An album titled "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours." A single called "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next." Lyrics like "The future teaches you to be alone/ The present to be afraid and cold." What pop-music fan would buy this?
Well, so far, more than a million of them in Britain, where Manic Street Preachers' fifth long-player is the biggest-selling rock album of the last 12 months. Yet the Welsh band will surely never reach an American audience of comparable size. "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours" (Virgin) is as earnest and epic as U2's most successful albums, but with two crucial divergences: less melody, more politics.
"If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" was inspired by the Spanish Civil War, and many of these songs are rooted in the working-class radicalism of the band members' home, a former coal-mining town. Bassist Nicky Wire's wordy lyrics suggest Gang of Four without the wit--smart, angry and deeply felt, but not very engaging. There's only so much that singer-guitarist James Dean Bradfield (who writes the music with drummer Sean Moore) can do to animate them.
Perhaps the words would come to life, however, if the Preachers didn't take every one of the album's 13 songs at roughly the same medium tempo. The band abandoned its scrappy punk sound after its 1992 debut, "Generation Terrorists," and now favors a lumbering arena-rock style. Rather than significantly varying the rhythms--or for that matter the melodies--the band has chosen to distinguish the songs by their embellishments: strings for "The Everlasting," electric sitar for "Tsunami," accordion for "Born a Girl."
The latter song is one of the most appealing, and surely it's no coincidence that it's also one of the more intimate--and shorter--tunes. Even "You Stole the Sun From My Heart," a characteristically grand variation on the classic you-busted-my-heart theme, is more approachable than most of these meditations on evil, despair and disillusionment.
More typical, though, are such mock-operatic ballads as "Ready for Drowning," which asks, "What is there to believe in?" Good question, but for all its idealism, "This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours" is not a compelling answer.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
CAPTION: The Manic Street Preachers, from left: James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore.