Album reviews: Manic Street Preachers | Bill Wells

Manic Street Preachers are back with a new album. Picture: Contributed
Manic Street Preachers are back with a new album. Picture: Contributed
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DESPITE the welcome fact that they’re one of the few high-profile bands in the UK to still consider political consciousness and crowd-pleasing music to be compatible, the Manic Street Preachers have often adopted an emperor’s new clothes approach to their radical topics.

Manic Street Preachers - Futurology


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They’re sloganeers much more than chroniclers, and sometimes the pop politicisation of their music works against it, particularly when their musical default setting remains a kind of bombastic arena Britpop set off by James Dean Bradfield’s punk-styled sneer.

Their 12th studio album shows a definite aesthetic being developed, which – despite the album’s title – finds its roots in Cold War chic, Ostalgie and Russian Revolutionary ideas. Into this melange fall the Manics-by-numbers title track, the mid-80s Simple Minds analogue Walk Me To The Bridge and the hard-nosed, vaguely camp battle chant Let’s Go To War, a head-shaking summation of the mood of our times.

The Next Jet To Leave Moscow is a clear stand-out, a soaring, synth-led indie-rocker which pokes fun at the band’s own PR trip to Cuba, while Europa Geht Durch Mich is wonderfully leftfield by the Manics’ standards, a chugging Euro-rocker in the mould of Goldfrapp. But despite chunks of prime Manics anthemics in Black Square and Misguided Missile and some arch political references (to the Welsh founder of the city of Donetsk on raw industrial grind Dreaming A City (Hughesovka) and to the Russian Futurist theatremaker on Mayakovsky), the component parts of an era-defining record don’t quite bolt together.

Download this: Europa Geht Durch Mich, Between The Clock And The Bed

Example - Live Life Living


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“Spring is here and we’re happy till next year,” hollers Elliot “Example” Gleave on this album’s opener Next Year, and it’s a simple sentiment which defines a simple record. By the following Kids Again he’s exhorting us to “behave like kids again”, all swooping EDM synth rushes and big bass beats straight off the terrace at Space in Ibiza. Gleave has previous here and that’s the problem, creating yet another dot-joining parade of party-hard anthems of inflexible pace, little tonal variety and shallow emotional variety beyond the sense that nights out are good and mornings after are not so great.

Download: Next Year, 10 Million People

National Jazz Trio Of Scotland - Standards Vol. III

Karaoke Kalk

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As the many aficionados of Scottish pianist and composer Bill Wells’ work well know, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland are neither a jazz group nor a trio. What they are is a very welcome excursion into sonic hinterlands courtesy of Wells and three female singers. This third outing of theirs is unremittingly lovely, from the ambient pop and hiss of Alive And Well to the California-style guitar-picking minimalism of Rare Species and the looping, Japanese-influenced musical poem Buchanan Street, while there’s a hint of The Girl From Ipanema to Surprising Word. A harmonised a capella cover of the Beach Boys’ With Me Tonight is also simple and inspired.

Download: Rare Species, Buchanan Street



Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden - Last Dance

ECM 2399

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In 2007, mercurial pianist Keith Jarrett and his once-regular bassist, Charlie Haden, were reunited in the recording studio for the first time in 30 years. The result was the acclaimed 2010 duo album Jasmine, a collection of standards. Now comes this new release – an exquisite selection of ballads – from the same 2007 recording sessions. Very much a series of duets or musical dialogues (rather than piano with bass accompaniment), it is a gorgeous, classy, warm and relaxed affair which has tremendous appeal even to those jazz fans who would normally run a mile from a Jarrett album.

Download: It Might As Well Be Spring



Gizzen Briggs/Tain Royal Academy - Making their Mark

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It’s been around for centuries, the name of those treacherous sands that guard the entrance into the Dornoch Firth – but for 20 years it’s been the handle for the combined talents of this dynamic bunch of musical schoolchildren. This album celebrates the cross-cultural breadth of tradition infused through the blood lines in this part of Easter Ross and Sutherland. A good number of the pupils are from traditional music-playing families, and the group has toured across Scotland and to the US and Holland. Here they make an emotionally charged compilation, rich with strong performances, never too hasty, and always hitting their sparky but subtle ensemble fusion.

Download: Wee Michael’s March



Johann Adolf Hasse - Rokoko

Decca 478 6418

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For his debut album with Decca, the Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic focuses on opera arias by Johann Adolf Hasse, who dominated the music scene in central Europe for almost half a century, wrote for some of the leading singers of the day (including his wife), but was almost immediately eclipsed in later life by Mozart’s rise, and almost immediately forgotten after his death.

Cencic, a former Vienna Boys’ Choir member who began his career as a male soprano before retraining as a countertenor, demonstrates a powerful, evocative voice in a fine recording with George Petrou conducting the Armonia Atenea which should do much to bring modern attention to Hasse’s music, including through the seven world premiere recordings on this disc. Setting aside the interesting but thematically unnecessary Mandolin Concerto would have allowed more.

Download: Track 14, Tito Vespasiano: Opprimete I contumaci