It hasn’t exactly gone to plan for Manic Street Preachers. In 1992 they announced that their incendiary debut double album, Generation Terrorists, would sell 16 million copies and that they would immediately split up. Instead, they prolifically delivered albums in 1993 and 1994. Their talismanic guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared in 1995. On the final line of the opening track of their 14th studio album, Still Snowing in Sapporo. James Dean Bradfield poignantly sings: “Still breaking my heart, the four of us against the world.”
Nicky Wire has likened the cockroach tendencies of the most tenacious act in Welsh music after Tom Jones to the Manics gradually metamorphosing into “arena Fall”. They no longer illuminate the zeitgeist with anthems such as A Design for Life or If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, but soldier on as one of the biggest cult acts in the world.
The Ultra Vivid Lament is another streamlined and rather glossy late-era Manics album. In their early days they channelled The Clash and Guns N’ Roses. Now their euphoric melancholia rests somewhere between Abba and Echo & The Bunnymen. Orwellian is as good a commentary on our contemporary culture wars as any song in recent memory. “Don’t let the boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten,” Bradfield declares on Don’t Let the Night Divide Us.
The Ultra Vivid Lament is a serious grower for anyone enamoured by the Manics. It’s their best album since Futurology in 2014 and another fine addition to a fascinating mature phase.