Manic Street Preachers: The Ultra Vivid Lament review – magic, melancholy and a debt to Abba

Any Abba fans unable to wait until November to hear the new album from the 1970s’ best pop band could do worse than give the Manic Street Preachers’ 14th LP a listen. For the first time, they have written songs on piano instead of guitar, and the result is an artfully realised exercise in melancholic, grown-up pop with textures that owe much to the Swedes’ later work. It’s also a welcome return to form, after 2018’s water-treading Resistance Is Futile.

Lead single Orwellian sets lyrics about the misappropriation of language for political ends to galloping Waterloo piano lines; The Secret He Had Missed, about sibling artists Gwen and Augustus John, finds James Dean Bradfield duetting with Julia Cumming as the backing refracts Benny and Björn’s pop nous through a soft-rock prism, with a guitar motif straight from Don’t Stop Believin’ thrown in as a bonus. Majestic opener Snowing in Sapporo, meanwhile, is more familiar fare, the Manics at their most anthemic.

There are missteps amid the magic: with all the sparkling songcraft elsewhere, the crepuscular croak of Mark Lanegan sounds somewhat incongruous on Blank Diary Entry. And the dig at “those boys from Eton” on Don’t Let the Night Divide Us seems a little phoned-in for a band that once prided themselves on the sharpness of their lyrics.


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