For a band who have continually reinvented themselves over the years, from the young androgynous punk upstarts who gave us Generation Terrorists, to the virtiolic The Holy Bible era, and the Britpop conquering albums Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the Manic Street Preachers 14th studio LP The Ultra Vivid Lament still carries with it a big surprise.
Throughout their 35-year career, across all their various stages, the Manics have always been a guitar band. Each incarnation of their sound has been driven by frontman James Dean Bradfield’s compositions, ably supported by his cousin, drummer Sean Moore. Though bassist Nicky Wire and lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards, before his sad disappearance in 1995, were often the band’s mouthpieces, their spiritual leaders if you like, musically it was Bradfield and his trademark white Les Paul guitar that shaped their sound.
On The Ultra Vivid Lament, though, Bradfield has put the six string to one side and instead crafted each track on the piano, having taught himself to play over the course of lockdown. The inspiration, it seems, came from the likes of ABBA and Neil Diamond, acts who were at the forefront when the Manics themselves were kids, and the result is a set of gloriously rich songs that rank up there with some of the best the band have ever produced.