Manic Street Preachers have passed, during the last twenty years, from quirky Welsh band, to indie superstars, to grumpy rockers, and finally, in the last few years, into a British institution. They've never been well known in America, though, and that probably won't change with this album.

For a band that's been around so long, though, this new album is vibrant. There's a pattern on the record that the songs follow, for the most part. It's like Nicky Wire and James Bradfield decided to purposefully move away from oddness, and wholeheartedly embrace "classic" rock. Moreso than 2007's "Send Away the Tigers", and nothing like last year's "Journal For Plague Lovers", the Preachers have incorporated heavy-duty hooks, straightforward song structures, and a streamlined sound. 

First single "(It's Not War) Just the End Of Love" is a prime example. It's classic and classy, with a solid beat; as if it had been made in 1983 instead of 2010.

Nearly every other song has the same feel. The title track has grinding guitars and a nicely harmonized vocal. "The Descent (Pages 1 & 2)" is rock mainlined into a pop template. In "Hazelton Avenue", the guitars whir. the tune clangs, and Bradfield continues to deliver strong and occasionally nuanced vocals. 

There are some guest appearances on the album, but they're not necessarily an enhancement. Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen shows up on "Some Kind Of Nothingness", and the song sounds like a cross between his old group and the Preachers. John Cale adds keyboards and "noise" to "Auto Intoxication", but it's the acoustic guitars that call the listener's attention. Finally, Guns 'n' Roses bassist Duff McKagan turns up on "A Billion Balconies Facing the Sun", but - let's face it - the bassline doesn't stand out on the song, so what's the point?

All in all, "Postcards..." is a solid and strong effort. But there are some problems as well . . . 

1). Strings. There are eight string players dedicated to the album, but for the most part, none of the songs that incorporate them are in the least improved by the sawing away. This was a misstep on the band's part; they could have easily done without them. 

2). The band was so careful to stick to classic rock riffs, that there's occasionally the danger of coming off sounding too closely like the influences. There are times on the album when the listener begins to wonder if he's hearing Bon Jovi. Or Journey. 

3). Including the strings, the choirs, and the often overplayed guitars, there's some serious overproduction going on on the record. 

All that said, "Postcards..." is a very pleasant listen. There are no songs that fall under the category of "awful", although "I Think I Found It" comes close to sounding like a Rod Stewart outtake. If you like your rock crunchy - but not TOO crunchy - then this one is for you. 

I give Manic Street Preachers a solid 7.5 on the England Swings scale of 1-10.

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