Manic Street Preachers
Journal For Plague Lovers



May 8th, 2009 | 89 replies

Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Not quite the Holy Bible sequel we were sold, but great all the same.

Let's take a step back and just consider this - it is incredible just how much good-will the Manic Street Preachers can still engender in the music press, and in the average music listener, in the UK. To even be able to generate this much attention on your 9th studio album is pretty impressive; to do it after a major sonic shift toward more mature, more dad-friendly territory is almost unheard of. And then, to still have that goodwill behind you when you release an album that is a blatant attempt to recapture the glory days of an album you released 15 years ago" Wow. A lot of that credit probably goes to Nicky Wire, a man who is famously erudite, polite, and open when being interviewed, but we can't discount the sheer power of the music the Manics have conjured across their careers either - "A Design For Life" still stings like no song about class war since, and The Holy Bible hasn't lost a drop of its impact since it was released.

With Journals for Plague Lovers, they're calling in their goodwill. Literally no other band in the world would get away with doing this - an album seemingly built entirely from references to a man who's been missing for 15 years, and written using nothing but lyrics that he wrote just before that, it would just be seen as shocking and crass in the hands of a P. Diddy, or a Dave Grohl or Courtney Love, or even a Paul McCartney. Yet the Manics are getting away with that and more. The Holy Bible is called to mind time and again before you even listen to the record - the artwork here is drawn by Jenny Saville (the same artist responsible for THB's artwork), and every advert and poster has even used the same typeface. When you switch the record on, it's not long before you hear a vocal sample, just like the ones that bound together the tracks on their 1994 classic. Steve Albini is even called in as a producer, just in case you weren't prepared enough for a dark, depressive alt-rock record from the mid-90s.

You'd be forgiven for bracing yourself for a train wreck. And yet, three tracks is all takes to allay those fears. "Peeled Apples", "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time", and "Me and Stephen Hawking" must all stand among the likes of "The Masses Against The Classes", "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next", and "Found That Soul" as the best songs the band have conjured since Everything Must Go. Whatever else has happened, the tunes must be the primary concern, and these three are as good as even the band's most ardent fans could have expected.

It's after these tracks have sunk in that the sting in the tale of Journal For Plague Lovers reveals itself - actually, it's all been a ruse, and this is not much like The Holy Bible at all. Where that album seemed to be summed up by one of its voiceover samples - 'I think you are the devil itself' - Journal is the trickster Loki to The Holy Bible's black-hearted Beelzebub. It's still not a happy record by any means, but it's noticeably less dark, and its defining feature is surely its sense of humour. "Me and Stephen Hawking" boasts the great line 'we missed the sex revolution/when we failed the medical', while the chorus of "Jackie Collins" sees Bradfield/Edwards conjuring their younger selves to ask the immortal question - 'Mummy, what's a Sex Pistol"'. On a gut level, this simply can't be considered a sequel. While Richey's subject matter still often reverts to uncomfortable topics, no other Manics record has really felt like this, and it's worth wondering whether they've ever been this loose and this good-humoured. You'd probably have to go all the way back to "Motown Junk" and "Slash N Burn" to argue that they have been. The fact that Steve Albini is involved just makes things slightly more surprising - although black humour has always been part of his shtick, from Rapeman to McLusky, the album doesn't sound like he had too much control over proceedings, even at the production stage.

So that leaves us with a rock record, a Manic Street Preachers album. That's all you can judge Journals For Plague Lovers by, and if you do, it comes up trumps on both counts. It's a shade better than Send Away The Tigers, itself heralded as a return to form, and in a year that hasn't really been anything special so far for straight-ahead rock, this is a standout. For Manics fans, they can revel in another added bonus - this is the album that Know Your Enemy should have been.

Ignoring the hidden track, the album proper ends with Nicky Wire singing "William's Last Words", as simple a lyric as Richey ever wrote. It's nothing more a thank you to his friends, and it's the most poignant thing here. It's also entirely fitting. As a tribute to Richey, Journals seems to be all about setting the record straight, remembering Richey as a human being rather than an insane dervish on the brink of self-annihilation. The lyrics here reveal a man as intelligent and well-read as the one on the first three Manics albums, but also one with a wicked sense of humour, and a very real capacity to enjoy life - for those of us that didn't know him, that's where the real revelation lies. You suspect that he would have loved it.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
May 8th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

I completely agree with this review, it's a great rock album and at the core a Manics album for the fans. I keep wanting to rate this a four but All is Vanity and Pretension/Repulsion don't quite work, I also think some of the camp grandiose of "Tigers" could have made it a tad better (I prefer Tigers as an album slightly)

By the way, does anyone agree that Virgina State Epileptic Colony is pretty swingin'? This Message Edited On 05.08.09

May 8th 2009


Album Rating: 3.0

Cant wait to hear this. Tbh I think the Holy Bible is overrated but I loved Peeled Apples

May 8th 2009


great review as ever. i thought from the moment i heard peeled apples this was going to be a throwback to the holy bible, but that shows what i know.

May 8th 2009


amazing review, not listened to this yet.

May 8th 2009


I didn't even know they had a new album coming out. I'll probably listen to it at some point.

May 8th 2009


Awesome review. I've only heard Send Away the Tigers from these guys, I dunno if I'll try this.

May 8th 2009


Holy Bible is holy.

May 8th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

i just got into the Holy Bible earlier this year. amazing album. i need to get this and some of their other albums

May 8th 2009


i've been wanting to check this group out for quite some time

May 8th 2009


good review. wish it would come out already.

Staff Reviewer
May 8th 2009


Looking forward to hearing this.

May 9th 2009


Also looking forward to hearing this. Album art is awesax

May 9th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Can't wait to get this, band is awesome

May 9th 2009


This sounds really interesting. I've always meant to check these guys out, and this looks like a good place to start. Great review.

May 9th 2009


The Holy Bible is a better place to start!

May 9th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

Man, Jackie Collins is a great song. And you're right, William's Last Words is just beautiful...for some reason, it just seems so right having Nicky singing it.

May 9th 2009


yeah will be getting this. the backstory to these guys is fairly epic

May 9th 2009


i'll definitely look into The Holy Bible then

May 9th 2009


i don't think they've ever bettered Generation Terrorists, as vaguely hair-metal as it was at times, but i've always liked this band. i saw them play "peeled apples" and "me and steven hawking" last night on later with jools holland and they were pretty damn good! might have to pick this up. great review too!

May 9th 2009


i remember like 4 years ago when you were pretty much fellating these guys and the holy bible. i never really liked them that much.

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