James Dean Bradfield - Manchester Roadhouse - 22.5.06

Announced less than a week ago, snapped up in less an hour Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield chose to play his first ever solo gig in Manchester. Now aged well over 30 the music scene has moved on with a watered down version of reality peddled by the Monkeys and a tired (yet sometimes car crash rock and roll entertainment) from Babyshambles. For those generation terrorists, those that worshipped at The Holy Bible and even those that caught on with Everything Must Go there's a sense of anticipation about James Dean Bradfield's and Nicky Wire's respective solo albums and as with each new album from the Manics camp it's split the ranks yet again between the old fans and the new fans. Looking around tonight's venue it's a far cry from the old days with the glitter brigade strictly in the minority and the C&A casuals drafted in for the night, but thank f**k the t-shirt and scarf look hasn't caught on in Manicsville!!!

With a number of tracks leaked on the net it's clear that with Wire and Bradfield we have two musicians with widely varying tastes and perhaps the last few albums from the Manics have suffered as a result of this compromise. Wire's noisy as f**k Fall and punk influences have seen him try not so much capture the spirit of the early days, but just make one hell of a noise and shout the polemic over it. Bradfield on the other hand has been dipping into his record collection which is dominated by easy listening, Motown and 60s Girl Group pop. Essentially the forthcoming solo album is an extension of these influences and while it's musically not that far away from the relatively recent Manics output (So Why So Sad / The Love Of Richard Nixon being prime examples), "The Great Western" is unlikely to be an album that soundtracks your life.

"Run Romeo Run" could quite easily be a hidden track from the bands post-Richey breakthrough album "Everything Must Go" complete with extended Bradfield solo's. Its the one moment of real riffery in tonight's show and considering his immense underrated talent on the fretboard perhaps the strangest thing about much of tonight's set is his inability to let this take centre stage, often hiding behind a wall of sound created by the band and the three part harmonies.

"An English Gentleman" sounds like a rewrite of Razorlight's "Golden Touch" played by Phil Spector. "Bad Boys & Painkillers" is introduced as something "not so far home" referring to a song written by Bradfield and Wire, musically however it couldn't be further from home with a loose countrified strum and a barbershop ambience.

If you thought it was just Nicky Wire who loved hoovering and domestic bliss then Bradfield puts his feeling on paper for "On Saturday Morning We Will Rule The World", a song about the smell of lino and getting a new car. Musically again it draws from his easy listening influence. "Émigré" is the sort of song which makes "Australia" sound like a manifesto, MOR songwriting that belongs on Jeremy Clarkson's drivetime program rather than the sparky punk influence of the Manics early material.

With so many new songs to take in a couple of Manic's classic provide a relief. "Oceanspray", an acoustic version of "This Is Yesterday" plus an intro of "Sleepflower" from the "Gold Against The Soul" album provide something for every generation of  Manics fan.

"Say Hello To The Pope", worst song title in the world aside, is the best of the new songs by far. With that Bacharach influence shining through, the sort of influences that he took from on the B-sides "Sepia", "Mr Carbohydrate" and "Dead Trees & Traffic Islands". It would make a great follow up to the debut single "That Is No Way To Tell A Lie", an obvious bridge between his day job and this solo project in the fact that it sounds like the Manics with added Joy Division synths meets 50s rock'n'roll riffs.

With the Manics history and the level of devotion from fans perhaps the bar has been set that high by the bands early releases that they can never really ever match up to that in their solo projects. On first listen much of tonight's material wipes the floor with the likes Snow Patrol, Embrace and Keane and essentially that's who James Dean Bradfield is competing against now in terms of airplay. As a Manics fan we all expect a little more and you sense that many will be looking towards Wire now to deliver an album that doesn't try to fit in with the zeitgeist, but stands out on its own as an album to rally against and change the world

Alex McCann
Photos: Kirsty Umback www.kirstyumback.com

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