Recorded at the same time as 2013’s well-received, acousticy Rewind The Film, Futurology could hardly be more different. Where Rewind was wistful, nostalgic and to some extent all about the vanished Wales of the 1980s, Futurology is a rocking electronic tribute to another lost 80s – the European-looking new wave pop of the post-punk era.
From Europa Geht Durch Mich (featuring a stern vocal from German actress Nina Hoss) with its Simple Minds paraphrasing opening line ‘Europe had a language problem’ to The Next Jet To Leave Moscow, which samples the Skids’ classic single Charade, Futurology is full of a lost musical era, where bands looked to Berlin-era Bowie for their ideas and Giorgio Moroder for their basslines. James Dean Bradfield’s guitar channels Stuart Adamson, John McGeoch and Keith Levene (Let’s Go To War even mimics PiL’s use of the Swan Lake riff by rocking up In The Hall of The Mountain King). And there’s even a duet with Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, who was an actual 80s post-punk star.
Not that it sounds like any of those bands, of course. The Manics are the Manics, and although these days they encompass a variety of musical styles – the guitar pop of the title track, the spooky folkiness of Divine Youth, and the Goldfrapp stomp of Europa Geht Durch Mich – they still sound like the most melancholy and most angry band in the world (‘One day we will return,’ runs one of Nicky Wire’s lyrics from the title track, ‘No matter how much it hurts’). And throughout Futurology there’s a freshness and an attack which is astonishing for a band on their 11th album. Futurology isn’t just the best album the Manic Street Preachers have made this century, it’s arguably the best album of the year.
When they began, the Manics looked like a dog-end glam punk band who worshipped both The Clash and Guns N’ Roses. Shortly after they revealed a love of the bleak grey shades of Magazine and early Simple Minds. At the same time they wanted to be stadium rockers and record duets with Kylie Minogue.
They were, in many ways the band least likely to make it to the end of the week, let alone the 21st century. That they’ve done it, and continue to shine, is a testament to the idea that not being satisfied is better than being satisfied; the smugness that radiates from much of 2014’s bearded pop is absent from the eternally rocking self-criticism of this always extraordinary band.