Expectations, as lofty as they once were, have expectedly declined for Manic Street Preachers, one of the most popular Welsh bands of the past twenty years. While the trio’s previous two albums, Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood, did well on the charts and received little complaints from their massive fan base, the songwriting was noticeably lacking compared to the band’s earlier classics in the vein of The Holy Bible or Everything Must Go. Even so, one must take into consideration that the Manic Street Preachers were stereotypically not even expected to be capable of releasing anything of a qualitative nature following the disappearance of their guitarist and creative tour de force Richey James Edwards in 1995. The Edwards incident remains a mystery and most likely will maintain the same status, which opted the Manic Street Preachers to move past the disappearance and release five albums in his absence. While Edwards’ involvement in 1994’s breakthrough The Holy Bible still distinguishes the album as arguably the band’s best, the three remaining members in guitarist and vocalist James Dean Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire, and drummer Sean Moore shifted the band’s general sound from political punk to a more mid-90s alternative rock introspective.
Send Away The Tigers, the band’s eighth studio album and fifth without Edwards, gives off an odd first impression through an odd selection of cover art. While the Manics have previously been known to incorporate earnest covers either depicting traditional promo photographs or boldly vague political statements, Send Away The Tigers features two scantily clad young women dressed in what appears to be fairy costumes. While the band’s own sociological statement can be interpreted a variety of ways as far as the art goes, I took it as first indication that the trio may be letting themselves hang loose for the first time in several years. Even though their previous album, Lifeblood, contained a couple of somewhat memorable songs, it turned out to be a rather somber album complemented by a poker face of emotions. The departure from catchy guitar-oriented hooks to a more pensive keyboard-centric political statement was evident and I personally found it to be a bit disappointing in terms of results, though it is difficult to blame them for the transition in sound after the musical failure that was Know Your Enemy. Seeing criticisms in their past two releases, the Manics decided to bring back producer Dave Eringa in an attempt to revive their raw sound of the past.
Fortunately, this somewhat humorous image proved to be a foreshadowing of the band’s rediscovery of their old loosely invigorated sound; a sound similar to the type that found them initial success fifteen years ago. From the first track on the album, “Send In The Tigers”, it shows that the Manic Street Preachers have once again established a sound of quality, one of which they appeared to have left behind nine years ago since their last commendable album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Led astray by a slight organ in its first moments, “Send In The Tigers” is picked up by a pair of bodacious guitar riffs, captured intimately by Bradfield’s vocals, all of which surprisingly similar in quality to my personal favorite Manics album, Everything Must Go, the release in 1996 that set forth the band’s slight alternative-rock transition. This approach is continued on “Underdogs”, an embodiment of arena-rock that utilizes Bradfield’s soaring vocals with a chorus that nearly reaches the heights of the classic “A Design for Life”. While the first two tracks on the album represent the best material the Manic Street Preachers have written in nine years, the rest of the album is contained to be a mixed bag of sorts, even if the lovable alternative approach remains consistent.
The album’s first single, “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”, is already one of the biggest hits of the Manic Street Preachers’ lengthy career. Currently #2 on the UK charts behind a Beyonce-Shakira collaboration, the Manics single features Nina Persson, the lead vocalist in Swedish indie-pop staples The Cardigan, on vocals in a duet with Bradfield. Though the song repeats itself too often and structure and offers a substantial amount of predictability through formulaic riffs and melodic turns, it is easy to recognize why the song is seeing so much success. Bradfield and Persson both relay a radio-friendly charm that works wonders for the airwaves, crooning over one of the many sets of strings featured on Send Away The Tigers. “You stole the sun straight from my heart,” both sing, recalling the lyrics from a Manics song that appeared in 1998, “You Stole the Sun from My Heart”. While several tracks like “Winterlovers” and “I Am Just A Patsy” drag on too long for their own good, hectic songs in the exceptional form of the excitable “Rendition” or the alluring radiance of “The Second Great Depression” recalls the fantastic early days of the band, with “Rendition” and “Indian Summer” sounding like the nostalgic Manics charm that fans were merely teased with in the abruptly enjoyable single, “The Masses Against The Classes”. In being one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, Send Away The Tigers is the strongest album from the Manic Street Preachers in almost ten years. Apart from a few forgettable tracks, it is certainly worth a listen for all those who foolishly gave up hope on the Manics. Send Away The Tigers was released on May 7th.