Manic Street Preachers: Resistance Is Futile review – as edgy as a wet carrot
Resistance Is Futile
Manic Street Preachers
At what age does the average person’s motivation to explore new sounds freeze in time? I’m talking about the point when a certain strand of listeners abandon their quest to find fashionable styles and sag comfortably into old music like it’s their favourite livingroom chair. Is it around the time you suddenly start thinking about a pension? When the creche run becomes the school run? That moment you realise music is no longer the soundtrack for wilding out at parties and more something to alleviate stress as you sit in traffic and settle into your own personal capitalist grind?
If any of this sounds newly familiar there’s a chance you came of age when Manic Street Preachers were at their most potent. The Welsh band’s early records were a neon-lit glamorama of punk energy, startling introspection and unfiltered left-wing ideology. Their output wasn’t always immaculate, but there was something stoned and sinister about the Manics’ music and members. There’s a famous story of how Richey Edwards carved “4REAL” into his arm with a razor blade during an interview. The deep-thinking, troubled lyricist vanished without a trace in 1995 and was declared legally dead in 2008.
The Manics recovered from Edwards’s disappearance to find new levels of commercial success. They never seemed to fit the whole Cool Britannia thing, yet their soaring anthems were like a narcotic for festivalgoers and helped define Britpop in the mid- to late 1990s. There wasn’t another band on the planet that could funnel the idealism of the volunteers who fought Franco’s fascist army into a UK number one, as the Manics did on If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. At some point, though, the fuel in the group’s creative tank seemed to run dry. Album number 13, Resistance Is Futile, does little to charge the battery cells.
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This is a record for people whose musical tastes have calcified. It’s melodic and inoffensive on the ear, as comfortable as a cardigan that’s two sizes too big
This is a record for people whose musical tastes have calcified. It’s melodic and inoffensive on the ear, as comfortable as a cardigan that’s two sizes too big. All three band members are 49 years old. As they’ve gotten older, along with the rest of us, the Manics have become a canonical dad-rock band. Here they’ve made an album that dads everywhere can throw on their car stereos as they brazenly slide their hands off the 10 o’clock and two o’clock positions, listlessly sighing to themselves, “Ah, sounds pretty nice.”
Resistance Is Futile opens with the band actually engaging with the ageing process. “People get tired, people get old,” James Dean Bradford sings on People Give In, his voice as rich as ever. It hints at a trenchant look at the topic. Instead the song winds to an anthem about strength and resilience. It’s a nice message, but the song is too trite to act as a rallying call in these difficult times. Similarly, Distant Colours is said to be about Nye Bevan’s old Labour and current feelings of disenchantment in the UK. The writing is so obtuse and lacking in conviction that it’s impossible to imagine anyone getting riled up by it.
Other decisions just numb the brain. Featuring the Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies), Dylan & Caitlin represents the Manics’ attempt to write a song in the vein of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. It mirrors Elton John and Kiki Dee’s number so closely that the pair’s lawyers might want to take a listen. It’s not the only point when the album sounds tired; the guitar on Vivian is familiar to the point of cliche. Broken Algorithms has a riff big enough to set Bill and Ted reaching for their air guitars but lacks any real raw power. That’s because the production throughout is slick to the point of feeling anaemic. This is hotel-room art: not hard to look at but totally lifeless.
What’s in the title Resistance Is Futile? Listening to the album made me thinking of the relentless slide into seniority and what that does to corrode youthful spirit. Are those figurative pipe and slippers awaiting us all? Is it useless to resist? It’s generally understood that middle-aged rock stars don’t make records as vital as the ones cut in their youth, yet many actually do. Resistance Is Futile, though, rings with the creative decay of a once fine rock band that chilled my soul.
Fair play to the Manics. They probably enjoyed jamming these sounds out. It’s music filled with big riffs and big choruses that will sound just fine when played at sold-out shows alongside A Design for Life. Some people will be fine with that. But Resistance Is Futile is in no way an interesting record. It doesn’t tickle listeners intellectually. It’s too safe; about as edgy as a wet carrot. Manic Street Preachers could probably remake this album every couple of years until Earth spins off its axis and collides with the sun. I’m not sure which is the scarier thought. manicstreetpreachers.com