Lauded by musicians like Bono, The Clash and Springsteen, Victor Jara was killed in 1973, for his activism against General Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship. Jara was one of about 2000 that were sent to their death by the Chilean leader.  In 1999, Pinochet received a note that said: “Scotch is one British institution that will never let you down,” along with a bottle of finest malt, from that evil bitch Margaret Thatcher.

I’ve put that in at the start, just so you know where my politics lie, and consequently how I viewed this concept album from James Dean Bradfield (his first solo record in 14 years). But there’s another reason for including that too.

Because, quite simply, you can listen to “Even In Exile” without even the merest clue and even less interest in the story.

Essentially, Bradfield holed himself up on his own, with a collection of Patrick Jones’ (Nicky Wire’s brother) poems on Jara and a load of instruments for company.

The results are never less than compelling.

Indeed, whilst “Recuerda” – the opener – has traits of the Manics, its striking how different this is from the “day job” as it were.

It is a sweeping, epic, with almost cinematic qualities. And if Bradfield’s voice is one of the more distinctive, then work like “Boy From The Plantation” and the likes are mature and, in honesty, sound like he’s been listening to Rush a lot.

But more than anything, whatever the story, these are just supremely well done songs. The harmonica flourish’s, say, the choruses, or the electro pulsing drums of “There’ll Come A War”, which are matched with the fragile, sparse drums.

There are plenty of instrumentals here and, mostly, they are just as powerful – perhaps moreso, than the words. One of these “Seeking The Room With The Three Windows” possesses some wonderful guitar work, and is a real highlight, as is “Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles”.

That, however, underlines what I was saying about the way you choose to enjoy this record being up to you. It is, first and foremost a superb piece. That it is a tribute to the dead of Pinochet is going to make it better, worse, or have no effect, depending on personal taste.

“Under The Mimosa Tree” is a gorgeous, warm instrumental. Floating acoustics, but done in technicolour. “From The Hands Of Violeta” (about an artist who inspired Jara) is equally widescreen, sweeping, wide open spaces are somehow evoked here.

“Without Knowing The End (Joan’s Song)” – about Jara’s widow (who continues to fight for human rights in her homeland) – is perhaps the most straightforward rocker. Along with the opener, this is the one you could most see MSP playing in an arena. It has that effortlessly huge quality.

There’s a podcast put together by JDB to accompany this album. On it, he says he tried to cover a Jara song, but couldn’t find the voice. The one he does interpret is literally without one, as “La Paritda” is another of the instrumental tracks. It’s also the one, perhaps, with the most Latin American feel.

Against that, comes the almost psychedelic offering of “The Last Song”, a gentle revolution, if you like, as Jones’ lyrics are fundamentally at odds with the sound, and there is something haunting on the piano in “Santiago Sunset”, where you can almost see the credits rolling.

The struggle goes on, of course, against the rise of fascism, of populism, of racism, and against tyranny and Victor Jara will continue to inspire, wherever anyone seeks fairness or justice.

Or maybe not. Because whatever you believe, if you want to hear challenging, interesting and compelling music, then “Even In Exile” has plenty for everyone.

Rating 8.5/10

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