For more than a decade, James Dean Bradfield has been the singer and rhythm guitarist for Manic Street Preachers, so it comes as no surprise that his solo debut sounds similar to their music. What is a surprise is how good it does sound. As singer for the Manics he was never the chief lyricist, that job went to Richey James and after his disappearance, Nicky Wire. Naturally, Manics fans will scrutinize this album heavily.
Luckily, The Great Western holds up. The album opens with the first single “That’s No Way to Tell a Lie”, a sharp and catchy with a soaring chorus, it would sit comfortably next to any song in the Manics’ catalogue.
Like the Manics, Bradfield is not comfortable to rest on his laurels. On The Great Western, he constantly explores new musical territory. There’s a feel of classic pop sensibilities throughout the record, from the handclaps and “ooh la la’s” on “That’s No Way to Tell a Lie” and “Émigré” to the backing vocals on the lovely “The Wrong Beginning” and the Ray Davies-esque “An English Gentleman”.
Bradfield has been a musician in a band for over a decade now, and he has created a very slick, succinct and well-produced album. There’s nothing here that’s self-indulgent or plodding, every song here is strong and well crafted, save for the misstep, the musically strong but lyrically clumsy “Say Hello to the Pope”.
The album is anchored by three tracks: “Still a Long Way to Go”, “Émigré” and a cover of Jacques Brel’s “To See a Friend in Tears”. These three tracks in particular are representative of Bradfield, and a perfect summation of the album, given the introspective nature of the lyrics.
A fine piece of work, The Great Western is not only a welcome addition for fans of Manic Street Preachers, but also marks Bradfield as a solid solo artist as well.