Album Review: Even In Exile by James Dean Bradfield. Released 14 August on MontyRay LP/CD/digital. ★★★★★
by Simon Whittle
· Victor Jara, the Chilean musician, teacher, poet and playwright murdered by Pinochet’s fascist troops after the 1973 US-backed coup, is the subject of Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield’s second solo album, Even in Exile.
The long-awaited solo follow up to 2006’s The Great Western, Even in Exile features lyrics by Wales’s own master poet and playwright, Patrick Jones. Jones wrote a set of poems about Jara, not really intending for them to be published but showing them to Bradfield, the words leapt off the page and an album was born.
An astonishingly beautiful, perfect album—full of textures and rhythms, light and dark, struggle, victory and defeat—it loosely traces the life and death of communist Jara; at points pure and biographical, at others dreamlike and opaque.
Bradfield explains, “One of the reasons Victor’s story chimed deeply—then and now—because as with so many other politically active people’s stories from that era, it results in death. The idea now is still too shocking to contemplate. I think this period of history points to so much that’s relevant right now.”
‘Thatcher, Nixon, Pinochet’
Album opener Recuerda (‘Remember’) begins as a contemplative almost Morricone-like soundtrack—a simple Spanish guitar with James’s calm, effective vocal, reminiscent of This Sullen Welsh Heart—before it bursts into a driving, pulsating beat for a stomping, uplifting chorus.
“Recuerda, when they come to your door with their laws and their guns. When they take away your daughters and lead away your sons. Recuerda, Thatcher, Nixon, Pinochet. How the land of the free disappeared those who would not obey, in the name of liberty. What was once lost, we will find again. What is true will always transcend.”
It builds skilfully, setting the tone for a masterful album. Lead ‘single’ (videos are singles now) The Boy from the Plantation is as catchy as melodies come, the music lush with glorious guitar licks.
Any song which has you belting out Jara’s full name in the chorus—“Victor Lydio Jara Martinez, the boy from the plantation, they could not repress, who strummed and sung to dreams and injustice”—is bound to be a winner. Not that this is the first to name the Chilean on record, as Bradfield points out:
“Growing up, Victor Jara’s name was regularly heard in music. It seemed to have a global recognition through songs by artists like The Clash, Simple Minds, Working Week and Calexico. [Jara’s] voice is an echo that inspires trust and guidance.
“Through reinvestigating his music I’ve learnt that music that is politically motivated doesn’t necessarily need to be polemic punishment, it can be poetic, personal and musically transcendent.”
Folklorist and pioneer of the New Chilean Song movement Violeta Parra is remembered on From the Hands of Violeta, and there’s a song for Joan Jara (Victor’s widow), Without Knowing the End. Three amazing instrumentals among the eleven tracks include the only cover of a Jara tune on the album, the stirring, anthemic La Partida.
This album is already introducing Jara to a new legion of fans, and many will discover Salvador Allende and what the Chilean people were beginning to achieve through the Unidad Popular government… until the barbaric coup of 11 September 1973.
And some Jara fans will discover Bradfield, the Manics, Patrick Jones and, erm, Shot Balowski (…what?).
Most importantly, Even in Exile is a total masterpiece—a work of art as fitting for Jara’s legacy as it is for Bradfield’s and Jones’s.