Album reviews: Manic Street Preachers | David Gray

James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers performs  in Galway, Ireland. Picture: Getty

James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers performs in Galway, Ireland. Picture: Getty

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AS PROMISED, Manic Street Preachers deliver their second album in a year. Futurology is hardly a companion to the recent Rewind The Film – one of their more audacious releases in the way it broke new ground for the band.

Manic Street Preachers: Futurology

Columbia

Star rating: ***

It’s more of a brazen, bombastic contrast, stuffed with references to European modernist and futurist artworks and haunted by the musical ghosts of Berlin’s legendary Hansa Studios, where it was partly recorded – at least in as much as David Bowie and Iggy Pop were key touchstones for Simple Minds, the true inspiration for much of the music here.

Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield has described the Scots arena rockers as “my true gods”; Futurology mainlines their early 80s synth pomp from Empires And Dance through to New Gold Dream, a period the Minds themselves have revisited of late.

Their influence is all over the stadium synth sound of brawny new single Walk Me To The Bridge. Manics acolytes may have a field day with its seeming references to the band’s missing-presumed-dead guitarist Richey Edwards (“so long my fatal friend, I don’t need this to end, I re-imagine the steps you took, still blinded by your intellect”) but the title and lyric actually concern a contemplative journey made by bassist Nicky Wire across the Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö (as featured on Nordic noir TV drama The Bridge).

Georgia Ruth guests on a rare restrained moment, Divine Youth, and Green Gartside of art pop veterans Scritti Politti is a soothing, soulful foil for Bradfield’s braying on another mordant meditation, Between The Clock And The Bed, named after the unsettling Munch self-portrait. But Futurology generally employs sledgehammer subtlety.

There is plenty of the Manics’ customary food for thought on Let’s Go To War, a chest-beating satire on the “shock doctrine” of disaster capitalism set to one of the best hooks on the album. They even berate themselves and their 2001 promotional trip to Cuba on The Next Jet To Leave Moscow, and are not afraid to open themselves to potential musical ridicule with some playful choices.

The Teutonic electro stomp Europa Geht Durch Mich, featuring German actress Nina Hoss, enters camp Laibach territory, while the burly and deeply unfashionable instrumental Dreaming A City (Hugheskova), aptly inspired by an industrial folly in Ukraine, sounds like Telstar as interpreted by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

POP

David Gray: Mutineers

Star rating: ***

IHT Records

It’s official: David Gray even bores himself. Mutineers, his tenth album, is a conscious effort to pull himself up by the bootstraps and address what he sees as his Noughties slump. “I’m working on it,” he keens at one point. As usual, any response to his work hangs on whether you can stomach Gray’s unfortunately whiny tone, still strangulated when he pushes for a big note. The songs are fine enough, but often rely on slightly off-kilter arrangements for their greatest feature of interest – the plangent piano on Gulls, the light, rhythmic backdrop to Girl Like You and the swelling string parts scattered throughout.

The Orwells: Disgraceland

Star rating: ***

Atlantic

With young guitar bands generally out of mainstream favour, unless producing the most banal pop blah, the signing of boisterous Chicago teens The Orwells is to be welcomed. That said, their music is equally conservative in its own well-worn tradition. Disgraceland celebrates youthful kicks (“makin’ out on the hood of my car” and the like) through the medium of bolshy indie rock, occasionally delivered with a bit of rootsy swing or an injection of garagey punk. As The Vaccines have already demonstrated, you can sell this sub-Strokes stuff again and again to the next generation of kids eager for a sonic tonic to the prevailing blandness. FIONA SHEPHERD

CLASSICAL

Lieder: Alma & Gustav Mahler

Star rating: ****

Linn

Any recording that couples Mahler’s songs with those of his wife, Alma, is a potent concoction. Firstly, Alma’s Fünf Lieder are as ravishing – possibly more so – than her husband’s Rückert Lieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, all of which feature in these rich and radiant performances by Scots mezzo soprano Karen Cargill and pianist Simon Lepper. The other factor is the personal one – Mahler’s initial insistence upon marriage that there was no room for another composer in a relationship and the one would have to be him. Thankfully he never fully supressed Alma, and we have these delicious songs– Straussian in parts – and these golden performances to prove it. KEN WALTON

FOLK

Kaela Rown: Menagerie

Star rating: ****

Shoogle Records

Kaela Rowan has made a name for herself over the years as a distinctive voice within the widely differing styles of Mouth Music and the Bevvy Sisters. Menagerie is her debut solo album and certainly a showcase for her sensuous and sinuously limber vocals. Couched in glistening accompaniments from the album’s producer, drummer and multi-instrumentalist James Mackintosh, with contributions from guests including his Shooglenifty colleagues Quee MacArthur and Luke Plumb, Rowan’s songs range from the creamy, multi-tracked croonings of the opening In Your Eyes to the soaring, fragile intensity of Apocalypse, over its languidly plinking kalimba. Her singing takes on a gripping narrative edge for the folky Ballad, with its shades of The Tinkerman’s Daughter, fey harmonies and dulcimer-like chiming. In contrast are the breathily ruminative meanderings of Woolgathering (mournful dog howls and all) and the summery drift of Mon Ami, while virtually the only song not penned by Rowan is a relaxed account of David Byrne’s This Must Be the Place. JIM GILCHRIST

JAZZ

Joshua Redman: Trios Live

Star rating: ****

Nonesuch Records

The saxophone trio remains an unforgiving arena, but one which continues to exert a powerful attraction. This disc features Redman with drummer Gregory Hutchinson and two different bass players – Matt Penman is heard on four tunes from a 2009 session at the Jazz Standard in New York, while Reuben Rogers is on three more recent recordings from Blues Alley in Washington, DC, in 2013. Redman’s powerful and inventive 
horn work on tenor and soprano saxophones provides the principal focus, but the exposed nature of the format means that all three players have to contribute fully to forging the music. Both combinations step up to the mark in convincing fashion as they stamp their authority and interpretations on a mixed programme comprising a couple of standards, Monk’s Trinkle, Tinkle, three Redman originals and their take on Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean. KENNY MATHIESON

WORLD

Sonido Gallo Negro: Sendero Mistico

Star rating: ***

Glitterbea

The title translates as “mystic path”, and this record does indeed open in a spooky ambiance. Sonido Gallo Negro – “black rooster sound” – are a nine-piece combo from Mexico City who draw on the spirit of Sixties Peruvian cumbia – cumbia being a pervasive Latin style with complex rhythm and syncopated melody. Their instruments include electric guitars plus an organ, a theremin, a flute and standard Latin percussion, and their effects can at times evoke spaghetti-western soundtracks, although they prefer to hark back to the culture of their Inca ancestors. MICHAEL CHURCH

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