The weight of this album is so much that it’s pretty much impossible to just look at it objectively, the same way you might look at, say, the third Maximo Park album, or the new Franz Ferdinand. From the beautiful but disturbing cover to the typeface, it screams ‘Holy Bible’ at you even if you have been living under a rock and don’t know the history (the irony of an album yet to be released having a history is not lost…).
Yes, Richey James Edwards is all over this record, which uses the last lyrics (poetry?) left by the rhythm guitarist before he said his goodbyes (or rather didn’t) in early 1995. It’s not the claustrophobic experience that The Holy Bible is though, but obviously its not a barrel of laughs either. Having said that it also doesn’t lose itself to seriousness with Richey’s cutting humour slicing through the literary and emotional references throughout. (‘We missed the sex revolution when we failed the physical’)
Okay, how do you start an album like Journal For Plague Lovers? Well, perfectly in fact, with a sample from the Christian Bale classic The Machinist – a role for which Bale lost an obscene amount of weight, a not so veiled reference to Edwards’ own battles and a nod to the anorexic images of the Bible. ‘Peeled Apples’ is a stroppy pop punk starter, with Edwards’ lyrics already spinning the listener and sending you scambling for both the volume control and the thesaurus. The band have not sounded this hungry in 15 years, certainly they threatened with Know Your Enemy, but this isn’t trying to regain past glories, it’s like the band has been frozen and come back stronger than ever. ‘The figure eight inside out is infinity’ seems to throw back to Richey’s obsession with the perfect circle and is just as intriguing/confusing.
After the opening punk trio, the first slowdown occurs, but just as ‘This Is Yesterday’ was no walk in the park, ‘This Joke Sport Severed’, from its title down is a confused agony, a return to the beauty/horror of ‘Too Cold Here’ or ‘Love Torn Us Under’ with talk of bone being torn from skin whilst strings soothe the savagery.
‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ is a title that nods to the In Utero period of Nirvana and it sounds like Cobain and company sonically too, a nod to Richey’s love of the record and also the fact that Steve Albini produced both albums.
‘Facing Page: Top Left’ is one of the loveliest tears to roll down the face of the Manics catalogue, despite reference to being weighed down and smiling and tinted UV protection. This is not ‘She Loves You’, but it is a classic Bradfield solo moment to shine, except with the spectre of Edwards ramping up the tension.
‘Pretension/Repulsion’ finds Bradfield again tussling with Edwards words, trying to fit the whole of the Oxford Concise Dictionary into a two minute punk diatribe and succeeding brilliantly, again it brings to mind ‘Know Your Enemy’ or even earlier tracks like ‘Spectators of Suicide’ and ‘Sculpture Of Man’.
However the Richeyness of the record has drained, disturbed and inspired so far, the human side of the story really hits with the beautiful Nicky Wire sung ‘Williams Last Words’, ‘Goodnight my sweetheart…’, ‘Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me’, ‘You’re the best friends I ever had’. It’s the simplest lyric and roughest vocal, but the most affecting in both departments.
Intelligent, tense, beautiful, touching, gruesome, confusing, agonising, everything you loved about the best quartet in the world.
“I love you, yes I love you, just let me go”. Ouch.