The new Manic Street Preachers album is 38 minutes long (their shortest ever), uses the same provocative inverted typography as that featured on â€˜The Holy Bibleâ€™ (their greatest album), and features as its core image a Valerie Phillips photograph that is the depiction of the polarity between good and evil, the sacred and the profane, as personified by two awkward female adolescents who actually look like fans themselves, circa-â€˜Generation Terroristsâ€™. In short, even before a note is heard, â€˜Send Away The Tigersâ€™ has stamped its intent with a glittery, flamboyant fist.
Whereas many bands flit from genre to genre under the high-minded umbrella of â€œexperimentationâ€, in the case of the Manic Street Preachers one suspects that their journey since 1998â€™s â€˜This Is My Truthâ€¦â€™ (the first album written with no creative input from the still-missing/missed Richey Edwards) has been driven less by a bold sense of adventure and more a desperate, scrambling sense of identity: â€˜Know Your Enemyâ€™ was a sprawling, often self-conscious album whose best moments were the ones that sounded like old Motown records, while â€˜Lifebloodâ€™ retreated too far into its elegiac, synth-pop shell to have any lasting effect. But this record, the groupâ€™s eighth (!) seems to have taken its cue from the title of Nicky Wireâ€™s solo album from last year; itâ€™s an approach that has worked wonders.
Because the world of the Manic Street Preachers with â€˜Send Away The Tigersâ€™ (named after the, er, â€œliberationâ€ of Baghdad Zoo in 2003) is one in which the zeitgeist lies twitching in the corner (or even better, it never existed in the first place). Here there are no Sheffield wonderkids, no Brazilian electro-sex marvels, no neon bibles. Itâ€™s a smart move for a band to whom the word â€˜irrelevantâ€™ now attaches itself like no other, and suggests that the Welsh trio have embraced their place in the current cultural landscape.
This freedom ironically makes them sound fresher and more sincere than they have in ages. Second track â€˜Underdogsâ€™ is a case in point. It reads like an archetypal Manics manifesto, but one where the expected rage is replaced by a sentimentalism explicitly aimed at the fans themselves. Itâ€™s a sweet touch, a recognition for those who have stuck by the group whatever; the sound of a band at ease with both themselves now and the myth that they helped create way back at the start of the 90s.
Elsewhere there are signs that the Manics are starting to enjoy themselves again. Both the title-track and â€˜Iâ€™m Just A Patsyâ€™ are more than obvious nods to the influence of Guns N Roses (itâ€™s been 15 years the excess of Axl Rose and co was acknowledged with the immense debut that was â€˜Generation Terroristsâ€™, alongside the promise that the Manics would split up soon after its release). The former heralds the first arena-sized lyrically-amazing chorus of the album (there are many), while the confusingly-titled latter song allows itself the indulgence of a (gasp!) guitar solo (again, there are many).
As well as the nod to the hardcore that is â€˜Underdogsâ€™, â€˜Send Away The Tigersâ€™ also features a couple of accompanying tracks that acknowledge the bandâ€™s history without slipping into lamentable parody. The great pop moment that is â€˜Your Love Aloneâ€¦â€™, a disarmingly simple duet between James Dean Bradfield and Nina Persson, echoes the classic â€˜Little Baby Nothingâ€™ (just without the porn star factor), while the following â€˜Indian Summerâ€™ is nothing less than a more downbeat, marginally less climatic version of â€˜A Design For Lifeâ€™. The referencing on both occasions is playful and knowing, rather than proving to represent a dearth of ideas, and suggests that if this is indeed the Manicsâ€™ last album then the politico-firebrands of old are laying their career to bed with a final â€˜quasi-greatest hitsâ€™-style lap of honour, and not some desperate Oasis-like effort at recapturing former glories.
Speaking of politico-firebrands, it also turns out that the Manics can still do overtly righteous anger: both â€˜Imperial Bodybagsâ€™ and â€˜Renditionâ€™ may not score high in the subtlety department (couple the titles with lyrics like â€œchildren wrapped in homemade flagsâ€ and it wouldnâ€™t take a degree in global politics to discern the subtext) but their cumulative effect is like being shouted at by John Pilger at a Clash gig: sledgehammer sloganeering meeting wall-of-sound punk. If this was a debut weâ€™d all be counting the seconds before the ruling elite collapsed, burnt by the fires of their own injustice. Or something.
And thatâ€™s the current world of the Manic Street Preachers. Itâ€™s like having finally exorcised all their creative pretensions theyâ€™ve finally realised that the band we fell in love with is the androgynous idealists of â€˜Generation Terroristsâ€™, the fiercely intelligent apocalyptic poets of â€˜The Holy Bibleâ€™, the heart-on-sleeve romantics of â€˜Everything Must Goâ€™. â€˜Send Away The Tigersâ€™ may not be the precise sum of these not insubstantial parts, but itâ€™s pretty close. Theyâ€™ll be legends yet.