Manic Street Preachers - Postcards From A Young Man
It seems as if Manic Street Preachers have always been with us, seeing us through thick and thin and chronicling it all. In 1997 they won Brit awards for Best Group and Best Album (Everything Must Go), which had also been nominated for the prestigious Mercury Award the year before. That same year the Labour Party was elected, ending 18 years of Tory rule and bringing a much needed sense of optimism to a beleaguered Britain. Thirteen years later and what has happened? Britain finds itself at the mercy of a Tory-dominated coalition government and threats of job cuts, benefit cuts and service cuts loom before us all and morale is at a generational low. The one constant has been this band. Still with us, and still vital, perhaps now more so than ever.
There is a sad wistfulness to Postcards From A Young Man, at times heartbreakingly so. Take the magnificent 'Golden Platitudes'. James Dean Bradfield could be singing about those empty promises and broken dreams born from that 1997 election: "Oh, what a Shangri La / Oh, what a shell we are / Oh, what mess we've made / What happened to those days? / When everything seemed possible." Many of the songs seem to be looking back in time. The title track sounds like a man questioning the naive optimism of his younger self and measuring up with who he is now ("I don't believe the absolutes anymore / I'm quite prepared to admit I was wrong"), the angry vocals contrasting sharply with the lush arrangements which characterize much of the album, adorned with generous string arrangements and a bevy of female backing singers. And somehow it works. 'Some Kind Of Nothingness', featuring the boozy baritone of Ian McCulloch, is someone contemplating the past as he turns the pages of an old photo album: "Will you find some kind of nothingness / Still and lonely like an old school photograph." The gospel-flavoured choir at the close, coupled with Bradfield and McCulloch's litany of "Never stop", wraps the song in a glorious optimism that can be felt throughout the album. Despite the internal doubts, this isn't a band to throw in the towel so easily.
There are also plenty of great examples of the Manics gearing up and getting down to some serious rock and roll business. 'The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)' and opening track '(It's Not War) Just the End Of Love' are proof enough that these boys have not gone soft on us. The mood and the music is raucous, Bradfield's voice, dreamy. The last half of the album really kicks off. If in the first part we see the Manics mulling over the past and contemplating an uncertain future, the latter half has them picking up their instruments and going out with all guns blazing. 'A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun' will flourish live, its energy akin to the lights being switched on in a darkened room. No strings, no female backing singers, it's just them smashing it up stupendously.
After that it's a one-two assault of killer tunes that are the some of the finest these guys have ever done. 'All We Make Is Entertainment' could be Bradfield and Co. admitting that perhaps they can't change the world, but they can still have their say none-the-less: "All we make is entertainment / A sad indictment of what we could have / We were part of the grand illusion." Final song 'Don't Be Evil' ends the album with a bang with the rebels waving the red flag; the battle may be lost but we shall persevere. And through it all we will have the Manics there beside us. As Bradfield sings in the title track "This world will not impose its will / I will not give up and I will not give in." Amen.