7 · Lifeblood

Pomp rock: you know you love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than a big puffed-up rock band belting out anthems with a right-on message. Unless, of course, you prefer anthems with a right-wing message, in which case I can’t help you. But if you’re right into right-on, you’ve come to the right place.

The Australian kings of right-on rock, Midnight Oil, may be no more, but this year saw the release of one of their finest moments: the Triple J tenth anniversary concert at Goat Island in Sydney Harbour, on the CD/DVD set Best of Both Worlds. The ABC simulcast was what turned me from casual fan to committed fan of the Oils, back at the time... and what a very long time ago it was, as a viewing of the DVD reveals. But it’s still a fantastic concert, and is now the essential live Oils disk.

The other big pomp-rock band of the ’80s was of course U2, and their new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, harks back to those years even more than the last did. Not that it’s a complete rehash: it sounds different enough to stand on its own. But we’re reaching the limit of permutations of the Edge’s guitar and Bono’s vox that still sound fresh.

There are still plenty of delights, though. Unlike half the bloggers of the world, I like “Vertigo”, 1-2-3-14 count-in and everything; it’s basically “The Fly” revisited. “Love and Peace or Else” is another highlight, a dirty-sounding sequel to “God Part II”. “City of Blinding Lights” seems to rip off Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights”, but “Crumbs from Your Table” and “One of the Species” are good. On the whole, I like this more than any U2 album since Zooropa, and perhaps more than that. It says something, though, that I don’t rate it among the year’s top ten, when Achtung Baby would be one of my ten favourite albums of the ’90s.

No, when it comes to 2004-style pomposity, Welsh rock has beaten Irish rock. The Manic Street Preachers have been preaching their lefty gospel for over a decade now, and they’ve never sounded better. I discovered them with Everyone Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, but took a while to buy their last studio album (Know Your Enemy) because the reviews were so average; when I finally did, I loved it. The B-sides collection, Lipstick Traces, is also one of the best I’ve heard from a ’90s UK band.

So I was right in line for Lifeblood. It kicks off brilliantly with “1985”, with a classic Manics sound and the usual heavy-handed name-dropping (“Morrissey and Marr gave me choice”). If you don’t like this track, you won’t like what comes next: “The Love of Richard Nixon”, with more heavy-handed name-dropping, a sub-New Romantics sound, and the best Mike Oldfield guitar solo that isn’t actually played by Mike Oldfield ever.

“Empty Souls” gives us the outrageous rhyme “Collapsing like the twin towers/Falling down like April showers”, but it’s such a fine song that I just don’t care—even if the piano does shamelessly ape U2 circa October. And so it goes: “I Live to Fall Asleep”, “To Repel Ghosts”, “Always/Never”—all great tracks. If the politics don’t sway you, the music will. Right on.