Instead of being the return to form it was clearly intended to be, Manic Street Preachers' sixth album, Know Your Enemy, sucked the life out of the band, collapsing in a heap of bad reviews and ill will. It was such a wrong move that even the band acknowledged that things went wrong, so they took some time off to regroup, issuing a hits collection Forever Delayed in 2002, with a B-sides and rarities comp Lipstick Traces following in 2003. The decks being suitably cleared, the band eased back in late 2004 with their seventh album Lifeblood, a record that takes the MOR/AOR inclinations of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours to heart. Gliding by on smooth surfaces of synthesizers and lightly sequenced beats, Lifeblood is simpler and hookier than the lumbering Know Your Enemy, which is a relative blessing: it results in a record that's easier to enjoy, even if its smoothness doesn't gloss over memories of what the jagged, visceral band the Manics used to be. Even on the grandiose, arena-ready Everything Must Go, they sounded like a tense bundle of nerve and ambition, a clear byproduct of punk, but here they sound not far removed from the legions of po-faced, sincere but dull groups that stumbled through the colorless aftermath of Britpop at the tail-end of the '90s. Apart from a sense of craft that thoroughly identifies them as pros, what separates them now are what have always been their hallmarks: Nicky Wire's perpetually adolescent literate literariness -- which, at this point, is either endearing or infuriating (though as lines like "so God is dead/like Nietzsche said" and titles like "The Love of Richard Nixon" pile up, it's hard not to tip toward the latter) -- and James Dean Bradfield's keening, earnest vocals. When the music hit harder, Wire's words made more sense and Bradfield's singing tugged on the heartstrings, but with music as slick and seamless as this, they seem a touch anachronistic, the lone holdovers from when the band lived with abandon, giving their music an invigorating, reckless edge even when it was incoherent. But growing up was never going to be easy for the Manics -- they were either going to break up, embarrassingly ape their former glories (which they came perilously close to doing on Know Your Enemy), or they were going to deliberately, somberly enter adulthood, as they do here. Since they craft solid records, Lifeblood is a pleasant listen, but once you peel away the keyboards, sensitively strummed guitars and tasteful harmonies and concentrate on Bradfield's nakedly open voice and Wire's terminally collegiate lyrics, it's hard to escape the unintentional pathos that winds up defining the album and, conceivably, the band's latter-day career.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine