Release date: 10/09/2021 | Length: 4:08 | Release: The Ultra Vivid Lament
My scream had lost its source
Quest for Ancient Colour represents all extremes of the Manic Street Preachers in the modern day. There’s lots of tiny aspects of this to analyse, but no rhyme or reason to dissect them by. Let’s do it chronologically.
What a beautiful title. I remember listening to a Manics 6 Music special many years ago and someone on the show (possibly Nicky Wire himself) pointed out that songs titles reflect the energy of a band. An artist phoning it in will have plain names for songs, endlessly recycled across the whole of music. Something that cannot be taken away from the Manics are their unique monikers for songs (bar a few inescapable dozen used with purpose). You will not find another Motorcycle Emptiness or Of Walking Abortion by a contemporary band, and nor will you come across a second Quest for Ancient Colour. The only other hunt for such kaleidoscopic history was a documentary about classical Japanese art, and their rich colours (which also offers a neat parallel with 2017’s International Blue, a song about a colour).
One of those that seems only to exist for the necessity of getting to the chorus. It’s a piano ballad, just not an interesting one. The notes are far too plain and as a result makes James Dead Bradfield seem like he’s oversinging the song. I don’t think he is since his voice is naturally powerful, but it’s rather flavourless. The lyrics are filled with self-doubt, but stumble by offering the listener too much: “I had a very bad dream, The main actor in it was me”. Aspects that would previously go unsaid get a line.
Now we’re cooking with gas. That tumbling drum fill from Sean Moore, reminiscent of Further Away, propels the song into life and makes for one of The Ultra Vivid Lament‘s most singable moments. The backing harmonies are cheap, but effective. The half-rhymes of ‘discover’ and ‘colour’ slide off the tongue, and with such a high-sounding chorus, there’s a certain amount of poise to it that prevents it from straining.
The guitar solo
What? There’s no real warning that Bradfield’s about to embark on a spiralling, spacey virtuoso, but he does. It’s obviously technically great because he’s a great guitar player, but why does this song need it? The song verges on Lifeblood territory, which did dignified guitar solos when called upon. There’s a bit in the pre-chorus second time round where there’s a subtle riff playing in the background that would’ve been so much more effective. Less is more.
So there we have it, a 2021 Manic Street Preachers song in a nutshell. A beguiling title belying a somewhat underwhelming skeleton, fleshed out with hooks and superfluity.