Review Summary: Send Away The Tigers is one of the surprise packages of the year.
Sometimes even coincidence tries too hard. The very day Send Away The Tigers
was released across Europe, seminal British electronic pop group New Order announced what appears to be their conclusive split. Mere happenstance, or one of pop’s all-time dramatic statements? I prefer the latter.
No strangers to overt symbolism themselves, the Manic Street Preachers have gone straight back to source with their eighth studio release. Dispensing with the ill-advised ironic detachment of 2004’s electro-pop middler Lifeblood
, Send Away The Tigers
is very much a modern hard rock record: concise, at just ten songs and thirty-eight minutes, and more musically and thematically coherent than they’ve been for a decade. More importantly, all of the unnecessary frills and adornments which have hampered the band’s output since 1996’s Everything Must Go
have either withered away or been more tactfully employed. Sitars, harps and trumpets have been put returned to custom-made cases, while strings- for James without his strings is like a rent-boy without his lipstick- have been used much more sparingly this time around.
Twin solo albums from the band’s two main songwriting forces in 2006 appear to have gifted the band a renewed focus. James Dean Bradfield’s The Great Western
indulged the singer’s lingering synth-pop and light rock leanings and Nicky Wire’s I Killed The Zeitgeist
channelled the bassist’s nihilistic post-punk ire and (mercifully) his questionable singing ability elsewhere- Sean Moore would seem to have spent much of the year shopping for trumpet cases. Sole lyricist since the 1995 disappearance of disturbed genius Richey James Edwards, Wire puts in arguably his strongest performance since the classic The Holy Bible
. Balancing brutish political messages (‘Rendition,’ ‘Imperial Bodybags’) with subtle hidden meanings, subtexts (and sub-subtexts) and literary references, the songs are at once relatable and thought-provoking, with parallels to Everything Must Go
’s ‘Design For Life’ and Gold Against The Soul
’s ‘Life Becoming A Landslide.’
The overarching theme is simple: youth and looking back upon past actions. The inclusion of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ as a bonus track plays up to the working class idealism of their debut and simultaneously references the brash iconoclasm of break-out single ‘Motown Junk,’ which contained the memorable line “I laughed when Lennon got shot.”
The title track references the horrendous-in-hindsight decision of looters to free the animals from Baghdad Zoo in the wake of the US-led invasion and expands it to a metaphor for the invasion as a whole- the idea of thrusting oneself into an enterprise with virtuous intentions but without, perhaps, taking into full account the full effects. The Stray Cats-aping post-punk rockabilly number ‘Imperial Bodybags’ echoes the point, using the image of soldiers returning home, liberated, in coffins to remind us that they’re people, not mere statistics or political talking points- a sympathetic humanism that often gets lost in the Manics’ work.
Lead single ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ debuted at number two in this week’s UK charts, losing out by a whisker to another duet, Shakira and Beyoncé’s ‘Beautiful Liar.’ A relatively straightforward call-and-response blues-rock number, ‘Your Love Alone’ hinges on the outstanding vocal talents of The Cardigans’ Nina Persson- remember ‘Love Fool’? Of course you do!- and a clever lyric dedicated to fallen comrade Richey. Similar in style to Don McLean’s ode to suicide victim ‘Vincent’ (Van Gogh), a favourite subject of Richey’s, is both vivid and personal, reciting the eponymous line from ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ alongside more direct, incisive statements like “your love alone won’t save the world.”
‘Underdogs’ was offered as a free download in advance of release, a punk-infused shout-out to the hardcore fans, the “freaks,” who’ve stuck with the band through the years in the sonic wilderness. If not quite as arresting, literally, as tracks like ‘Rendition,’ it at least showcases Sean Moore’s drumming- he’s perhaps benefited more than anyone from their return to rock roots.
Elsewhere, the formula is much as it was on 1994’s Gold Against The Soul
- beefy hard rock riffs, strong melodies and stadium-sized choruses. While ‘Rendition’s chorus call of “blame it on the coalition”
may owe a lot to the Noel Gallagher Dictionary of Rhyming Things
, it’s a little more sophisticated than the average anti-Bush anthem- and they know it, too- gasping “oh God, I sound like a liberal.”
‘Autumnsong’ echoes Guns N’ Roses’ Slash with a ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’-style guitar melody, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler with the camp chorus lyric “baby, what’ve you done to your hair?”
and Queen’s Freddie Mercury with a theatrical rock bridge. ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ provides slight comic relief with lines like “[I’m] the Oswald in Lee Harvey,”
while ‘Indian Summer’ and closer ‘Winterlovers’ are dynamic symphonic rock tracks from the Everything Must Go
The only notable omission from Send Away The Tigers
is a real standout track in the vein of ‘Faster’ or ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’- the material is of a consistently high standard, nary a clunker in the bunch, but while many will be surprised by Send Away The Tigers
, few will be bowled over. Nevertheless, for those of us who thought the Manic Street Preachers were a dead duck, Send Away The Tigers
is one of the surprise packages of the year.