Self-conscious students of pop history such as the Manics know a good pop narrative when they find one. In the pairing of 2013’s Rewind the Film album with this fleet follow-up, they’ve plotted a corker: a tale of resignation (“I can’t fight this war any more”) leading to renewal and reinvention. After its predecessor’s tender band refit, Futurology adopts more galvanising positions, drawing on 1970s Krautrock and 1980s art-pop to revitalise a belief that rock music should engage body and brain simultaneously.
Even if you didn’t know they recorded partly at Berlin’s Hansa Studio, the echoes of Low-vintage David Bowie (via early Simple Minds) in its cool, metallic glint will tell you. Kraftwerk and Neu! haunt its horizon-wide synths, while a nostalgia for pioneering pop surely motivated Scritti Politti free-radical Green Gartside’s guest vocal.
Elsewhere, the Manics’ band identity proves robust enough to withstand the tweaking. Often directed inwards in self-aware Manics style, the personal/political critiques in Nicky Wire’s lyrics show tireless oppositional instincts. James Dean Bradfield’s strident bark and rock-god guitar make extrovert work of his bandmate’s introspection. “Europa Geht Durch Mich” is the bilingual art-rock bulldozer you can punch the air to. On “Let’s Go to War”, stinging lyrics, wiry guitars, and an almost ludicrously rousing title chant reinstate and refresh a determination to risk ridicule for thoughtful, thrusting ends.
No one would begrudge the Manics the nostalgia quid nowadays, but this is something better: proof that they can still put up a fight. And keep a good story going.