Released: Sony Records, 1 November 2004
Peak UK Chart Position: #13
For much of 2002 and 2003, Manic Street Preachers had – at least outwardly – trained their focus on the past. Their first greatest hits collection (2002’s Forever Delayed) and a B-sides collection (2003’s Lipstick Traces) were by definition backwards-looking, with only the promo single for Forever Delayed and its B-sides presenting any genuinely new material to the record-buying public.
However, behind the closed doors of studios in Cardiff, Ireland and New York City – the band’s first recording experience outside Europe – the band were by 2003 recording what would become their seventh album. At one point called “Litany” in reference to its elegiac, inward-looking material, the LP was later renamed Lifeblood and eventually saw release on November 1st 2004. It was three and a half years since the release of their previous studio LP, 2001’s Know Your Enemy – a record.
As with previous album releases, the musical direction of the record was strongly hinted at by the little original material that had been released in the intervening years since the last LP. ‘There By the Grace of God’, released to promote Forever Delayed, was highly electronic, somewhat clinical, and much less politically forthright than many Manics compositions. Just as ‘Comfort Comes’ had carried within it the seeds of The Holy Bible, so too did ‘Grace of God’ herald the dawn of the Lifeblood era.
Far from being a purely electronic album, Lifeblood features much of Bradfield’s guitar work, albeit frequently joined by keyboards, piano, and other more exotic instruments including a harp. In its highly produced and precise construction as well as instrumental breadth, Lifeblood is a return to some of the tenets which defined 1998’s This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours; while the more recent album is more electronic where Truth was organic, both are a far cry from the raucous, overdriven style of Know Your Enemy.
Lyrically, the album was even more concerned with personal matters than Truth, even if its songs are rarely if ever as emotionally affecting as ‘Be Natural’ or ‘You’re Tender and You’re Tired’. Political references are still present in songs like ‘1985’ and ‘Emily’, but nostalgia and (as Wire put it) “being haunted by history” are the dominant ideas. The band’s playing is definitely in keeping with the lyrics, being more precise and delicate in many cases; Bradfield’s guitar work in particular soars more than sears.
Lifeblood was, to an extent, divisive – most contemporary reviews were positive, although Q were harsh in their criticism, calling the band’s work “miserable and insipid”. The two released singles both performed well, at least initially: while they both reached #2 on the UK singles chart, sales did not translate into album purchases and Lifeblood became the least successful Manics LP on the UK chart, reaching a peak of #13 (their worst since Generation Terrorists in 1992).
Interestingly, while Lifeblood is remembered fondly by Manics fans, it usually appears to be thought of as a cohesive project more than a grouping of songs. With the possible exception of opener ‘1985’, no song can be said to have taken on much of a life of its own outside the LP. With Lifeblood, the Manics re-affirmed the breadth of their capabilities and their willingness to experiment; instincts which would prove more successful for them in the future.