Musical Marmite to both their fierce critics and intensely devoted fans, the Manic Street Preachers have been mixing punk, metal, literary allusion and passionate political rhetoric for more than 20 years. This milestone tenth album finds the Welsh trio musing on familiar themes including death, consumerism, internet alienation, disenchantment with New Labour and the decline of British industry.
So far, so Manics. But it is also the band’s most accessible and energised work for years, reclaiming some of the rousing populist clamour of their 1996 best-seller Everything Must Go. Since 2006, the band’s output has included low-key solo albums and last year’s Journal For Plague Lovers, a willfully dark and abrasive vehicle for the final lyrics of their former guitarist Richey Edwards. But they also enjoyed a rare chart smash in 2007 with Send Away The Tigers, which revisited the orchestral-rock sound of Everything Must Go. These two commercial peaks provided the sonic blueprints for the lush widescreen bombast of Postcards…. The Manics are shamelessly hungry for hits again.
The band cite Queen, Guns N’ Roses, ELO, Dennis Wilson and Fleetwood Mac as key influences on this album. To that we might add Phil Spector, XTC and even Elton John. Freddie Mercury’s spirit is certainly evident in the stacked harmonies and lavish string arrangements of the exhilarating single (It’s Not War) Just The End of Love and Postcards From A Young Man itself, the latter a swaggering powerhouse waltz in the mould of A Design For Life.
Duff McKagan’s riff-slashing cameo appearance on the vaulting punk-metal gallop A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun further underscores the GNR influence. Guest vocalists are a Manics tradition, continued here as Ian McCulloch duets with James Dean Bradfield on Some Kind Of Nothingness, a majestic meditation on grief catapulted heavenwards by a full-throated gospel choir. This is easily one of the band’s most heart-tugging anthems to date.
Bassist Nicky Wire makes a rare solo vocal appearance on The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever, an attractively ragged gospel-punk strummer illuminated by drummer Sean Moore’s shimmering trumpet solo. A cluster of more generic tracks occupy the mid section, but overall quality levels are high. However divisive the band may be, Postcards… is their most uplifting, consistent and thunderously confident work in over a decade.