– a C. Bale quote from the film „The Machinist“, the first thing you hear when you pop in „Journal for Plague Lovers“.
This beast is warm off the assembly line, officially released yesterday. And ZA/UM is reviewing it for you today. Right off the bat: if you don’t like rawk (crank this mofo up and jump on your bed style rock music totally devoid of indie sensibilities), piss right off.Still here? Good. It’s 1995 and these Welsh left-wing slouganeers have just lost their main lyricist, Richey Edwards. Yes, it’s the kind of band that has „a lyricist“ - someone who writes political lyrics and pretends to play rhythm guitar live. This young man is called Richey James Edwards and he disappears without a trace after the band has released their masterpiece - „The Holy Bible“ - widely considered too articulate, intelligent, and stylish for most people to actually listen to it. Just have a glance at this, the most harrowing of all Wikipedia entries.
14 years later, The Manics (as the band’s abbreviated) are still going strong, having recaptured the attention of the mainstream music press with a pathetic cop-out album of soft-rock nonsense, the 2007 LP „Send Away the Tigers“. After this, the boys are in serious need of some vindication. They know it and Richey Edwards knows it. In case you were wondering where he went, he’s a citizen of Antártica, the Chilean Antarctic Territory. Along with Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain.
So in 2009 the Manics crack open a notebook of lyrics left to them by this disappeared lyricist and write an album-full of song to his obscure scribbles. It’s called „Journal for Plague Lovers“ and it’s a kind of conceptual musical journal, comprised of furious, 2-minute excerpts. It’s produced by Steve Albini - a rock-producer widely considered too demo-esque, and RAW for people to actually listen to his albums (with possibly the exception of Nirvana’s „In Utero“). And the results of this pairing are solid. In fact, "Jorunal" is incomparable to „Send Away the Tigers“ and comparable to, but not as good as „The Holy Bible“ - a comparison the band has asked for, dubbing it „The Holy Bible part II“
Most of all, this is music for those who've had enough of the kind of "sonic experimentation" that comes down to songs starting off with one and a half minute of Brian Eno, falling asleep on his synthesizer (U2´s „No Line on the Horizon“ and Coldplay’s „Viva la Vida“). All 14 tracks boast sharp, angular guitar riffs and massive, basement-sounding drums. This is immediate and admirably produced music. In fact it's so awkwardly raw it takes a while for these songs to grow on you. But when they do, a vital-sounding collage of rockers emerges. The bass crunch on opener „Peeled Apples“ is as good as one gets, while album highlight „Marlon J.D.“ throws in some perfectly dated synth-drums and a guitar riff from The Cure circa 1983, saying „I will not beg because / this is how I am“. This collage is punctured by some delicate acoustic numbers that somehow convey the same sense of rawness. „Facing page: top left“ (are you getting the journal vibe?) is perhaps the best of these, all acoustic guitar and harp picking.
As is customary to rock records, there’s some pointless filler („Pretension/Repulsion“ tries REM’s „Murmur“ on and fails) and some very good filler („Doors Slowly Closing“ is another track that reminisces 80’s The Cure, with some lyrical highlights, courtesy of Mr. Richey Edwards: „listen to the selfish ones / they are the voice of accomplishment.“ ). All and all this is not the post punk claustrophobia of „The Holy Bible“, it’s a a healthy sonic development from that.
Even if you don’t appreciate the band itself and their music, from a cultural perspective I highly suggest you take a listen to „Journal“ as it perfectly demonstrates how rock music should be produced and how it has not been produced for the last decade. 7.5/10
PS - I put that Jenny Saville painting on the cover up there as large as I could, so you could get a load of how utterly, utterly sublime it is.