Futurology may well be the most surprising release of 2014. No one who listened to last year’s downhearted Rewind The Film could possibly have believed an album this buoyant, charming or self-deprecating was even a remote possibility for the Manic Street Preachers. Strangely, this sudden shift in mood didn’t take place over the course of 12 months; Futurology was recorded at the exact same time as Rewind The Film in Berlin’s Hansa studios.
The Manics sound utterly rejuvenated as they revel in krautrock and firm heeled, but twinkle toed, glam. Over the course of 13 joyous tracks the Welsh stalwarts recall Neu!, Goldfrapp, Huey Lewis and The News, Simple Minds and Goldfrapp respectively. The end result recalls the most glorious underground 80s disco imaginable - some diamond-studded sweatbox shaking the concrete walls of Communist ruled East Berlin.
Confidence exudes at every turn. The Manics’ tendency for bookish obfuscation is not repressed, but smoothed effortlessly into a slick whole that pairs intelligence with hit making and electronic textures with booming guitars. James Dean Bradfield manages to fold his stately choruses into the pulsating, sleuthy, grooves of “Misguided Missile” and the glittering stomp of “Europa Geht Druch Mich”. If it weren’t for the bombastic “Sex, Power, Love and Money” it would be nearly impossible to find any link to the dynamic rockers who idolized Guns ‘N Roses in youth.
Lyrically, the band stray just far enough from their usual themes to pique even the most cynical listener’s interest. “The Next Jet To Leave Moscow” pokes fun at Nicky Wire’s conflicting ideals (“An old jaded commie…I’m the biggest living hypocrite you’ll ever see…so take the badges off and do your show”) while the title track offers a circumspect analysis of the bands varying fortunes in old age. The Manics have always been too willing to set the world to rights and it is refreshing to hear them lighten up without dumbing down, turning the spotlight on themselves.
Changing the face of music, let alone the world, is seemingly beyond the Manic Street Preachers at this point, but an abrupt about face is certainly not. Futurology is legitimately daring. Witness the brazen destruction of the late career rulebook. Why waste time tentatively retreading old ground when you could master new sonic frontiers?
The ideas may be old, but this album sounds new. The Manics have taken a good, hard, look at Berlin’s musical landscape and created an album that is true to the city’s character, revitalizing to their careers and undeniably enjoyable. Futurology is an unexpected delight.
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