Review Summary: On Rewind the Film Manic Street Preachers sound less manic and less depressive than before.
In the two decades that have passed since the Manic Street Preachers declared themselves Generation Terrorists on their debut, the Manics have displayed a tendency for bipolar swings in mood and music. The biggest of these was from the bitter and brilliant The Holy Bible to the elated grandeur of Everything Must Go
, but variations of the same theme feature throughout their discography. Most recently, they swapped their audience of plagued lovers for young men, the change accomplished in a just a year. But pendulums don’t swing forever: on Rewind the Film
the band seems to carry unusually little explosive energy, exchanged for midlife navel-gazing and subtle arrangements.
For the Manics, this is certainly a change of pace. Even as they would turn from a low-point of depression to another high, attacks of electric guitar and James Bradfield’s vocals would rarely figure out of the equation completely. Rewind the Film does away with both to a degree, being built upon acoustic guitar with flourishes of horns or electronics, as well as featuring guest-vocalists on a number of songs. In parts one can even detect a folk influence in the guitar-work, and glimpses of world music are shown on the nods to Japan on “(I Miss the) Tokio Skyline.”
While all this might be new for Manic Street Preachers, in avoiding repeating themselves the band appear to borrow from other artists and genres. For instance, “Anthem for a Lost Cause” begins with a guitar melody eerily reminiscent of early Radiohead B-side “You Never Wash Up After Yourself.” The fault manifests more seriously on the weakest moments of the album, such as the Cate le Bon sung easy-listening ditty of “4 Lonely Roads” or “Running out of Fantasy”. For all of the musical restlessness evident in their two-decade history, Manic Street Preachers have developed themselves a sonic identity which is often abandoned on Rewind the Film
to unsatisfying ends.
It’s not all bad, though. Moments on Rewind the Film
show us hints of what the Manics must have been aiming at with the changes they’ve made to their music. The title track “Rewind the Film” is where everything seems to work. Acoustic guitar evocative of nostalgia complements the guest vocalist Richard Hawley on relatively subdued verses. Approaching the chorus, drums patter and a wonderfully upward-aspiring guitar melody introduces James Dean Bradfield’s vocals, made all the more powerful by their contrast with Hawley’s earth-bound baritone. Another highlight is the eerie instrumental “Manorbier”, which is fronted by ghostly guitar wrapped in theremin-like synths. Wordless chanting breaks in near the end. It’s moody, it’s sonically gripping, and it’s not something Manic Street Preachers have done before.
If all three could be said of the album, Rewind the Film
would be an impressive and unique album showcasing the band’s diversity. As it is, the Manic Street Preachers are to be commended for their willingness to embrace things new to them, but the execution leaves much to be desired. With Rewind the Film
you do get eleven songs which swing from bad to great, but with most lying in the neutral middle ground. While the Manics are still manic-depressive, their ecstatic highs and raging lows are both flatter than ever.