Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament Review
Written by Ewan Gleadow on 6th October 2021
Embarrassingly enough, the Cool Cymru movement of the early 1990s is not as terrible a name as the tide of Cool Brittania slogans that would soon follow. Manic Street Preachers smuggled themselves in the earlier, less notable outing of this “Cool Country Suffix” plague, despite their popularity taking a swift uptick once the likes of Pulp and Blur were topping the charts. It is the mistake of audiences everywhere that Manic Street Preachers are thrown into the Britpop era. One of the few bands from this pocket of joy to still churn out albums with vague consistency, The Ultra Vivid Lament marks another successful and inspired studio album from Manic Street Preachers.
Their ultra-vivid attempt at lamenting the past is a bold and earnest addition to their discography, but not their finest work. Manic Street Preachers march on ever still, and the consistency they have enlisted throughout The Ultra Vivid Lament is comforting and expressive enough. Opening track Still Snowing in Sapporo sets up that blend between recognisable sound and new beginnings for the band, who still impress almost thirty years on from their first album, Generation Terrorists. If Manic Street Preachers were hoping to enlist the effective reverb and crashing instrumentals hidden away on Everything Must Go, then they successfully recreate that strength on a few tracks throughout The Ultra Vivid Lament. A strong opening track gives them the right direction, but it does not erase the faults of later songs.
For an album that proclaims its lamenting ways so clearly, there is little reflection on display from the Welsh band. Recognising the success of their previous works and adapting them to new lyrics is not a contemplative choice, just a smart one. Where Manic Street Preachers do push through with new sounds, they play catch-up with the obvious tones of the modern era. Orwellian is the most alarming of all, throwing around the authoritarianism angle without much care. There is at least a semblance of understanding for what it could mean, but the lyrical consistency is a tad empty here. “The future finds the past, the books begin to burn,” has a nice ring to it and the guitar that backs it up is exceptional, but the relative meaning and what it means for the track has little bearing. Subtext is for cowards, a great man once said. Despite this setback, other tracks fare well. The Secret He Had Missed relies on featured artist Julia Cumming, and the track to follow it up, Quest for Ancient Colour, is one of the many pockets of developed grief to fill the album.
Aside from those staggered moments, Manic Street Preachers have crafted a comfortably strong album. The Ultra Vivid Lament fashions a strong understanding of some new topics, but its themes feel dated. Orwellian nightmares are predicted, not lived through, and the usage of the words and lyrics in many of the tracks feel a bit machine-like. It does not detract much from the strong musicianship, and the consistency Manic Street Preachers provide on this album is stunning. Odd it may be that the two singles to promote the album are the weakest songs, what it means for fans of the Welsh-born band is that the album is full of great surprises and interesting treats for the ears.