James Dean Bradfield
The Great Western

(Columbia Records)
Released 24th July

So, here we have the first solo offering from the Manic's frontman, who apparently made this album because he was 'bored'. Not such a surprising
reason really, cos for someone who's spent the best part of two decades writing, recording and performing music to suddenly have 2 years' spare time on his hands, I mean, what the fuck else was he going to do? I have to be honest here and say that on first listen I just thought 'is that it then?', I think I was just expecting something more obviously Rock and, um, Manic.

But once I'd got out of that mindset I put it on again and whaddya know? It's fantastic! I'd describe it as a melodic rock album (though not in a wanky way), but done quite subtly, which is often more powerful than the blamming, life-changing-in-yer-face-full-on rock bastard sound that I was hoping for. Anyway, on to the songs...

First up is the new single 'That's No Way To Tell A Lie', an anthemic singalong track, which is in stark contrast to the subject matter of the Church's influence keeping Aids as rife as ever in Africa. I love 'An English Gentleman', a gorgeous tribute to the Manics' late publicist Philip
Hall, who, along with his wife Terri took the boys under his wing, moving them from The Valleys to the bright lights of London. And I don't think it's possible to overestimate this man's importance in The Manic's history, as I have no doubt that without his absolute belief in their ability as a band and credibility as people, they wouldn't be where they are today. So cheers,
Philip. 'Bad Boys and Painkillers' is pure Wire and as you would expect, the most Manics sounding track on the album. Actually, I've just realised what this album reminds me of; Manic's b-sides, and that's not meant in a derogatory way cos a lot of their b-sides are actually better than the
a-sides. I think it's because there was no big announcement that James would be doing this album so there was no pressure on him to produce an epic cos there was no expectation from anyone. But it is pretty epic, as it turns out. There's a cover of Jacques Brel's look back at the human cost of WW II 'To See a Friend in Tears' and while I've never heard the original, so I've nothing to compare this to, it is truly heartbreaking and I've never heard James' voice sound more beautiful. The more I listen to this album the more I can feel a kind of homesickness pervadingevery track; though not necessarily a longing for home itself, more a longing for people, times and places which feel like home. In particular final track, 'Which Way to Kyffin' (which, I guess, is his take on Nick's 'Australia'), about the work of Welsh artist Kyffin Williams and how James felt so connected to his homeland that he wanted to paint himself into the landscape so he'd never have to leave...

So no, this album hasn't changed my life (though to be fair, James and his mates already did that 16 years ago so it'd probably be a bit greedy to
expect him to do it again. Though I am still hopeful...), but it has warmed my heart, made me smile and made me cry.

And that's good enough for me.

Fi Beckett

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