After 'one last shot at mass communication', what happens next? In the case of Manic Street Preachers, whose previous album, Postcards From A Young Man was a full-blown, stirring rock record, they've chosen to go down two different routes at once.

It could have been much different, of course - some of you will remember that the Welsh trio's 11th LP was originally going to be a sprawling collection called 70 Songs of Hatred and Failure, but they have reined themselves in and written two smaller ones instead. Number 12 is called Futurology and will surface in the first half of next year, and is being touted as an album in the vein of their nihilistic masterpiece The Holy Bible. Before then, though, there comes some introspection, and with that, the acoustic album.

Rewind the Film was trailed in July by the expressive title track, whose lyrics longed for simpler times ("Rewind the film once more / Turn back the pages of my post / Rewind the film once more / I want the world to see it all") and were rendered even more powerful by a contribution from Richard Hawley, who trades verses with James Dean Bradfield over a sumptuously-orchestrated 7-minute track. It is songs like that which make up the bulk of the album, meaning that the single-ready, brassy pop of 'Show Me the Wonder' is the exception and not the rule. I suppose that's to be expected when the record opens with a haunting a capella from Nicky Wire: "I don't want my children to grow up like me / It's too soul-destroying, it's a mocking disease; a wasting disease." 'This Sullen Welsh Heart' sets the album's tone, and Lucy Rose's vocal contribution is the light and airy contrast to its heavy-hearted lyrics.

The album plumbs depths of bleakness not heard on a Manics record in almost 20 years. Bradfield, Wire and drummer Sean Moore are, as 'Builder of Routines' puts it, "caught between acceptance and rage," and seemingly approaching every album as though it could be their last. "It seems that every song now is just one last chance," Bradfield admits on 'Anthem For A Lost Cause', a song that contains a chorus as big and affecting as the likes of 'Motorcycle Emptiness' or 'A Design For Life', its low-key sound bolstered by the presence of some more brass and Moore's steady drumming. They're no longer the firebrand twenty-somethings whose dream was initially to sell a million albums and go out with a bang; they've morphed into something else entirely as the years have gone by, and their sound hasn't been this stripped back since This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, 15 years ago.

That album found the band in a similar mood, but it's easy to forget that it spawned a couple of their biggest hits (namely 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' and 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'). Rewind the Film is a glimpse into their how they see the world - nakedly confessional in parts, defiant and restless in others - but they still want to invite the listener in, which is why the shimmering beauty of '(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline' and the gospel-ish cadences of the piano-driven 'As Holy As The Soil (That Buries Your Skin)' play to their strengths and are as immediate as anything on their last few albums - standing in stark contrast to the defeated-sounding '3 Ways to See Despair', an acoustic lament in which Wire seems ready to throw in the towel: "I am as tired as John Lennon sang / Conveying exhaustion like no-one else can."

Despite the overall mood, the varied-sounding album ebbs and flows wonderfully, exploring many different ideas in the process, and ends with a song as fiery and politically astute as anything from their back catalogue, with '30-Year War' taking shots at the establishment with the vigour and accuracy we first saw on Generation Terrorists back in 1992: "The endless parade of Old Etonian scum line the front benches, so what is to be done? / All part of the same establishment / I ask you again: what is to be done?" It's on this poignant note that the album draws to a close; mixing an acoustic template with fervour and energy, it acts almost as a bridge to Futurology. Manic Street Preachers sure as hell don't sound tired, and the most important part of an album that contains plenty of nods to their past is that it's dropped just enough hints to suggest that we should be every bit as excited about their future.