Martin Luther King, who was assassinated 50 years ago this month, spoke
of ‘hewing a stone of hope from a
mountain of despair’, and in some ways the Manics feel
like they have gone through a similar exercise with Resistance is Futile, released 13 April 2018 by Columbia
The title of their 13th album, and lyricist and bassist Nicky Wire’s comment that there is ‘melancholia’ at the heart of the album, may suggest the band has drifted into unmitigated hopelessness and despair – and there are certainly strong indications of that – but there is always at least a moment of positivity, or even defiance, in the album’s lyrics or music that lifts the burden for at least a while.
Take, for example, the opening track People Give In. Guitarist James Dean Bradfield sings “People get tired, people get old,” but he also asserts that “people stay strong”. The music on this song also offers moments of relief, with one reviewer summarising the guitar’s soaring melodies – probably on his iconic Les Paul Custom - as being like a “music box guitar line ricocheting anxiously up and down before resolving into a sunburst-through-clouds riff’n’string chorus”. Here in the lyrics we are offered a rather bleak image of human nature, along with some crumbs of comfort and hope; a recurring theme throughout this album.
People Give In is followed by the outstanding lead single taken from the album, International Blue. This optimistic and anthemic track seems cut from the same cloth as Everything Must Go, and in part reminded this reviewer of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark. It is a tribute to French painter Yves Klein and his focus on the colour blue, and is one of several cultural references on the album.
The following three tracks are something of a mixed bag. Distant Colours seems to seek to ignite feelings evoked by Nye Bevan under the Labour party, but fails to spark emotionally. Vivian on the other hand is inspired by the work of street photographer Vivian Maier; but is bettered by the next track, Dylan and Caitlin, about the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife’s relationship. “At home with this feeling again, Love has deserted the pain, The alcohol starts to sink in, The drinking blends us to sin” sings Bradfield, in a duet with ‘The Anchoress’, (aka Catherine Anne Davies), to the strumming of what looks like his Taylor 414ce Grand Auditorium acoustic guitar.
One of the best songs on the album is Liverpool Revisited, about the 96 who died at Hillsborough and their loved ones who finally found some kind of justice after decades of struggle. This is not the Manics first song about this tragedy but here Wire’s lyrics honour the strength of those who fought and it is backed up, according to NME, by a lovely and emotive guitar solo from Wire. “I think of the 96 as the tears fall down on me […] Fight for justice, fight for life, there are angels in these skies” Bradfield sings,“[…]We’ll never leave you now”.
There is a similar glimmer of what might be called ‘dark hope’ on Hold Me Like A Heaven when Bradfield sings “I hate the world more than I hate myself”- but at least it offers a welcome touch of fearless pop - while the album turns dark and sombre again on Sequels of Forgotten Wars, where “There will be no parades for the likes of us, The wars we fight are doomed to be lost”.
The final two songs ‘Song For The Sadness’ and ‘The Left Behind’ are in a similar vein, but this reviewer can see that to many ears they will also be passionate and moving.
If Martin Luther King were alive today he might feel that not much has changed and he would still be struggling to ‘hew his stone of hope’; the Manics have been treading similar ground for less time but in some ways they too are still fighting the same battles, and amid the despair, finding their sliver of optimism too.