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Music Review

Manic Street Preachers: 'Postcards From A Young Man'

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Manic Street Preachers: Postcards From A Young Man
Released on Monday, Sep 20 2010

In every pre-release chat, the Manics have trailed Postcards From A Young Man as "one last shot at mass communication". They've always been one for grand pronouncements, though. "We only wanna make one album, one double album, 30 songs and that'll be our statement, then we'll split up," they promised Melody Maker back in February 1991. Postcards is in fact their tenth full-length studio release and the band have survived the 'Maker (RIP) by a decade and counting now. The group's last LP was the sidestepping Journal For Plague Lovers - a brutal, brilliant record smashed together with Steve Albini and the last surviving lyrics of still-missing guitarist Richey James Edwards. This album effectively ignores that diversion and follows on from 2007's Send Away The Tigers, which rightly resurrected the Manics' career after the lukewarm response to the lethargic Lifeblood.

So, out go lyrics about bathing yourself in a bath of bleach and in come Britpop strings, gospel choirs and an impressive list of guest stars in Ian McCulloch, John Cale and Duff McKagen. Postcards is clearly intended to revisit the heady days of '96, when the Manics supported Oasis at Knebworth and you couldn't switch on the radio or telly without hearing 'Design For Life' blaring out. That flash of super-stardom always seemed like something of a perverse accident, though, so how does the much-more-obviously-contrived Postcards fare? To be honest, its blatant bid to reconnect the band with the mainstream misses by a whisker, but its slightly gauche embrace of the public is so bloody charming that you really can't help but be won over.

There are a clutch of standouts that do have the potential to match those Everything Must Go hits in terms of commercial appeal. Lead single '(It's Not War) Just The End Of Love' borrows heavily from the band's own 'Little Baby Nothing', Smashing Pumpkins' 'Tonight, Tonight', and - as our esteemed Editorial Assistant Philippa Warr spotted - decade-old Steps chart-topper 'Stomp'. It's a swooping bit of radio-friendly fodder which really does make good on all that "mass communication" blather. There's also the temporally incongruous McCulloch-Bradfield duet on 'Some Kind Of Nothingness', which sounds like the results of a time-travelling guitarpop experiment gone beautifully wrong, all backed by a choir on loan from late '80s / early '90s Leonard Cohen. The title track, a storming 'A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun' and the self-deprecating 'All We Make Is Entertainment' are also more than capable of belatedly winning some newbies over to the team. The last of those presents a witty riposte to 'Underdogs' from Tigers ("This one's for the freaks" vs. "I'm no longer preaching to the converted / That congregation has long ago deserted").

Elsewhere, the lyrics throw up some classic Nicky-isms, from the eternally teenaged ("The more I want to be me / The less I know myself") to the politically-subtle-as-a-sledgehammer ("Oh don't be evil / Just be corporate / And fool the world with your own importance"). In return, he even gets one of his rare outings on the microphone for the 'The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever', which boasts the same wonderful strangled voice that raised eyebrows and grins both on Know Your Enemy's 'Wattsville Blues'. The main criticism of Postcards is that despite the bare-faced attempt to court Pop Radio, the melodies don't actually match the catchiest stuff on the Manics' less commercially-focused records. On some songs ('Hazleton Avenue', 'I Think I've Found It', 'Golden Platitudes') the band don't quite manage to complete the journey to Hitsville. Overall though, they've got more than enough pop nous in their locker to get them there.

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