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The Manic Street Preachers' latest culls lyrics from the unearthed notebook of their former guitarist Richey Edwards, who vanished without a trace in the mid '90s after the band released their tragic masterpiece The Holy Bible. There have been no sightings of him since, and though no body has been found, Edwards has been declared dead.

Some bands come up with their best work when times are tough. The Preachers' last few records have been commercial and critical disappointments; with Journal for Plague Lovers, the trio are setting records straight.

Plague Lovers blasts to life with blistering punk rocker "Peeled Apples," which dispels any doubts about the validity of what they're doing. Edwards's lyrics are as exhilarating as if he were sitting next to you screaming it in your ear: "The figure eight inside out is infinity/the Levi jean has always been stronger than the Uzi."

The song titles too give testament that the band is back on its creative, albeit cheeky form -- "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time," "She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach." Musically, the stadium-punk anthems nod to Killing Joke, Magazine, and Nirvana -- the latter not a surprise, as Plague Lovers was produced by Steve Albini.

Bassist Nicky Wire takes over on lead vocals for the final track "Williams Last Words." Though he's not a pop singer, somehow it works. It's a somber, string-laden affair that sounds as if he could be singing Edwards's suicide note.

This record is unlikely to win the Manic Street Preachers any converts, and who knows, they may struggle to make another record as relevant as this. But for the moment, the Welsh band is back on form; Plague Lovers is a gamble that's paid off. At the least, they can lie to rest the ghost of Richey Edwards.

Album title: Journal for Plague Lovers (2009)
Artist: Manic Street Preachers
Label: Columbia Records
Songs: (1) Peeled Apples (2) Jackie Collins Existential Question Time (3) Me and Stephen Hawking (4) This Joke Sport Severed (5) Journal for Plague Lovers (6) She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach (7) Facing Page: Top Left (8) Marlon J.D. (9) Doors Closing Slowly (10) All Is Vanity (11) Pretension/Repulsion (12) Virginia State Epileptic Colony (13) William's Last Words (14) Bag Lady (hidden track)

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