Manic Street Preachers - Rewind the Film
“I don’t want my children to grow up like me / It’s too soul destroying, it’s a mocking disease.” There comes a time, surely, when the debris of youthful glories, the bright lights, the unspeakable trappings of fame, all fall away to reveal a shocking and prosaic reality. All of a sudden it’s the crunch of your bones as you rise to the cries from the nursery, and the journey from one to the other must seem like a bridge that spans forever. They don’t teach you how to be a rock star. You can understand why some simply take a long hard look into the future and choose to check out while they’re ahead.
‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’, the opening track on Rewind the Film, reduces Manic Street Preachers’s emphatic and cerebral agit-rock to something tender and intimate. Brittle and raw, it’s the cruellest self-examination. As ever, they face the truth head on. This delicate opener – sweetened by the canny addition of Lucy Rose – sets the tone for an album discomfiting in its tone, and unsettling in how it takes an axe to much of the band’s previous operation. This is a record whose themes – the illusion of memory, the perils of self-delusion, the duplicity of the ruling classes, the shadow cast (still) by the absence of Richie Edwards - both invigorate and trouble.
Defined as much by its tone as anything else, Rewind the Film proffers unwavering observation, its stark reckonings a counterpoint to the combative fist-pumping of old. ‘This is who we are now’, it says and rests easy. Ish. For sure, there are moments where they’re the Manics of old – the twitchy, accusatory ’30 Year War’ and the soaring ‘I Miss the Tokyo Skyline’ - but Rewind the Film is too concerned with self-examination to find room for bluster.
Its highlights are as essential as anything from their fiery repertoire. The epic title track features Richard Hawley’s fag ash burr and a drinking den shuffle that brings to mind early Bad Seeds. “Oh redemption, love and departure / I think your work is done,” sings a weary James Dean Bradfield on the string-drenched ‘Anthem For a Lost Cause’, a rare ‘big’ tune and reminiscent of the sleek arrangements of Everything Must Go. Elsewhere, the glorious soul shimmy of ‘Show Me the Wonder’ (“Is it too much to ask to disbelieve in everything?”) and the creepily bizarre instrumental ‘Manorbier’ demonstrate commendable scope.
Richie is still here, of course. You just need to know where to look. Of course, the search for their most emblematic member moved long ago from riverside incident scenes and Goan beaches to the words on the page. Oh, mythologising the Manics could become the new national sport if we let it but time has clearly been kind to his band mates and how they continue to recover from their loss; that absence that resonates endlessly. Oddly, as the years pass, his presence seems to grow. Twenty years on, Richie Edwards is still, it seems, a Manic Street Preacher. 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers, which saw his remaining words finally put to music, confirmed as much, an immutable bond that goes beyond the earthly. Here, Nicky Wire’s ‘As Holy As the Soil (That Buries Your Skin’) is a joyous, uplifting testament to his friend, a love song for the lost. Its strident horns (scattered throughout the album and a smart touch, recalling prime Dexy’s) mask the yearning: “Oh I love you so, won’t you please come home.”
But three they are and three they remain. They’re not so manic now. No matter. They remain ever watchful, always connected. The Manics in their mid-forties are starting to test their belief that not only will age not wither them, but that the spiked polemic of their wonder years will suffer little, if at all, from a shift to something more considered and reflective. More fool them if they refuse the opportunity to re-fuel via the past. Now more than ever, they simply refuse to tolerate this (“And the endless parade of old Etonian scum line the front benches” – ’30 Year War’) and, in how they marry that urge to continue to have their say to a mode of expression they find now fits them best, they somehow future-proof themselves. Older? Sure. Wiser? Well, the beauty of Rewind the Film, the dizzying conundrum at its heart, is that the more the Manics search and question, and the more they come up with little in the way of answers, the more they convince.