CD Review: Manic Street Preachers, “Journal For Plague Lovers”

Journal For Plague Lovers

In November of 2008, Richey James Edwards (lyricist and guitarist for The Manic Street Preachers) was declared “presumed dead,” following his mysterious disappearance in 1995 at that cursed age of 27.  Just months earlier, the band had released The Holy Bible, what many critics consider to be the most depressing album of all time.

Though Richey had always written lyrics as though the weight of the world was pressing his fingers to the typewriter keys, The Holy Bible marked an especially dramatic, dark turning point in the band’s sound and attitude, which added further suspicions to the exact circumstances of his disappearance, and haunted his memory.

Months ago, when the surviving Manics announced that they were at work in the studio creating an album from the seed of Richey’s old writings, critics were quick to assume that the record in question would naturally be The Holy Bible’s “sequel.”

At first glance it is. Jenny Seville’s ambiguously disturbing painting of a boy’s bloodied, stunned face warns of the album’s honest brutality, much like her cover art for The Holy Bible did.  Take a look inside and the only image presented among the rows of neatly printed lyrics is that of Richey at the typewriter, consumed with concentration.  By all visual accounts, this is his album.

The music itself, however, prevents Plague Lovers from becoming the missing bookend to a life that it initially appears to be.  For Richey, The Holy Bible was terrifyingly autobiographical. The lyrics were cynical, powerful and painfully sharp; the music was aggressive, cold and almost machine-like.

Plague Lovers, on the other hand, pairs Richey’s “frozen in time words,” with the much-evolved-since sound of the Manics.  The final result still seems like a work in-progress—disjointed demos from a band waiting to hear input and approval from a long-gone friend and collaborator.   But, really, is that so bad?  If the music press continues to present the album as Richey’s epitaph, then yes, it is.  The writings found in Plague Lovers may only be scribblings from a long-forgotten notebook–the notebook of a brilliant man, no doubt, but a notebook that very probably contained unfinished works nonetheless.  The point?  Just take it for what it is, and you’ll enjoy the album mightily.

–Shelley Peckham

2 Responses

  1. […] BIG news for Manic Street Preachers fans:  The band has announced a long-awaited fall tour of North America.  (Check out our review of their latest album here.) […]

  2. […] Manic Street Preachers – Journal For Plague Lovers Review […]

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