NARC Magazine: July 2014
Posted on Monday, 30 June 2014 | No Comments
It's been quiet this month thanks to another house move: my internet access might be a little sporadic the next few weeks, but there should be some new articles (including the quarterly album round-up) coming imminently. For now though, a couple of album reviews and a preview of a very interesting looking exhibition that I contributed to the lastest issue of NARC...
Manic Street Preachers - Futurology
Don’t let the backwards R’s confuse you. This is not the band that made The Holy Bible, nor the one that entered into one final communion with their lost friend for the valedictory Journal for Plague Lovers. The Manic Street Preachers that return with their twelth – twelth! – studio album is instead one that is looking to the future with a renewed optimism and vigour.
Of course, the title alone is a bit of clue – you don’t call your album Futurology for nothing – but even so, to see the Manics return with a record this confident and energised at this stage of the game is a welcome shock, not so much a cry as a roar against the dying of the light.
Recorded during the same sessions that birthed last year’s solemn, acoustic-dominated Rewind The Film, these thirteen tracks see the band join the dots between the new-wave loving teenagers they once were and the globe-trotting arena-fillers they became. There’s eighties touchstones throughout the record: the opening title track is a jubilant, soaring anthem with more than a hint of Echo & the Bunnymen to it, Let’s Go To War a slinky death disco with more than a hint of Public Image Limited to it, whilst the beautiful Between The Clock And The Bed even goes as far as to rope in the talents of Scritti Polliti’s Green Garside.
It’s the dedication to modernity and progress rather than nostalgia that makes Futurology such a joy though. The attitude is summed up on album highlight Europa Geht Durch Mich, a bilingual stomp dedicated to the ideals of European integration. At a time of increased nationalistic tension and right-wing ascendance across the continent, thank goodness there’s someone out there still fighting the good fight. Thank goodness for the Manics, as bullish and bold as they’ve ever been.
As the long-running, frequently-changing project of David Bower, Comet Gain could be the twee equivalent of The Fall. But as their latest album Paperback Ghosts proves, they’re much too hermetic and self-focuses for such a charge to stick. When they try and rock out, as on the pseudo-spy theme Breaking Open The Head Pt. 1, the results don’t quite convince. Rather fittingly though, given the presence of former The Clientele bassist James Hornsey in this current incarnation, it’s when the music calms to a gentle orchestral swell that Bower’s literary flair is allowed to come to the forefront, and as such it’s songs like the gorgeous opener Long After Tonite’s Candles Are Blown and The Last Love Letter that linger the longest.
Preview - All That Is Solid
In his 1982 work All That Is Solid Melts into Air, the academic Marshall Berman examined the relationship between industrialisation and economic change and modernism as a cultural and social force. Calling on the work of Marx and Engels (from whom the title came from), he looked at the progression of industrialisation and how it affected modernism worldwide, from the Europe of the nineteenth century to New York in the 1960s and 1970s.
The title of the work, whilst not Berman’s own, became something of a post-modernist touchstone, a summation of how, since the Industrial Revolution, modernity uprooted and destroyed reality and replaced it with a new ‘real’. The repercussions of the rapid and dramatic cultural, economic and social shifts that the Industrial Revolution set in motion are still being felt today, whether we choose to understand it as such or not.
This is the backdrop against which the new exhibition All That Is Solid takes place. Curated by the award-winning artist Jeremy Deller, this multi-media piece encompasses painting, photography, film and music in order to tell a story of the effects of industrialisation on British society from the nineteenth century to the present day. Deller is not here to make dry didactic points – asked about the name of the exhibition, he talks of “its poetic quality, which is often forgotten in politics and political thought” – but to propose new questions and suggest hidden links.
One of the figures covered in the exhibition is the curious, fascinating Adrian Street, an ex-miner who subsequently became a glam-ed up wrestler. This incongruous tale has been noted in cult circles before (devotee of all things unacknowledged Luke Haines used an image of him posing down the mines for his band Black Box Recorder’s debut album England Made Me), but for Deller he represents something far larger about the history of the nation. “He made the journey out of heavy industry into the entertainment industry, from the nineteen to the twentieth century, all by himself when the whole country was attempting to do the same thing , so yes, he is very emblematic.”
One of the centrepieces of the collection comes from a work familiar to many due to its place in the Laing’s permanent collection, John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, one of the most dramatic and violent pieces of artwork to emerge out of the Industrial Revolution. As Deller explains, “I wanted to show that artists were approaching the concerns of the day in very different ways, and for me it is also a work about the potential for Victorian cities to implode. I needed a standout start to the show, and I got it with that work.”
Having already received critical acclaim and significant public interest in its previous displays in Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry, All That Is Solid now comes to the Laing Gallery to allow the north-east to ask new questions of its industrial past and post-industrial present and approach it with fresh eyes,