Having long defended the credibility of the Manic Street Preachers throughout all the radio friendly, dare I say ‘Dad rock’, that the band have become known for in the 15 year absence of the iconic Richey Edwards, the prospect of a new album crafted from what Richey left behind could not be more exciting. Could they do the impossible and equal, or even better, 1994 masterpiece The Holy Bible – the album that somehow made all the 15 years of neutrality that followed worth it before they even happened? Billed by some as The Holy Bible, Part II, could they recapture that individuality that has never since been matched by the Manics or any other band alike?
Well, it’s a yes and a no. From the get go, there’s clear similarities between Journal…and …Bible. The samples are back; at least for some of the tracks, with opener ‘Peeled Apples’ perfectly introduced with a line The Machinist, “You know so little about me, what if I turn into a werewolf or something”. From, then on the first half of the album offers real promise, Richey’s lyrics deliver as expected, dazzling with both intellectual and introspective brilliance. However something’s different. Not better, nor worse, just different. Whilst on …Bible each song brimmed with a sinister undertones, on Journal… the remaining Manics are clearly a changed band. Richey’s wordplay may still be there, but other than closer ‘Bag Lady’ and the title track; which to keen ears bears a slight resemblance to ‘Revol’, musically they still sound like the chart botherers they have become in the last decade. Although the unconventional subject matter and titles are back, the edge has gone and as result Journal… at best feels like a compromise between old and new. That’s not to take anything away from tracks such as ‘Jackie Collins Existential Question Time’, ‘Me and Stephen Hawking’ and ‘Virginia State Epileptic Colony’ amongst some of the Manics’ best work in recent memory. However it’s ‘William’s The Last Words’, a more sombre offering performed by bassist Nicky Wire, that perhaps provides us with the one final glimpse of the ever troubled Richey with the line “ ’Cos I’m really tired, I’d love to go sleep and wake up happy”.
For any long serving Manics fan, Journal…is to an extent the album we have been waiting 15 years for, and for a long time an album that we doubted would ever happen. But it many ways it also isn’t. Whilst Richey’s lyrics one again shine, musically the Manics are stuck trying to please the masses rather than their rehashing the confrontational and often scary sound that made The Holy Bible so important and relevant. And it’s a real shame because Journal…is an album that delivers more consistently than the best bits of their most recent offerings combined. If only they’d been prepared to take it that one step further. “Nothing turns out like you want it to”.