Having waited fourteen years until disappeared guitarist Richey James Edwards was legally pronounced dead, finally using his lyrics was sure to trigger some painful memories. No doubt that's why Manic Street Preachers' ninth studio album has a raw quality to it that their work hasn't seen in some time.
The retro guitar sounds of the title track and "Marlon J.D." hark back to a more rebellious, punk era, yet these rough edged guitars and James Dean Bradfield's squawking yell are far from the defining feature of "Journal for Plague Lovers". The soft plucking of "Facing Page: Top Left," wavering piano intro of "Doors Closing Slowly" are almost more affecting in the way that they force you to slow down and take stock. In fact, the offbeat drums and defining strings of "This Joke Sport Severed" is one of the albums highlights.
Given to the band just before his disappearance, and, allegedly, his suicide, there's a huge level of expectation on Richey James' lyrics to be not only dark, but in the realm of tortured genius. Though there are undoubtedly some gems here ("Merciful and mourned and meek, jealously sows rejection with a kiss" ("This Joke Sport Severed")), but there are also some downright dubious lines questioning the fidelity of a "married man [who] f**ks a Catholic" ("Jackie Collins Existential Question Time").
Considering its content, "Journal For Plague Lovers" was inevitably going to be quite a retrospective album, but the problem is that there's very few moments here that stand out. Maybe "Journal For Plague Lovers" is a grower, but then why does it feel overly familiar after just a few listens?