name.

A highly-charged Tsunami (always underrated live) leads us towards the end, followed by a snarling ’30-Year War’, an exuberant thrash-through of ‘Motown Junk’, before the obligatory climax of ‘A Design For Life’ – the Welsh anthem for those shafted in the principality by Thatcher’s brutal, soulless and devastating premiership.

Until new bands can come through and provide a fresh take on the Manics’ existential, intelligent and politicised rock, the future remains Manic.