The world has changed a lot since 1986, when the Manic Street Preachers were formed. The politicians in charge are different; Richey Edwards is gone, hopefully at peace somewhere. Yet “culture, alienation, boredom, and despair” are still as relevant as ever, and Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield, and Sean Moore are still game to create meaningful songs about them. The latest addition to their discography is Resistance Is Futile, their thirteenth album. Continuing the trend seen in their recent work, the record shows that maturity can come without a loss of ferocity.
“People Give In” is the first star in this constellation. The title is misleadingly depressing. Although the lyrics start out downcast—“People get forgotten/People get sold”—the song’s twinkling instrumentation and bounding beat soon give way to an uplifting message: “People stay strong.” The Manics aren’t exactly known for being cheery, but they seem completely earnest in their motivation here. When the strings come in during the chorus, there’s no doubt that this is the very band that blessed the world with “A Design for Life” two decades ago—a single that comes from a different time and place, but betrays the same pressing need for faith in humanity. Admittedly, even in 2018, it’s hard not to classify all of the band’s music since Everything Must Go as “post-Richey.” As a “post-Richey” song, this is a triumph, both tonally and in execution.
“International Blue,” the next track, is one of the album’s strongest. It starts out with a power play of a guitar riff; then Bradfield jumps in to sing about a truly unique topic: “international blue,” a.k.a. “International Klein Blue,” a color created by the French painter Yves Klein. Scattered with phrases like “monochrome desire” and “a soundtrack to the void,” it’s some of Wire’s best work as a songwriter. The track is a reminder that the Manics have never been satisfied with singing about nebulous events and feelings in circuitous sentence fragments. Here, as in the past, their subjects are specific and intriguing. For example, later in the album, “Dylan and Caitlin” tells the story of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (of “Do not go gentle into that good night” fame) and his wife Caitlin, true to the Manics’ old tradition of promoting writers. Their practice of curating history and throwing political punches is alive, as well; “Liverpool Revisited” is a tribute to the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster, and “Sequels of Forgotten Wars” is about injustice. These songs aren’t just intellectually stimulating—they’re musically resolute, as well, which is what has always kept the Manic Street Preachers from seeming too, well, preachy.
Speaking of musical ability, the guitars on this album are particularly stunning. “Liverpool Revisited” has a surprise guitar solo from Nicky Wire that serves as the perfect climax. “In Eternity” features another electric solo before fading into a gentle acoustic coda. In “Broken Algorithms,” guitars are a constant presence, adding intensity to every word Bradfield sings in a way that evokes the rollicking spirit of the late ‘80s and early ’90s.
“Hold Me Like a Heaven” is a sweet ballad backed by “whoa”s that craft a sense of gravitas. The song is a simple plea for love, but lyrics like “I hate the world more than I hate myself” and “Tattered manifestos litter the mind” give it the sense of grit that the Manics have always maintained. “The Left Behind” is an interesting choice for the last song on the album. The words “Waiting for the end of time/Waiting to be left behind” aren’t the most optimistic words to end on; nor do they seem the most accurate. Will the Manics be “left behind” in the Year 3000? Who can say? For now, though, it seems that they’re building a solid legacy.
Resistance Is Futile is a natural progression of the Manic Street Preachers’ career. Steadfast and sincere, realistic as ever but looking toward a bright horizon, it’s a must for any fan. Let’s hope Nicky, Sean, and James won’t be able to resist the urge to make a fourteenth album.