Review Summary: The blank page awaits.
If you’ve listened to the Manic Street Preachers for as long as I have, the first thing you will notice about Resistance is Futile
is that it’s so unnervingly content with itself, in a way that the Manic’s rarely ever have been. Even its title, a seeming rejection of their kicking against the pricks motif that basically was their reason to exist all these years, sounds like a band completely and totally defeated by years and years of narratives and expectations; the makeup, the slogans, the military regalia, the hits, and the synths. Its opening track, “People Give In,” sings it simply enough: ‘People get tired, people get old, people get forgotten, people get sold ... people stay strong, people give in
.’ Where there was once the object of hatred and loathing now stands a humanist, sympathetic subject, completely free of outside judgement, not least of all from Nicky Wire.
It’s taken him, The Manic’s chief lyricist, a while to get to this point. Even when it came to promoting 2014’s understated and brilliant Futurology
, he was speaking in broad, grande overstatements, pontificating on art, literature, and technology with a sense of importance far greater than their commercial fortunes might otherwise indicate. Even when it came to some of the band’s lesser efforts, like the truly derivative and forgettable Postcards from a Young Man
, there were vague words about ‘shot[s] at mass communication
’ that feel admirably silly, given the band’s beleaguered past. The one seeming constant of Wire's lyricism since Richey Edwards’ disappearance has been his ambitious overreach, often verbalised through plain, accessible language in an attempt to turn heads towards the band. He seems to have finally arrived though at a point where all of it-- the politics of it all, mostly-- just aren’t worth his own time. With that comes a style of writing that feels wiser, more relaxed, and suited to what the Manic Street Preachers are: a rock band of 26 years.
“People Give In” is the most obvious expression of that desire to feel rested, and the album itself-- titled Resistance is Futile
, naturally-- never rises too far above the fray. Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn get no mention, nor does Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Mark Zuckerberg, or Kanye West (or Warhol, or Burroughs, or Rimbaud, etc.). Wire is still harsh and incisive as ever when it comes to putting pen to paper, as only a song like “Sequels to Forgotten Wars” could be, but his words sound less forced in pursuit of an overarching theme or idea. In past, this grandeur and overzealousness had the tendency to ruin songs, and particularly on Postcards from a Young Man
, when the conceit was that Wire wasn’t going to write to the usual brief, he seemed to simply wrote banalities for its own sake. Nowadays his words sound utterly and completely rid of the spectre; when James Dean Bradfield verbalises those islands in the stream and walking the line, it sounds like finally, just for this one time, he’s got nothing to prove when he says it. It’s nice.
In a lot of ways, that contentedness makes Resistance is Futile
stand out as the most natural sounding Manic Street Preachers albums in years. Musically, it lands exactly in the space expected of a late career album from the band; a touch slighter than Send Away the Tigers
, less forgettable than Postcards
, less memorable than Futurology
. James Dean Bradfield, for all his years of shouting and guitar theatrics, seems tamed only in the most modest of ways, with his admiration for Slash shining through occasionally (“Broken Algorithms,” “In Eternity”), but mostly reserved in favour of digestible and tasteful rhythms. Sean Moore, always underrated, chooses to remain reserved, whilst Wire, ever the studious type, chooses only to lock into the grooves. These are songs that soar, but not in the way that “Motorcycle Emptiness” soars; think “A Design for Life,” or “Your Love Alone is Not Enough,” except wholly and completely grounded in ambition.
It's a genuine relief it to hear the Manic’s sound so comfortable for once. Far be it from me to diagnose a complex in this band, but resentment seemed to follow their every career move some point after “If You Tolerate this Your Children Will Be Next” hit number one in the UK and America yawned in response. Their press progressively shifted towards wishful thinking so fast that it’s difficult to assess in retrospect what the tipping point was. Resistance is Futile
’s embrace of futility suggests that as of now, it's all unimportant, or at least at a little vain to think about. Of course it’s not great, in the sense that Generation Terrorists
or The Holy Bible
are great, but its embrace of melodiousness, simplicity, and tastefulness betrays the bands’ modest commercial fortunes. Without qualification, the Manic Street Preachers are the greatest rock band of our lifetimes, because no band can still produce music so agreeable and pleasant this deep into their careers. With Resistance is Futile
, they’ve finally caught up with their own reality and decided to produce the one album they never made; a serviceable rock album.