Like many long-term relationships, Manic Street Preachers benefited from some time apart, as their seventh album, Send Away the Tigers, makes plain. Arriving on the heels of 2006 solo albums from both singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield and lyricist/bassist Nicky Wire, Send Away the Tigers finds the group recharged and revitalized, achieving the widescreen grandeur of Everything Must Go but infusing it with a harder rock edge that may not be as furious as their earliest work, but is no less committed. This surging sense of purpose was conspicuously absent on the Manics' previous albums, which grew increasingly mannered in their attempts at majestic pop, culminating in the pleasant but too soft Lifeblood. It's hard to call Tigers soft -- it thunders even in its quietest moments, and when strings or keyboards are brought in, they're drowned out by guitars. This doesn't sound like a desperate measure; it sounds like recommitment on the part of the Manics, especially since they haven't abandoned the melodic skills they've honed over the past decade. They've merely melded them to muscular yet mature rock & roll. It's that commitment to hard rock that makes Send Away the Tigers bracing upon its initial listen, but what makes it lasting is the songs, which may lack anthems on the level of "A Design for Life," but they're something better: they're small-scale epics, roiling with drama and coiled with tension, flirting with being overblown but kept grounded by the group's reclaimed righteousness and newfound sense of control. That leanness applies to the album overall as well -- where every Manics record since Everything Must Go grew increasingly over-stuffed, this has no flab, and its ten songs have a relentless momentum. It's still pretty bombastic -- the Manics were never about subtlety -- but the sweeping gestures are delivered with a sense of efficiency that makes Send Away the Tigers never seem heavy-handed, which is something that even their best albums often are. So, this isn't merely a return to form, then -- it's also a welcome progression from a band that only a couple of albums back seemed stuck in a rut with no way out.