Britpop heroes Manic Street Preachers continue their formula of punk-meets-grandiose-rock on an effort that sees its best moments too often offset by heavy-handed "message" songs and a brutally long p

Britpop heroes Manic Street Preachers continue their formula of punk-meets-grandiose-rock on an effort that sees its best moments too often offset by heavy-handed "message" songs and a brutally long playing time. The track names alone—"Dead Martyrs," "My Guernica," and "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children"—signal that unless it's a meeting of the Junior Leftists, this isn't party music. In fact, the Manics lay it on so thick in some places—go directly to "Baby Elian" (that's right, an ode to the human hot button in the Cuban community, Elian Gonzalez)—that even Bono would blush. But that's not to say the Manic Street Preachers can't write good songs. The Brian Wilson-esqe "So Why So Sad" and the soulful folk rocker "Let Robeson Sing," a valentine to protest singer Paul Robeson, soar with pop appeal, while "Wattsville Blues" has an enjoyable slinky hook. If only there were more moments like these.—BG