“What is the future of the future?” asks James Dean Bradfield on the Manic Street Preachers’ latest release, Resistance Is Futile. In the 32 years that the Welsh three-piece have been together, their idiosyncratic blend of bombastic stadium rock and sharp-eyed cultural commentary has made them one of Britain’s most beloved bands. But is there still a place for the Manics in this era of Snapchat and Brexit?
Resistance Is Futile, the band’s thirteenth studio album, finds them treading familiar ground. That’s not to say they’re phoning it in: they’re simply doing what they do best. On the orchestral, expansive album opener—and “Design for Life” update—“People Give In,” Bradfield still has to shoehorn bassist/lyricist Nicky Wire’s words around his melodies, giving their big, sweeping sound the jagged edges that make it beautiful. Bradfield still knows the perfect moment for an arpeggio-filled guitar solo, and his voice, while not quite as limber as on previous records, still hits the high notes of first single “International Blue” almost effortlessly. At this point in their career, they’re a well-oiled machine. But they’re still unsure of where exactly they fit in these days.
The Manics have always questioned authority. In the driving “Broken Algorithms,” the lyric “As you caress the beauty of your screens / Remember the mission to own your dreams” isn’t so far from early Manics exhortations like “Repeat after me, fuck Queen and country.” They’re still reminding you to be suspicious of the establishment and the pablum it feeds you, whether that means rejecting the monarchy or deleting your Facebook account.
Now, though, they’re wondering whether it’s all been for naught: has the world moved on without them? “Nowhere to go for rock n’ roll,” Bradfield complains in the spiky, irascible-sounding “Sequels of Forgotten Wars.” “Are we living in the past?” he asks in the sparkling, melancholy “Distant Colours,” and, indeed, the song sounds like a reworking of “Australia,” from the classic Manics album Everything Must Go (1996).
“The Left Behind,” which features Bradfield not singing so much as murmuring over a soundscape drenched in sadness, finds them “waiting for the end of time / Waiting to be left behind.” Almost every song on the album touches on this fear of obsolescence. “That’s the idea of the Samurai warrior [on the Resistance album cover] being an analogy for us,” Wire recently told Noisey. “Everyone else has their iPhones and we’ve still got our guitars.”
Despite their fears, the Manics soldier on. As they’ve always done, they turn to their beloved art for solace: “Dylan and Caitlin,” an ode to Welsh playwright Dylan Thomas and his doomed relationship with his wife, is another great duet in the vein of “Your Love Alone is Not Enough,” and features fellow Welsh musician The Anchoress as the lovelorn Caitlin Thomas. “Vivian,” about Vivian Maier, a nanny whose stunning photos of street life weren’t discovered until after her death, brims with energy. On “International Blue,” they achieve peak Manics, balancing Wire’s avant-garde sensibilities against Bradfield’s guitar aerobatics and letting the song soar into the brilliant sky.
They may be questioning their future, but the Manic Street Preachers don’t sound like they’re ready to give up just yet.
Notable Tracks: “Distant Colours” | “International Blue” | “The Left Behind”