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Weakest (but enjoyable) album
on June 12, 1999
On their second effort, the Manics went for a more mainstream AOR approach than the heavy hair metal of their debut record Generation Terrorists. There's significant on all levels. The essemble playing's much improved and tighter with occasional nods to funk. The songs are fleshed out with better riffs and varied parts including the occasional string arrangements. Finally, the lyrics have gone from political sloganeering to the personal, painting a stark depression. Many of the lines are simply stunning. In fact, among their five current albums, this is second to The Holy Bible in overall lyrics.
So why is this album then stunningly weaker than their debut? Well, ironically their musical improvements has turned them here into Queen (James Dean Bradfield's voice remarkable sounds like Freddie Mercury here.) Full of arena rock cliches (overdone solos, synths, cheesy shout-along choruses) which simply undoes the lyrics. Often, it simply sounds like the singer and music is completely oblivious to the lyrics. Moreover, the production is polished to the point of being sterile, while the playing is accomplished yet bloodless. Gold Against the Soul entirely misses the youthful exhuberance and self-belief of their debut.
That said, there are a few strong rockers here, namely Sleepflower and From Despair to Where and great sing-alongs like Roses in the Hospital and Drug Drug Druggy. Most of it sounds great in the car, and fans of 80s hard rock (like myself) will eat this up anyway. Overall, it is an enjoyable listen; but, given the promise of the album, it falls short by a mile.
Much of the problem with Gold Against the Soul lies in that the Manics really wanted to make a very commercial record. On live bootlegs, the Manics turn these same flatulent songs into lean punk with the sort of attitude and fire they missed on record. Same goes with the Generation Terrorists. It wasn't until their next album, "The Holy Bible", did they finally make music worthy of their lyrics and reputation.