Frequently regarded as soft-rock antiques – and, consequently, not infrequently disregarded – they may well have mellowed with age, although the Manic Street Preachers have morphed from camouflaged agitators to ‘MOR’ supremos with fine guile. (For which see, or rather hear, recent single Orwellian.) And for what little it may be worth, The Secret He Had Missed – featuring Julia Cumming, Sunflower Bean – is, to my ears, as mighty an exemplar as they’ve mustered in a while.
The trio are no strangers to a duet of course, having previously collaborated with the somewhat motley likes of Cate Le Bon, Nina Hoss, Traci Lords, Nina Persson and so on; and an admiration for their New York counterparts is both well-known and long-standing, so this one shouldn’t necessarily come as any kind of surprise. But the outcome may be their best duet to date, instantly sounding timeless as oil on canvas.
This is surely due, in no small part, to its similarities to ABBA – a sonic hallmark of their forthcoming The Ultra Vivid Lament full-length, by the sounds of things so far – as a palette of cascading keys, impetuous arpeggi, and palatial guitar lines sets its tone. But a strutting bass part harking back to the verve of Miss Europa Disco Dancer and biographical lyrical content, concerning sibling artists Gwen and Augustus John, lend depth and further colour; as does the contrast between the vocals of Cumming and James Dean Bradfield as together, words entwined, they sing of “separate and lonely lives.” A most welcome meeting of mindful artists.