Manic Street Preachers release ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’, the 14th album in their glittering career. Inspired by the bands the trio grew up listening to – ABBA, ‘Fables’-era R.E.M. and Echo and the Bunnymen – the record finds the Welshmen examining where we all fit in today’s uncertain and divisive world. It also features guest appearances from Mark Lanegan and Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean.
Subtle synths mark the start of the six-minute opener ‘Snowing in Sapporo’ as James Dean Bradfield sings Nicky Wire’s wistfully nostalgic lyrics about walking alone in 1993: ‘Time has stopped and it’s perfectly frozen, these days may never come again’. As the song moves forward, James adds a healthy dose of ‘Gold Against the Soul’-era guitar hooks before the band move into lead single ‘Orwellian’ – an analysis of our fractured world set against a melodic and effortlessly timeless sound: ‘I’ll walk you through the apocalypse, where me and you could co-exist’. ‘The Secret He Had Missed’ follows with talk of revolutions, flamenco undertones and a boisterous chorus that finds James and Julia singing ‘The secret he had missed was lying at his fingertips’ in unison.
‘I had a very bad dream, the main actor in it was me’ are the intriguing opening lines to ‘Quest for Ancient Colour’ – a piano-led song that recalls Elton John at the start before moving into something more baroque. Again, there are thoughts on where the band fits in a modern world that has been ‘crushed by digital love’: ‘I used to make sense’. ‘Diapause’ is gentler and more introspective with Roxy Music vibes, but still contains the typically acerbic observations: ‘I looked into the sunset, I screamed and I sighed’; ‘I stood still for a moment, paralysed’. ‘Into the Waves of Love’ has a groove thanks to Nicky’s bass line and a ‘Wall of Sound’ atmosphere that gives it a melancholic vibe while Mark Lanegan’s gruff vocal appearance on ‘Blank Diary Entry’, a song wrapped in fear and trepidation, complements James’ lighter vocals perfectly: ‘No way out of this unholy mess’.
‘Happy Bored Alone’ is another more upbeat number (think Sparks with added synths) where the lyrics tell a different story – ‘I am tired, I am restless and I am cold’ – before the album comes to a close with the slow-burning ‘Afterending’, a song that focuses on nothingness, revealing how ‘reality becomes an apology, and waking up a catastrophe’. There’s a point where James tenderly asks you to ‘sail into the abyss with me’ – 14 albums and three decades later, and we can’t think of a better band to soundtrack this moment…