Resitance Is Futile, the 13th album from Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers, grapples with uncertainty and the erosion of belief in institutions and in yourself. This sense of isolation is reflected in the cover art, Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz’s 1881 photograph of one of Japan’s last samurai. It’s a striking, iconoclastic image that suits this iconoclastic, doggedly determined band. Resistance is joyful but shot through with sober realism. It attempts to stave off the creeping weight of personal loss, demoralization, and doubt by taking comfort in passions, and the way they can replenish and energize. It does this with an effervescent mix of extroverted guitars, James Dean Bradfield’s passionate vocals, electronic flourishes, and an honest attitude that bleeds what the band have referred to as “widescreen melancholy.”
Many of the album’s songs focus on an artist, place, or idea that has inspired the band. “International Blue” celebrates the Nouveau réalisme art of Yves Klein with soaring, stirring strings and guitar heroics. The punchy “Liverpool Revisited” derives strength from the tenacious grassroots response to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. On “Vivian,” the band uses thoughtful pianos, guitars reminiscent of Queen, and the clicking of camera shutters to marvel at the photography and secret life of Vivian Maier. “Dylan & Caitlin” explores the fiery and tempestuous relationship between Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara via a superb, Motown backbeat-infused duet with fellow Welshperson and like-minded soul Catherine AD (aka The Anchoress). The glam metal stomp of “In Eternity” is a highly fitting way to eulogize and celebrate the art, style, and unique legacy of David Bowie.
Elsewhere, bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire sighs and scrutinizes what isn’t working. The storming “Broken Algorithms” bristles at the perceived polarization and damage to discourse brought on by social media. It conjures the spirit of the band’s earliest albums with its wiry, ferocious guitars. Album closer “The Left Behind“ laments a sense of personal brokenness, and hangs sharp and heavy, sounding like listening to Joy Division on an old Walkman while shuffling down the darkened corridor of a school at night.
One of the album’s best songs, the anthemic “Hold Me Like a Heaven,” fuses the two perspectives. With glistening keyboards, resounding “whoa oh oh ohs,” and an indelible chorus, it’s heavy with disillusionment but tempered with the lightness of searching for meaning, of the hope that there’s still something to place lost faith in. It’s reassuring and affecting in an immediate way, like someone putting their arm around you and saying “I understand. It’ll be OK.”
In a present where the notion of privacy sometimes feels like a relic, Resistance Is Futile is a reminder of the value of the quiet, richly spacious worlds we build inside ourselves from the things that matter to us. This is a record that simultaneously looks forward and backward—no mean feat in a time when it often seems difficult enough to honestly examine your present. After nearly 30 years as a band, the Manics continue to find new ways to search, to question, to do whatever they can to keep their fires burning and to tell us their truth. It’s a comfort and inspiration of the type they sing of for those of us who listen. | Mike Rengel