Manics: intimate and personal

A fortnight after its release, fans now know the Manics’ latest album Rewind the Film to be a rich, contemplative affair. The musical dynamics are intimate and seemingly best suited to small venues, like the one that features in the video for the single “Show Me the Wonder”. As I made my way across London last night, I wondered if this new sound was why the band had chosen to downsize from last year's O2 to the cosy surroundings of Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Was this "last phase of the band's development" to be consciously close-up and personal?

To an extent yes, though not straight away. The evening started off as business as usual with the declamatory “Motorcycle Emptiness” followed by “Ready for Drowning”. The sound was excellent, with James Dean Bradfield’s guitar soaring and his voice note-perfect. Yet the performances weren't quite getting the emotional juices flowing.

He admitted he was so nervous he wished he was still drinking

The first real moment of audience connection happened in “Show Me The Wonder”. Bradfield told us that Nicky Wire's words were about moments of magic and the grey area between certainty and uncertainty. Looking even smaller than normal behind a giant acoustic guitar, he beamed defiantly. Maybe it was a sign of rebellion against middle age - something else the song seems to be about? Gavin Fitzjohn played thick trumpet motifs to his left and gangly Nicky Wire, in a bright red suit, threw shapes to his right.

It was such moments of acoustic musical brilliance that shone the brightest, not just when juxtaposed against such raucous juvenilia as “You Love Us”, but also stacked up next to classics like “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”. Even Nicky Wire had some unlikely acoustic success, seemingly reluctantly. As he introduced his unplugged versions of “Marlon JD” and “As Holy as the Soil”, he admitted he was so nervous he wished he was still drinking.

Wire’s baritone was, as ever, a little cracked but his sincerity compensated. And then, to general shock and delight, Richard Hawley [3] (pictured below) was brought to the stage to reprise his role on the new album’s title track.His voice was rich and powerful; the song full of nostalgia and yearning.

But it still wasn't as complex and subtle as “Sullen Welsh Heart”, another take on the aging process from Rewind the Film. This song marked the beginning of Bradfield’s solo spot, which moved on to the enigmatic “I Miss the Tokyo Skyline” and the classic “The Everlasting”. Of the older songs, the latter was only eclipsed by “Tsunami” in terms of sheer emotion. The line about “disco dancing with the rapists” still sounded as bizarre and tragic as any lyric ever written.

The song received particularly enthusiastic applause. In fact, from where I was sitting, the crowd’s enthusiastic energy only seemed to sag during “Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier” and “Revol” (the former being one of their less classic numbers and the other dividing fans). I suspect this was as much an indication of the appeal of the new stuff as a sign the band [4] might be getting too old for the earlier, thrashier material. Still, it was definitely the pastoral brilliance of Rewind the Film that did it for me.  

Overleaf: watch videos for "Rewind the Film" and "Show Me the Wonder"
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"Rewind the Film", featuring Richard Hawley


"Show Me the Wonder"

 

It was such moments of acoustic musical brilliance that shone the brightest over the night

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