Manic Street Preachers had always intended to immortalise themselves as intrepid cultural antagonists. Motown Junk, their 1991 debut single, notably features the line: “I laughed when Lennon got shot.” To mar Lennon’s image would prove a mere precursor to the iconoclastic identity the band came to forge. Bassist Nicky Wire once remarked that he hoped “Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury,” whilst former lyricist Richey Edwards nonchalantly carved ‘4REAL’ into his arm during an interview with the NME. Prior to Noel and Liam Gallagher, Wire and Edwards’ controversial quips and audacious actions generated significant media attention. Despite this, the band’s most absurd assertion came courtesy of lead vocalist and lead guitarist James Dean Bradfield. Bradfield claimed that the band would “release one double album that goes to number one worldwide,” sell an oddly specific sixteen million copies, and become the greatest rock album ever. He further proposed that “if it doesn’t work, we split anyway.”
1992’s Generation Terrorists did not meet such figures. As one might have gathered, the band did not split up when they failed to achieve their goal. Resistance is Futile – their thirteenth studio album – may read as an invitation to surrender but, like Generation Terrorists, is defiant and forthright in a musical and lyrical capacity. Similarly, People Give In seems deceptively pessimistic when judged on title alone. A fatalist anthem in lyrical content, the opening track becomes increasingly subversive in composition as the triumphant melody swells. The obstinate tone spearheads the album with an adverse vigour and a robust spirit.
International Blue, the album’s first single, follows suit – Bradfield’s forceful vocals pierce through his scathing electric riffs. Dubbed by Wire as a ‘’sister song to Motorcycle Emptiness’’ (the fifth single to be lifted from Generation Terrorists), it becomes apparent that Resistance is Futile promises to evoke the blunt statements and pervasive emphasis on melody that their debut album capitalised upon. This is true as far as A Song for the Sadness is concerned, too. Bradfield belts that “memories are all we leave / fragments of lost melancholy,” but does so amid a sweeping musical arrangement that goes completely against the grain, delivering all but our initial expectations. This melancholic existentialism, coupled with a ridiculously grand statement or three, constantly penetrates the Manics’ discography. Hold Me Like a Heaven is far less memorable than the aforementioned tracks – in fact, it is rather bland – but cryptically ponders “what is the future of the future?”
Hold Me Like a Heaven is not the only track that falls flat. In Eternity does not sit comfortably amongst the compositions that bookend it and could pass as a demo from 2013’s Rewind the Film, whilst Vivian is equally as pleasant but not striking enough to wish to repeat. Traditionally, the band call upon cultural figures to stir a lyrical narrative: 1996’s Everything Must Go namechecks Kevin Carter, whilst 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers features a track entitled Jackie Collins Existential Question Time. Here, Vivian refers to obscure photographer Vivian Maeir, while Dylan & Caitlin alludes to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his spouse. The former boasts a soft rock arrangement which does not complement a record that is designed to resist, press, and challenge. It was disappointing that The Anchoress’ vocal contribution in the latter was not situated amid an overtly gutsy firecracker such as 2007’s Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, which featured Nina Persson. Despite this, it is infectious and expertly masks human despair under a joyous guise.
Generation Terrorists’ art-punk core is mirrored throughout Resistance is Futile, seeping within Wire’s outspoken and unfiltered lyrics. Liverpool Revisited demonstrates that no topic is untouchable. It addresses the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster whereby 766 spectators were injured and 96 perished. Wire deserves praise for his intrinsically raw and emphatic lyrics, detailing his reflective reaction as “the light dances on the Mersey / and I think of the 96.” Just as in Broken Algorithms, Liverpool Revisited encompasses the defiant message driven home throughout the album’s entirety. Bradfield’s earnest vocals relay the notion that “there is dignity and pride / there is poetry and life” incredibly well. Despite this, though it is emotional, it is not the masterpiece that the subject matter deserves. It does not stand out, particularly when it precedes Sequels of Forgotten Wars. This is the album’s pinnacle – a eclectic instrumental culmination intertwined with lyrics which lament that “the wars we fight are doomed to be lost.”
With age comes maturity. Manic Street Preachers are not as intense and as potent as they once were. Distant Colours’ vehement chorus and subdued verses are not overly dissimilar to any other recent track by the band. Bradfield adopts song-writing duties as he voices his displeasure in the Labour Party’s direction: ‘’I know no longer my left from my right.” It is not uncommon that the band should write on politics, but this time their lyrics manifest from a place of experience as opposed to a place of youthful angst; they allow their longevity to inform their socio-political narratives.
Bradfield is not the only band member who elects to step out of his comfort zone. The Left Behind, the closing track, features lead vocals provided by Wire. Wire’s vocal performances, much like an olive, are an acquired taste. Nevertheless, he has improved tremendously since his debut vocal performance on 2001’s Wattsville Blues. The Left Behind encapsulates the hopeful and steadfast demeanour Resistance is Futile emits. It serves as a culmination. Where their previous releases have fallen flat and uniform, Resistance is Futile encompasses productive elements from each, bolstered by Generation Terrorists’ resilient legacy, and the inevitable wisdom and maturity of their years.
Picks:International Blue, Sequels of Forgotten Wars, The Left Behind