On the Record: Manic Street Preachers – Postcards from a Young Man

It’s a shame when a band is more famous for something other than their music. Manic Street Preachers, for example, cannot escape the ghost of Richey Edwards, their former lead guitarist and primary lyricist who disappeared in 1994. Almost every review of subsequent albums mentions this, and compares the album to the Edwards period (I know, mentioning this I become just as guilty). It’s unfair because it’s been 15+ years and Manic Street Preachers are a different band than the one that recorded The Holy Bible; indeed, they’re almost a different band from album to album, just listen to Know Your Enemy, Lifeblood, and Send Away the Tigers back to back to back. 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers embraced the ghost of Edwards and used whatever lyrics he had left and created one of the band’s most striking albums, likely because it was a cathartic experience; the end of a chapter, the closing of a book.

Interestingly then, the Manics’ latest offering, Postcards from a Young Man, is the first album that feels like a continuation of a previous album. One of the most remarkable things about the Manics was their ability to seemingly reinvent themselves with every album. Postcards picks up dangling threads from 1996’s Everything Must Go and 1998’s This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, re-embracing the sonic landscapes that dominated 1990s British guitar rock. This album has huge guitars, huge choruses, and huge strings. On the surface, Postcards is to the Manics what All That You Can’t Leave Behind is to U2. So then why am I a little underwhelmed by it? The last two Manics records are two of the band’s strongest in an already phenomenal catalogue (their debut, 1992’s Generation Terrorists is essential, as is The Holy Bible, Everything Must Go, and This is My Truth. Even their second tier albums have remarkably strong moments, like “Life Becoming a Landslide” and “From Despair to Where?” from Gold Against the Soul). The band is in fine form, the production is solid, but I’m left feeling these aren’t the band’s strongest songs.

Having said that, there’s really nothing bad on Postcards, just a few tracks that hover around pleasant, yet forgettable (I’m looking squarely at “Hazelton Avenue”). But, like all Manics albums, there are some great tracks here: First single “(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love,” the title track, “A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun” (which features ex-GN’R bassist Duff Mackagn on bass, though you wouldn’t know it to hear it), and the stunning “All We Make is Entertainment.” The latter is particularly terrific, showcasing the band at their best. “All We Make is Entertainment” is full of wit and dark, subversive humour, wrapped in a mammoth anthem (and second cousin to their early single “You Love Us”).

Having spent a couple weeks with this album in rotation, I feel as though doesn’t measure up to some of their previous work (it is, however, a better record than Know Your Enemy, if we want direct comparisons). But really, what it boils down to is the fact that, like the majority of their work, it feels like it could be their last record. There has always been a sense of finality with each Manics album, yet a couple years later the band seems rejuvenated and reinvented. The album likely won’t win the band any new fans, so I’m not sure where that leaves Postcards from a Young Man. I suppose Postcards a just a solid record from a band with a pretty outstanding catalogue.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

One Response to On the Record: Manic Street Preachers – Postcards from a Young Man

  1. Bryson Parks says:

    >When I first read this review weeks ago, it gave me the chance to reflect on my likes for this year. So I've got Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a band that's been around ten years. And three 90s British acts – Ash, Blur and the Manics. Working at HMV in the rock department, I see middle aged men coming up and buying the same Jeff Beck, Clapton and David Gilmour outputs. And I don't want to take away from these artists, but their releases are limited to remasters, rarities, live records and covers. Any new catalogue is pretty weak and never compares to older output, yet these (usually) men will buy up everything under the sun and I wonder, "Why?" Don't they know that you can still appreciate these acts, largely ignore the new stuff and check out the multitude of new acts out there. But then I see what's happening. We may be on the cusp of this trend. Here we have a Manics album which isn't as good as The Holy Bible or Everything Must Go, yet we buy it, listen to it and enjoy it. Heck, we probably enjoy it more than a lot of the new releases from this year. Could we in the next fifteen years be the people coming in and buying James Dean Bradfield's solo record of motown covers and be content in that rather than some up and coming band?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: