A Prologue to (Revisionist) History
2007 proved to be a pivotal year in the history of the Manic Street Preachers. 15 years on from their bold pledge to sell 18 million copies of their debut album Generation Terrorists here they were releasing album number eight. Let us, however, travel back in time to the end of the first half of the first decade of the millennium.
Album number seven was the less than acclaimed Lifeblood from 2004. Expectations were high as initial reportings revolved around the engagement of legendary producer Tony Visconti and Nicky Wire’s description of the upcoming album as “elegiac pop” led to a high amount of anticipation.
Musically, Lifeblood was a dramatic shift away from guitars to synthesiser led melancholic pop. Visconti’s involvement was three songs. It flopped. To this day, it remains the only Manics album I don’t physically own.
On the back of this disappointment James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire both released solo in albums in 2006 and the fans pondered the future and the fate of this most beloved band.
Fears of the demise of the Manics were put to bed when Send Away the Tigers was announced. Lead single Your Love Alone (Is Not Enough) was a thunderous introduction and won the Best Single Award at the 2007 Q Awards.
Ten years on the Manics have re-released Send Away The Tigers as a special Collectors’ Edition comprising two discs and a DVD; a vinyl edition will also be available. So, how does it stack up ten years later?
Sonically as vital and as urgent as their most anthemic and bombastic songs from Day 1.
Thematically it’s certainly of its time; whilst not mentioned implicitly, there is a phoenix-like quality about the record you can still hear today that, in contrast to Lifeblood, is resurgent, youthful and confidence. Not a confidence that comes from arrogance, but of acceptance of who one is, and being at peace with it.
The title track is full of vim and vigour. Rendition and Imperial Bodybags are almost perfect now in their 20/20 hindsight of how Iraq and Afghanistan turned out. Who, even in 2007, would have dared to write such forthright and relevant songs that, remarkably and not mawkishly, stand the test of time after a decade?
As with all albums starting with This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours there is the “Richey Song” – or at least the song that could be construed about Edwards – in the case of SATT it is The Second Great Depression. The centrepiece of the track is from James Dean Bradfield using a violin bow Jimmy Page style, and the lyrics contain enough hints about the subject matter.
Autumnsong soars as high as anything since Motorcycle Emptiness, especially with JDB’s Slash-inspired riff. It’s also got one of the most infectious pre-chorus repetitions, and I am Just A Patsy is unfortunate for one reason. I am northern. My best mate is northern. He said to me not long after the release of the album something along the lines of “It sounds like I’m Just A Pastie”. I’m sorry gents; there is absolutely nothing wrong with the song at all, but at the break where the song title is megaphoned? Yeah, all I can hear is…
But why the revisionism in the heading above? There is no Underdogs. At the time of the announcement of the album Underdogs was given away as a free download, and on the album itself was song numebr 2. I described it to said friend as “Pure Nicky” – with lines such as “People like you need to fuck/Fuck people like me” and:
This one’s for the freaks, for you’re so beautiful
For all the devotion written in your soul
This one’s for the freaks, for the lost and weak
For the butterflies and devotees and the disciples of our destiny
It’s part love letter to the legions of fans and part defiant and angry middle finger to everyone else. In essence, it summed up the attitude of the band at the time of release – love us or hate us, we’ve always been underdogs, we’ll always be underdogs, and we’ll surprise you every single time.
Here, it is replaced by Welcome To The Deadzone, a relatively sedate and more reflective piece. Instead of the fire and the fury there is a longing to change the world for the better, to be of use:
I feel so bad about myself
I feel so bad about everybody else
If I could only save the world from itself
Do something good, just for once
With the inclusion of this, you have the feeling that this is the definitive version – the Director’s Cut if you will – of the album. How it should have been for all time, even if the original version was right for its time. Maybe there’s confidence now that was not present ten years ago, battered and bruised from Lifeblood. Either way, I’m still not sure about Underdogs only being here is demo form.
Talking of which:
Postcards from National Treasures
A Collectors’ Edition wouldn’t be one without an extra disc or two, and the Manics here have given us demos, acoustic versions, b-sides, and exclusives over two audio discs. There is also a DVD with videos, a track-by-track (which includes Underdogs) and a glorious Glastonbury session from 2007. Seeing them in their confident pomp is a sight to behold, and as much as I’d love to see them in a festival, I can safely say that in all of their gigs, they’ve never had a bad one.
Highlights of the extras are the one-off Leviathan, which originally appeared on the War Child charity album Help!: A Day in the Life, a cover of Rihanna’s Umbrella and Fearless Punk Ballad from the second disc. On disc 1, there are the usual curios for the completist including the hummed melody in the chorus of Indian Summer. I find it endearing and kinda cute.
Judge (it) Yr’self
As an album, it’s bloody good. Like Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip it’s ten songs long, each one a knockout, and all the fat has been trimmed. It’s a lean, mean, music machine, and the antidote and catharsis to renew the band for their third phase.
As a collection, it’s certainly almost complete. Only the exclusion of a studio Underdogs somewhere stops this from being complete.