James Dean Bradfield – The Great Western (2006): Review

Produced by Dave Eringa, Guy Massey, Alex Silva, Greg Haver
Label – Columbia

Bradfield didn’t need to do this. It’s a fact. After the self imposed break from recording following Manic Street Preachers most lifeless album (“Lifeblood”) a couple of years before, one would have expected a quiet return to the valleys of his home, a chance to contemplate world politics, and read complicated literature much like his band cohort Nicky Wire. But then, Bradfield writes music, not controversial lyrics, and his most recent penned lyric was almost 10 years ago for the memorable song about his mother “Ocean Spray”. Maybe the temptation was just to see that he could indeed write strong music supported by substantial self penned lyrics. If that’s the case then he’s undoubtedly succeeded and “The Great Western” contains enough personally consistent lines to support the quality music we all know he is capable of. Harking back to glory era Manic’s of “Everything Must Go”, “The Great Western” is a surprise, an album of passionate vitality, and a worthy addition to his band’s superb back catalogue.

Restrained nostalgia rips through the heart of “The Great Western”. The title track (“Émigré”) references Brunel’s magnificent engineering feat in Rail development that provided the links that would become Bradfield’s method of transport from Wales to London. The 20 years of train journeys would enable Bradfield a time for contemplation, self analysis and ideas. More affection is placed with his mentor, the Manic’s publicist and co-manager Philip Hall who passed away in 1993 on “An English Gentleman”. A beautifully tender cover of Jacques Brel’s war commentary on “To See A Friend In Tears” acoustically breaks from the traditional mainstream typically Manic guitar rock. The recording maintains the instantly identifiable lead and powerful voice, and for a man supposedly on Sabbatical there are regular surprises for the listener. With an attention to detail, the insistent hooks and powerful musical performance of which “Émigré”, “To See A Friend In Tears”, “Bad Boys And Painkillers” and “Run Romeo Run” remain the outstanding highlights.

Nostalgia, elation, loss and reflection are woven into the very fabric of every moment of “The Great Western”, to make a silk purse of a rock album. Classy.

8/10

Track Listing

1 That’s No Way to Tell a Lie 3:05
2 An English Gentleman 3:05
3 Bad Boys and Painkillers 3:49
4 On Saturday Morning We Will Rule the World 3:17
5 Run Romeo Run 3:24
6 Still a Long Way to Go 3:50
7 Émigré 3:29
8 To See a Friend in Tears 3:38
9 Say Hello to the Pope 3:24
10 The Wrong Beginning 3:15
11 Which Way to Kyffin 2:57

That’s No Way To Tell A Lie

An English Gentleman

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