Sound — 9
I admit it. I had never heard of Manic Street Preachers before I was given "Futurology."
Wow, I was missing out.
After doing some research on the history of the band, I have come to believe that I had never heard of them before because I live in North America and their albums only seem to chart in Europe, doing especially well in the UK. For a band that has had staying power in Europe (now twelve successful albums since 1992), I am surprised they have not crossed over the ocean to America yet.
Since this is my first experience with Manic Street Preachers, I cannot fairly review this album in context of their whole career. For any devoted fans that may be looking for this type of review, I hope the provided tracks at the bottom will suffice; the tracks on the album are equal for the most part anyway. Of the little bit of history I was able to look at for this band, I thought it worth knowing that the band formed in 1986 in Wales. Manic Street Preachers are also the first band I have encountered that lost a band member due to disappearance; lyricist/guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared from his hotel room in February 1995 and was never heard from again.
Getting back to the album, the band's twelfth studio album, it can best be described as a unique brand of eclectic, almost pop, rock with great guitar work and musicianship. Despite Manic Street Preachers' general musicianship, what really jumps out at me in "Futurology" is their production values. They manage to incorporate electronic sounds into their music brilliantly so that the sounds don't sound tacky or overused. Essentially, Manic Street Preachers use the electronic sounds to touch up what they play with their instruments instead of overusing them to the point that they make the album feel entirely made from a computer. In addition, the electronics, along with good production in general, give the album a slightly techno feel. Not an overwhelming amount of techno, just a little, just enough.
Furthermore, Manic Street Preachers manage to create a vibe that is unlike anything I have ever heard. Their sound is not without its influences and influencers; I have heard bits and pieces of their vibe in bands like Oasis and White Lies. Yet, it almost seems like these bands were only scratching the surface of a type of sound that Manic Street Preachers uses to its full potential. Their songs are unique in that they create an experience that pervades through the entire album, making the album worth listening to all the way through, yet at the same time, their songs have great hooks and are immediately catchy like most pop songs. All of the instruments play equal roles in creating the vibe, making the songs thoroughly ingratiating for a musician, such as me. In a sense, this creates playback value; the album is deep enough to be worth listening to multiple times. Finally, it feels like there are no songs stronger than one or another; each song serves to add to the overall vibe of the album. Moreover, there is no filler material.
The guitar work on the album is very good even though it is not flashy or even center stage most of the time. For most of the album, the synergy between the bass and drums provides the base, allowing the guitars to weave in and out as needed. Guitarist James Dean Bradfield does an excellent job deciding if a lead or rhythm perspective would best suit each section of each song. Even if one was just to listen to his guitar parts out of context, one would find that the parts are interesting, catchy, and well thought out. As an aside, there are a good number of guitar solos across the album.
The only thing I could find wrong with the album is that it lacks a true standout song or moment. Basically, the level of energy is constant across the album so there is not a single "wow" moment. On the other hand, the album as a whole is a "wow" moment in itself, so this criticism is inconsequential.
As a side note, the verses of "Divine Youth" sounded suspiciously similar to certain parts in Guns N' Roses' "November Rain."
Lyrics — 7
The vocals are more than decent, though there are no killer choruses. Given the visceral nature of this album, it would make sense that there are not any. Still, the vocals never go over the top, which seems like something they should do because all the other instruments do. Again, the vocals are not bad; they are just not as special as the other instruments on the album. The vocals are at their best when harmonized.
The lyrics are strong. They have meaning, flow well, and give a coherent, not altogether different message each song. Here are some from the single "Walk Me to the Bridge":
"Driving slowly to the bridge,
With nothing left that we can give.
We smile at this ugly world.
It never really suited you.
Old songs leave long shadows,
Makes you shut down all your emotions.
Money needs money and slums need the poor.
Curled like an animal, lying on the floor
Curled like an animal, lying on the floor
So long, my fatal friend.
I don't need this."
Overall Impression — 8
In summary, "Futurology" is a refreshing addition by Manic Street Preachers to the musical world. Its unique vibe is punctuated by the masterful use of varying instruments and production techniques by the band to achieve it. The album is catchy enough to hook a listener fairly quickly and is also deep and interesting enough to keep said listener and warrant repeated plays by him/her. Manic Street Preachers' mix of British alternative rock with their own tendencies produces an album unique in its scope and feel.
While most of the songs are equal in value and meaning, a good starting place to listen to this album would be with "Let's Go to War," "Europa Geht Durch Mich," or "Sex, Power, Love, and Money."
Americans, take notice. I certainly did and I do not regret it.