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futurology-albumReleased: July 2014

After seemingly putting their back-catalogue in order with 2011’s singles collection National Treasures and following it up with last year’s subdued and contemplative Rewind The Film, it seemed that Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers were letting go of their youth to pursue a mature and dignified transition into middle-age. As it happens, this couldn’t be future from the truth. With Futurology, their 12th release, the Manics look to Europe for inspiration and return more energetic and vital than ever.

With its towering synths, mechanised drums and Euro-centric lyrics, Futurology is a very different beast to the misty-eyed Welsh-isms of Rewind The Film. Yet while the anthemic choruses of songs like Futurology and Walk Me To The Bridge recall the classic Manics sound of albums like Everything Must Go and Send Away The Tigers, this is easily one of their boldest, strangest releases.

Every aspect of Futurology, from its lyrics to its artwork to its coldly mechanical sound evoke that distinct ‘Berlin’ style and it’s amazing how alien some of these songs sound, while still firmly retaining that Manic Street Preachers feel.

Tracks like Misguided Missile or Let’s Go To War, with its delirious dystopian chant-along chorus, sound utterly unlike anything the Manics have ever recorded before and there’s even a pair of woozy sci-fi instrumentals that recall Muse as much as anything in the Manics’ back catalogue. Even the more straightforward songs contain surprises, such as the way the ominous lurch of lead single Walk Me To The Bridge suddenly gives way to an absolutely massive, fist-pumping chorus.

This distinctive aesthetic comes to a head with Europa Geht Durch Mich, the obvious thematic backbone of the album. Arresting synths blare out over a steely drum stomp while James Dean Bradfield belts out lyrics about “European skies” and “European desires” before being joined by German actress Nina Hoss, singing in German. It’s a truly bizarre moment, but one filled with such self-belief that it’s impossible not to be swept in the excitement.

It’s not all loud clanging and theatrics though and some of Futurology’s softer moments are just as impressive. The reflective Next Jet To Leave Moscow features some biting self-analysis while the only thing more surprising than Europa Geht Durch Mich is the band’s decision to follow such a monolithic song with the gentle and utterly gorgeous harp-led Devine Youth.

Indeed, far from winding down their remarkable career, it now seems like The Manic Street Preachers were merely taking stock before unleashing their latest salvo. Futurology is the sound of a band trying something new and going for broke in a way you really don’t expect from a group over 20 years into their career. It’s unexpected, unafraid, bonkers and brilliant.

★★★★

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