You could excuse it, really, if a band who had constantly reinvented themselves year after year were to rest on their laurels – it’d be completely forgiveable. But Rewind the Film is anything but the sound of a tired band, no, if anything this is the Manic Street Preachers at their most powerful, their most confident. Lyrical barbs are fired from Nicky Wire’s pen, and despite the stripped back nature of a few tracks, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2013.
The homely tones of James Dean Bradfield’s acoutic guitar playing (he’s a much under-rated guitarist) follow his opening line of “I don’t want my children to grow up like me, it’s too soul destroying”, which (and remember this is the very first lyric you hear) hits you in the gut; this is an incredibly powerful song. Yet the sparse, almost ghostly vocals invoke such powerful visions as James and guest vocalist Lucy Rose sing “the hating half of me has won the battle easily”. It never explodes into life with guitars, there are no drums in sight, but you don’t care.
Early tasters for the album were released in the form of “Show me the Wonder” and title track “Rewind the Film”, and it’s Show Me the Wonder that springs into an uplifting mood, before dropping back into guest vocalist territory with Richard Hawley singing the verses of the title track. In the context of the album, this works incredibly well, with Bradfield’s playing once again coming to life before his vocals destroy the landscape as they soar, almost begging as the emotional performance intertwines with the string section. Magnificent, and we’re not even half way through.
“Builder of Routines” starts with a tinkling of high pitched keys, and encompasses some dark, moody instrumentation. It doesn’t last long, but contains a fantastic Wire lyric: “How I hate middle age, in between acceptance and rage…I am the builder of Routines”, before a brief horn section that sounds like it was cribbed from “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys.
Cate Le Bon sings “4 Lonely Roads” while Nicky Wire proves he’s come a long way as a bassist from the days where it was reported he could barely play (I never believed that, for the record). The Manics have always had a knack for picking interesting, possibly left-field vocal guests on their records, and Le Bon doesn’t let them down, with a superb vocal performance. As it goes, the song is interesting but doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the album, though it might be the biggest change from the band’s usual style.
“(I Miss The) Tokyo Skylines” has an absolutely stunning opening, as James’ vocals seem relaxed among an urgent sound, and you get the feeling Sean Moore had something to do with the electronic ambience that is a large part of the track. The gorgeous strings return to the close the track too soon.
Almost feeling like a lullaby, you can feel the band’s love for big band and swing as “Anthem for a Lost Cause” gets going, with one of the largest choruses on Rewind the Film. This could easily be a single, such is the catchy melody provided by the strings and vocals: “Take this, it’s yours – an anthem for a lost cause”.
Wire sings the verses in “As Holy as the Soil”, and does an admirable job. It must be hard to compete as a vocalist when you’ve got the powerhouse that is JDB around, especially when he sings the chorus and backing for the verses. There’s more depth to Wire’s voice than ever before though, and this is another stripped back tune – fairly catchy with a simple chord progression, and the horns are back, too.
“3 Ways to See Despair” is the darkest track on the album – feeling like it wouldn’t be out of place on Journal for Plague Lovers – but it’s musically clever enough to move just when you think you’ve got its number. One of the only tracks to contain anything close to a distorted guitar solo, running through the lyric “..and I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I pray that you’ll be beautiful again”. Bright acoustic guitar picking starts “Running out of Fantasy” – it’s pretty, and another track that doesn’t overdo it, holding back on the music and letting the lyrics breath. Nobody else could have written these words: “The obsession with change has bled me dry”, or “My eco-system is based on hatred”.
“Manorbier” is an instrumental track similar to the ones the band have used as b-sides. It’s nice enough, but can’t fully stack up against the class everywhere else on Rewind the Film, but serves as a fitting lead into the finale, ”30 Year War”, which is an astonishing end to an album that leaves you feeling exhausted. Wire’s lyrics are justifiably spiteful and angry, and as the opening horns make way for the enormous synth sound and huge bass guitar, you know you’re in for something special.
“It’s the longest running joke in history to kill the working classes in the name of liberty…the old boy network won the war again” – and by God, even writing it here stirs a fire in the belly that only a band as important as the Manic Street Preachers can provoke and inspire. James asks us “I ask you again, what is to be done?” and it may seem like “Who’s responsible? You fucking are!” was screamed a hundred years ago, but make no mistake, this band are as important as they’ve ever been, and this is a phenomenal album, full of unique soundscapes, terrific lyrics and fantastic musicianship.