ONCE they sang of personal and political despair. Then they became an all-purpose rock band, rocketing into the mainstream with arena gigs and number one albums.

Judging by the show at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, the Manics are struggling to balance both, after years of mediocre albums and growing public indifference. This is, after all, a deliberate return to small venues.

Opener Found That Soul from 2001, tries and fails to ignite the punk spirit which made them a cult favourite from their 1992 debut Generation Terrorists. It shows. They quickly return to safe ground with their 1996 classic, A Design For Life, and 1993's Roses In The Hospital.

The show leant heavily on older material, especially from 1994's relentlessly bleak The Holy Bible - advertising for the show pointedly had the group's name in the album font.

We get four tracks of punk rock fury from the grim masterpiece, which cannot help but blow away later dirges like Ocean Spray and My Little Empire. Strangely, there is little showing from last LP, Lifeblood, a return to form compared to its two predecessors.

The sludgy rock You Stole The Sun From My Heart seems like a distraction after a gorgeous solo version of The Everlasting by singer, James Dean Bradfield. Then they play Stay Beautiful and it is glorious. First single, Motown Junk, is a traditional set closer but, more welcome than ever, it is punk rock fury helping blast away the evening's weak points. OE