Manic Street Preachers - Postcard From A Young Man (***)
This is, according to Nicky Wire, the Manics’ “last chance to attempt to communicate on a mass level” – a peculiar statement, considering it follows the double punch of Send Away the Tigers’ streamlined pop and Journal For Plague Lovers’ abrasive yet widely-celebrated Richey-era throwback.
Postcards has some fine moments, but falls short of its immediate predecessors: not a fault of the period they’ve dusted off this time round (their late nineties, grandiose orchestral phase), but of the bloated execution. Most tracks come swamped in strings, while the arrival of a gospel choir on Some Kind of Nothingness overeggs an already stuffed pudding.Why they felt such a move necessary is a mystery; their late renaissance has thus far birthed a top 3 hit and some of the best reviews of their career. It seems that in trying to second-guess what the massed classes want, they’ve ever-so-slightly taken their eye off the ball.
The Vaselines - Sex With An X (****)
It’s not a record-breaker, but a twenty-year gap between albums warrants comment; to put it in context, a wall segmented Berlin last time The Vaselines had a new full-length in stores. Things change, in other words, and with Sex With An X’s arrival, two horrible possibilities suggest themselves: that they stubbornly haven’t developed at all (stagnation), or that they’ve changed absolutely (shedding the sound that posthumously made them cult indie heroes first time round).
Thankfully, their re-emergence occupies a glorious middle ground – recognisably the same band yet far fresher than might have been expected (and hornier too – where debut Dum Dum led with Sex Sux (Amen), this record’s title track cheerily proclaims “Feels so good… let’s do it again.”). I Hate the 80s mines irony lightly, rapping the knuckles of every revivalist with selective memory (“What do you know? You weren’t there - it wasn’t all Duran Duran Duran Duran” they chide), its wit helping to make it one highlight amongst many. Elsewhere, Overweight But Over You strides and stomps on an incessant Northern Soul-style beat, Ruined blasts its pop with copious feedback, while Whitechapel is dream-pop bliss, making the prospect of another double-decade hiatus hard to bear.
Pacific! - Narcissus (****)
As synthetic harpsichord razors through Jean-Michelle Jarre futurism, the atmosphere conjured by Swedish duo Pacific! on opener Arcadia is so thick with ludicrous dramatics that you half expect Richard Burton to announce an impending Martian invasion. From the splendidly ridiculous new-age cover art to each track’s lengthy sub-titles (Halfheart – A Heartbroken Echo is Swallowed by the Rocks and Becomes a True Echo to offer one snappy example), Pacific! are boldly absurd.Yet they navigate their retro final frontier with great finesse; although conceived to soundtrack a modern ballet, Narcissus works sans choreography, particularly if you harbour affection for Daft Punk (with the emphasis on Daft), Kate Bush (evoked on the delicate From Lips Divine) or aforementioned gallic electro-wizard Jarre. Even if those particular touchstones don’t tickle your fancy, give Venus Rising a try: echoing Goldfrapp’s calling card Lovely Head, its laid-back space-disco vibe constitutes the album’s finest interstellar segment.