There’s much to be said for watching artists curate their own career. Each decision feels weighted, with every inclusion and exclusion revealing some telling aspect, some memory previously kept hidden.
Twenty-one years on from their debut album, Manic Street Preachers certainly have a broad back catalogue to draw on. There are those incendiary early recordings; the fraught, confused emotions of ‘The Holy Bible’; and the breakthrough that was ‘Everything Must Go’ – and that’s only in their first decade.
Agreeing to play an intimate show for Absolute Radio, Manic Street Preachers are regal, majestic. Not the young bucks they once were (although Nicky Wire’s prowling bass stature belies their – ahem – experience) the group opens with a sedate, understated rendition of ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, before rifling through the record racks of their career.
Much emphasis is placed on ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’, with the 1998 album seeming to echo new LP ‘Rewind The Film’ (or vice-versa). Marrying their energy and intelligence to a growing awareness of their adulthood, the Manics add a celestial edge to ‘If You Tolerate This…’ – their first number one single.
Yet this isn’t simply a return to the days of the beige combat trouser. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is given a brattish, soaring revival while James Dean Bradfield leads the band through an emotional rendition of ‘Ocean Spray’. ‘You Love Us’ has rarely seemed more contrarian, while the decision to include ‘Revol’ – a song the band once derided as "dog shit" – raises some delighted eyebrows.
The new material arrives with a real sense of worth. ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ features studio vocals from Lucy Rose, but the band manages to retain the beautiful intimacy of the original. Musing on the essential nature of Welsh identity, it’s a downbeat treasure with the lyrics seeming to trickle gently out over the heads of the packed crowd.
The emphasis seems to be placed on the song, not the statement. Sure, there are plenty of barbed edges here – including a tribute to Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones – but the Welsh trio are able to instill a potent coherency into their work. Ending with ‘A Design For Life’ it’s clear that Manic Street Preachers remain a national treasure. But the nature and value of that treasure remain deliciously up for grabs.
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'Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier'
'Show Me The Wonder'
'Anthem For A Lost Cause'
'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'
'No Surface All Feeling'
'Rewind The Film'
'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next'
'This Sullen Welsh Heart'
'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough'
'You Love Us'
'A Design For Life'
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