“The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is—it must be something you cannot possibly do.” – Henry Moore
Most bands don’t get to their tenth album. Mercifully. By then, the youthful brio, the wit, the desire, the flair, the fun, the zeal and commitment have usually all evaporated to be replaced by self-loathing, disappointment and the sour taste of promise unfulfilled, or the deadening torpor of sanctified elder statesman status and the moth-eaten trappings that go with it; the Lifetime Achievement awards, the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, the box set that looks suspiciously like a coffin. Familiarity has bred contempt, old friends have become strangers, laurels are rested on and the hits of prehistory dusted off for the Greatest Hits tour, the divorce settlements, the tax bill.
Ten albums into their life’s work, it would be wrong to say that the Manic Street Preachers are raging against the dying of the light. Because the light has never burned brighter or with a fiercer clarity. Postcards From A Young Man comes after the acclaimed Journal For Plague Lovers, a record of steely intent and corrosive power on which every lyric was taken from the final folder of work left by former member Richey Edwards just prior to his disappearance in 1995. That album in turn was a typically stark and startling follow-up to 2007s triumphantly resurgent Send Away The Tigers, an album that gave new heart to their global faithful and introduced the band to new countries, new audiences, new possibilities.
Before those are a canon of albums, singles, shows, gestures, interviews, wisecracks, manifestos and the occasional outfit that have made The Manics the most interesting, intense and inspirational band of their generation. From the headlong didactic samizdat fury of their debut Generation Terrorists to the operatic proletarian grandeur and pride of Everything Must Go to the harrowing austere complexities of The Holy Bible, the Manics have empowered, entertained, enraged, endured the worst and reached for the best.
Postcards From A Young Man may be their best yet. Or if that seems like heresy (and it even does to me), then let’s say it is right up there with their best. A very different record than, say, Journal For Plague Lovers or The Holy Bible, it stands not in contradiction to those cold masterpieces but in concert with them. Defiantly, unapologetically bold and forthright and communicative, it makes the head swim with both the thrill of its tunes and its theories (always a heady Manics mix) and burns with that raging melancholia that has always been unique to them. As James Dean Bradfield says “We’ve always had it. If you look at the lyric to Motorcycle Emptiness, it could be sung in some cold Teutonic way. But we’ve never been that kind of band. We want that sense of uplift somehow. We still feel there’s an eloquence in screaming, that these feelings can make you feel good, they can empower you.” Nicky Wire adds, “Someone once said that most men only ever write two great novels and you end up repeating them. There are two versions of this band maybe. There’s the Journal and Bible version and then there’s this version. That over the top hysterical dignity, that flash of intelligence. There’s something glorious in celebrating what we really are. Our peers are gone. It’s up to us.”
The Manics still believe in the power of art to transform and liberate, and, devalued and traduced though it is, they still keep faith with their favoured corner of it, the mongrel infant called rock and roll. As passionate and engaged as they are with politics, art, poetry, philosophy, film, sport and literature, they still believe there is something important, privileged, noble even about the mass platform and potency of the rock band, whatever the naysayers and experts think. “It would never occur to me” says James “to comment on the economics of the art world or of publishing, I wouldn’t lecture someone who thatches roofs about their industry. And yet every news programme and business correspondent is always giving his expert opinion on the music business and how it’s finished. It drives you to write. This faint notion that you’re defending the art”
“When you look at most bands” says Nicky “By the time they get to their tenth album, people may still come to the shows but everyone knows that the albums have been rubbish for years. If you’re an ‘artist’ everyone goes to the Royal Festival Hall to see you and thinks it’s marvellous. But no-one listens to your new record. Well, that’s not good enough for us. From the moment we started, we wanted the biggest number of people to hear what we had to say. We want to hear these records on the radio. Everyone is talking about the death of the rock business. I don’t know. But if it is, this is a last shot of mass communication.”
Postcards From A Young Man was recorded in the Manics own studio in Cardiff with long time producer/collaborator Dave Eringa and mixed in LA with Chris Lord-Alge.
Biography by Stuart Maconie
“Their best in ages.” **** – The Independent