earthings! 2018: My ten favorites of the year

It’s our very last post for 2018, which means it’s time to reveal my ten favorite songs of the year – although chances are, if you’ve been reading this blog more religiously than most, or have a good idea of what I am into, then you’d have guessed some of the songs on this list. For this year, I decided not to have a massive reckoning some time from the beginning of December (too much pressure, that) but instead made up this list as the year went along. It didn’t make it easier: the tenth song (again, this list is in alphabetical order) was added just a few days ago, and that was a song I actually took off the list. I won’t tell you what that is… [NB]

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Review: Resistance is Futile by Manic Street Preachers

Resistance is Futile by Manic Street PreachersThe Manic Street Preachers called their 2010 album, Postcards From A Young Man, their “one last shot at mass communication”, and that was filled with bombastic, definitely arena-friendly delights. I mention this because, judging from Resistance is Futile‘s first two singles – “International Blue” and “Distant Colors” – I thought this new album would be another one of those last shots. Not really. There’s a bit of uncertainty cutting across the record, and outside the lyrics you hear it in the slightly muted take on their (arguably) orchestral pop, a couple of notches above Rewind the Film. It’s not exactly something that hits you at first try – so much for the resistance I was expecting to do – but the beauty still is in the introspection, sometimes hit and miss, but still elegant at its best, and trying its best to be at its… least best. Also, at least the band does not sound uninspired, like in some of their later records. It’s just a different kind of energy coursing through this. It takes a while. [NB]3/5

Review: Futurology by Manic Street Preachers

Futurology by Manic Street PreachersThe Manic Street Preachers called their tenth album, Postcards From A Young Man, their “one last shot at mass communication”. Their eleventh album, Rewind the Film, was a mostly unplugged affair, horns and acoustic guitars leading an effort that sounds much more elegiac than Lifeblood ever was. Their latest album, Futurology, couldn’t be any different: it’s pulsating, it’s riveting, it’s… an attempt at mass communication, at being flashy to get attention. Granted, the record is more influenced by krautrock than by arena rock, with sci-fi flourishes showing up throughout. The thesis statement is very much political: the tug-of-war within Europe, of old perspectives and new hopes, illustrated by the motifs of “Europa Geht Durch Mich” peppered across the record. It is, very much, challenging material, at par with the Manics’ earlier efforts. And it’s brilliant. It’s no surprise the band hasn’t settled for anything less – it’s a surprise they return to something akin to Generation Terrorists, but it just shows that no matter how they go about it, they will never cease having something to say. [NB]4/5

Review: Rewind the Film by Manic Street Preachers

Rewind the Film by Manic Street PreachersRewind the Film is a massive tonal shift from the last Manic Street Preachers album. Granted, Postcards from a Young Man was described by the band as their “one last shot at mass communication”; while that was out-and-out arena rock, this one goes deep into AM-lite territory. The electric guitars are essentially tossed out, replaced by the unplugged stuff, plus some horns and a bit of atmosphere. The record’s a bit like a favorite sweater; it feels worn but warm and comfortable. (The album’s collaborators – Richard Hawley, Lucy Rose, Cate Le Bon – point towards this.) And yet the whole sound is subversive, partly because of what we expect the Manics to sound – those of us who think their best stuff were their rousing anthems in the 1990s – but mostly because the songs in here are still astutely observed, Nicky Wire’s way with words and James Dean Bradfield’s silent yelp elevating what should be, even to me, an album to fall asleep to after a long night. When “30-Year War” closes the album with a more familiar sound, you realize the cocktail-ness of Rewind the Film, with its focus on growing old and dying, is the most subversive of it all. [NB] | 4/5

“Hi, Time magazine. Hi, Pulitzer Prize.”

“Kevin Carter” by the Manic Street Preachers | Over the blog’s two-week break (and still up to now) I’ve been gorging myself with this classic from the Manics – off their 1996 reinvention of sorts, Everything Must Go – inspired by the Pulitzer-winning photographer Kevin Carter, who took this photo and later committed suicide, perhaps not necessarily because of the former. Hearing this song again a few months ago made me want to buy that book on the Bang-Bang Club, four photographers who found themselves in the middle of the uprising against apartheid: I wonder if our local bookstores have that? The video’s classy, too. But then you think of all that Kevin and his contemporaries saw, and you go, “you can’t trivialize all that by talking about the bass line on a Manic Street Preachers song.”