Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Manic Street Preachers: "One last shot at mass communication"

Manic Street Preachers - Postcards from a Young Man (Sony, 2010) 
From its opening strains, the Manic Street Preachers’ latest – and tenth – album, Postcards From A Young Man, is clearly the successor not only to 2007’s Send Away The Tigers, but also to their critically acclaimed 1996 success Everything Must Go.

It seems sometimes obligatory (although perhaps not useful) to divide the Manics’ work into the chart-friendly “pop” of Everything Must Go and of their successful 1998 follow-up This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, and the darker, more political and introspective music of 1994’s The Holy Bible and 2009’s Journal for Plague Lovers.

Certainly there is a difference – not least the darker lyrics of former guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared, now presumed dead, in 1995. While Journal saw the Manics use up the last of Richey’s frequently disturbing lyrics and imagery, the band’s major commercial success has come largely off the back of the more anthemic music which characterised Everything.

Postcards is cut largely from that lighter cloth – it is the Dr Jekyll to Journal’s Mr Hyde.
The album opens with the roaring string crescendos of "(It’s not War) Just the End of Love" and the title-track, "Postcards from a Young Man", followed by a glorious choir-backed duet with Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, "Some Kind of Nothingness".

As a tenth album, coming after more than two decades of tribulation and glamour, of rage and disillusionment, some might have expected Postcards to sound at times tired and dispirited. On the contrary, even the saddest songs on the album are packed full of the same righteous anger and intelligence that have sustained the Manics – and their fans – for all this time.

This is in fact the Manics at their best – anthemic pop songs with dark moments and more political and cultural critique than a university bookshop, performing a subtle unwinding of the chains of alienation that keep us alone and cold.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Germany's ‘hot autumn’ of protests

Germany’s centre-right government is facing what many have dubbed a “hot autumn” of protests, as conflict over a range of social, political and environmental issues come to a head across the country.

As the governments of Europe attempt to offload the costs of the financial crisis onto working people, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has initiated a series of “austerity” measures aimed to undermine Germany’s social welfare system.

About 100,000 trade unionists took to the streets on November 13 to protest cuts to social welfare, including government plans to raise the pension age from 65 to 67.

On November 15, Merkel was successfully re-elected leader of her party - the right-wing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - with the support of over 90 percent of the party conference.

Facing criticism from the party's influential right-wing, Merkel has shifted her rhetoric rightwards, claiming that multiculturalism had "utterly failed", and calling on Germans to return to their "Judeo-Christian values".

The day before the CDU conference began, tens of thousands of protesters in Stuttgart, Dortmund, Nürnberg and Erfurt came out to oppose her government’s cuts.

Minister for labour Ursula von der Leyen has tried to defend the attack on pensions. Claiming it was necessary because of Germany’s low birth rate and high life expectancy, Von der Leyen described the move as “a question of fairness”.

Protesters, led by Germany’s largest union IG Metall, rejected the claim. They condemned the changes as an attack on working people designed to maximise corporate profits during the German economy’s current upswing.

Berthold Huber, head of IG Metall, told demonstrators in Stuttgart: “We don’t want a republic in which powerful interest groups decide the guidelines of politics with their money, their power and their influence.”

German activists blockade nuclear train

More than 50,000 German anti-nuclear protesters defied 17,000 police over the weekend of November 6 and 7 to blockade a train carrying spent nuclear fuel rods from France to Germany.

On November 8, the fuel rods finally reached the small north German village of Dannenberg. From there, they were trucked a further 20 kilometres to an interim nuclear storage facility in the town of Gorleben.

Anti-nuclear activists drove more than 600 tractors, blockading roads and the railway in the largest ever demonstration over the transportation of spent nuclear fuel rods in Germany.

The nuclear train was stopped for several hours as local residents, unions, politicians, environmental groups, football clubs, farmers and protesters from across Germany occupied the railway tracks.