by Mark Edwards
(Four stars out of five)
One of rock music's most famous commandments is "Don't look back". But, what the hell, rules are there to be broken. In the early 1990s, the Manics were known for breaking rules. We don't think of the modern version of the band in the same way - they're a bit safe now, a bit solid - but following the success of 2007's return-to-form Send Away the Tigers, today's Manics have decided they will attempt to relive their glorious youth. The catalyst is a notebook full of lyrics that former band-mate Richey Edwards left with them shortly before he disappeared. The band have handled this tragedy with dignity, and waited until Edwards was officially declared dead, last year, before turning these words into songs. Having done so, they went for broke and slapped a Jenny Saville painting on the cover, deliberately evoking comparisons with 1994's The Holy Bible, their best album. It's both arrogant (this is as good as anything we've done) and rather humble (we're only this good with Richey). More to the point, it rocks. Great riff follows great riff as we remember how much fun it is listening to James Dean Bradfield trying to fit Edwards's complex lyrics into hummable tunes.
It ends quietly. Nicky Wire provides fittingly uncertain vocals on William's Last Words, which hindsight turns into Edwards's suicide note. It's a touching end to a triumphant album.
[Originally published: The Sunday Times, 10 May 2009]