31 Manic Street Preachers: The Ultra Vivid Lament

2020 #9, 2019 #83, 2018 #55, 2014 #1, 2013 #20, 2010 #15, 2009 #2, 2007 #3

Jesus Christ, more Manics?? Their fourteenth album, their ninth appearance on this year end list which has only run for thirteen years itself, I’ve ranked the albums, I’ve ranked the songs, I’ve shamelessly juiced the clicks because – glimpse behind the curtain, between you and me – any Manics post gets roughly ten times the hits of the rest of nonsense I churn out on this Bullshit Blog™, surely there’s nothing left for me to say??

Ha! Fucking idiot, this is the Manic Street freaking Preachers! I’m always going to have stuff to write about! That list of the greatest songs was about 40’000 words, but I’m still planning to go back and edit it, add new facts I’ve learned, new theories I’ve had, new philosophies uncovered. Plus, their new album, ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ wasn’t featured in that album ranking, and I’d only heard the marvellous lead single Orwellian when I made my ranking of Manics songs (I had actually planned to finish it before the new album was released but – ha! – no…) so it was the only one to feature. This is all fresh content, my friends!! Hit that ‘subscribe’ button as hard as you can!!

Does his site even have a ‘subscribe’ button? I make that dumb fucking joke about twice every three entries. If it does, please click it. As you can see, the content of this site is just epic. Remember to click the notification bell so you’ll know every time a post goes live, which will be next to nothing all year then a fucking bunch in December. It’s a fun time, join in.

What’s perhaps lost to history is that 2018 ranking of all the Manics albums (the most viewed post of all time on this blog) was actually my review of the new album ‘Resistance is Futile’. For the simple reason that I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything to say about it. For an album by the Manics – one of the most widely discussed and debated bands of all time – to fail to elicit any emotional reactions is damning. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I was force feeding that album as much as I could, so desperate to convince myself that the architects of the greatest album of 2014 hadn’t spent four years constructing such a stinky wet fish.

Fuck me, what a cover though. Can it not swap covers with ‘Futurology’s dull as dog’s cock artwork? I just want the album covers to be more appropriate to the record’s quality

So, deep breath, here’s my definitive and official word on ‘Resistance is Futile’:

…it’s…

It’s not good. It is a bad album. It’s not as atrocious as their career nadir ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ – because few things are as bad as that album. The Holocaust, maybe, or that first Suicide Squad movie – but if I were to rank the albums again (which I obviously will, as I am constantly desperate for clicks and engagement. Hit that ‘subscribe’ button as hard as you can) I would probably list it below ‘Rewind the Film’, which I’m not a fan of either but at least it betrays some ambition and artistic worth. Outside of the two singles Hold Me Like a Heaven and International Blue, which I believe will always be mentioned when talk turns to the band’s greatest ever songs, ‘Resistance is Futile’ is destined to be near enough forgotten by one of the most obsessively reminiscing fanbases in the world. To be honest, even I’m struggling to recall much of the tracklist, and I’m the most pathetically obsessed!

But enough about that previous wet fart of an album, how’s ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ looking? Well, no spoilers, but you know this list I do every year, where I assign each album a numeric value that is linked to how I rate the quality of the album in comparison to others released that year? Notice how this album’s ranked relatively highly? Yeah, there you go. I would even go as far as to say it’s the band’s greatest album since their incredible 2014 record, ‘Futurology’, which actually finished top of the list. So, yeah, basically that just means it’s better than ‘Resistance is Futile’, the only other album released since then.

‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ is a curious, subtle and admirably ambitious album though, one that sees a band with the combined age of maybe 694 incorporate new influences and make small but notable differences to their sound more than thirty years and fourteen [FOURTEEN] albums into their career. The Manicsness is definitely there – songs soar, choruses headbutt you on the forehead then passionately stick a tongue down your throat, songs still go verse/chorus/verse/chorus/guitar solo/even bigger chorus/end – but they have approached this Manicsness in a way they haven’t previously. Songs were written on the piano rather than guitar, and the claimed ABBA influence is actually evident on the finished product, unlike usually where Wire will come out and say the new record is influenced by Autechre, Megan Thee Stallion and GG Allin, only for it to come out and sound a bit like The Clash again.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaand if you tolerate this…”

An undefinable strangeness also surrounds the record, so much so that even now I’m not sure that I completely get it. I think it’ a great album, but I feel like there’s a deeper level to it that I haven’t quite been able to connect with yet. Yes, I realise that was the same feeling I had about ‘Rewind the Film’, before it turned out that the album was rubbish and that extra layer I was striving for was just another level of rubbishness, but ‘TUVL is so obviously a richer and more artistically fulfilling experience. Yet still I hear or read people talk about tracks like Still Snowing in Sapporo or Diapause in glowing terms, listing them amongst the band’s best ever. And… yeah… I get it… I just don’t feel that I’m quite there yet with a lot of this album.

Also, and my tin hat is firmly screwed onto my head here, I think this is lyrically one of Nicky Wire’s poorest albums. Few lyrics are bad, and there’s no gigantic “Refugees like you and me” level clunker, but they so often sound unsatisfying, and simply fail to properly scan in so many of the songs. Lines like ‘I had a very bad dream/The main actor in it was me/My scream had lost its source/Like a reservoir in a summer drought‘, or ‘And in the rhythm of your voice/I find space to rejoice‘, or the embarrassingly forced entirety of Don’t Let the Night Divide Us – no matter how fantastic the surrounding song is (apart from Don’t Let the Night Divide Us. That’s a stinker) – are just.. ugh… ugly, poetically. The rhythm and tense is all over the place, with similes and metaphors forced and – here’s that word again – clunky. ‘Girls in their summer dress had flown’?? Urgh, Wire, sort it out.

It’s an album that improves with every listen, even if I think some of the lyrics and lines break the flow of wonder to such an extent that I’m not sure I will ever love this record enough to officially install it as Top Tier Manic™, it’s still astonishing that a band are making making music this notable and with such depth so deep into their career. Maybe I’ll make another ranking blog post just to include it! Hit that ‘subscribe’ button as hard as you can.

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