Manics' Postcards from the edge
The Manic Street Preachers tell Chris Wasser about their new album
'One last shot of mass communication": now there's a statement that'll raise a few eyebrows. But what does it even mean, eh? Are we to believe that one of the most important rock'n'roll bands to ever come out of Wales are ready to pack it in should the wider listening public turn their backs?
Well, that's how I took it anyway. But as Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield take a seat for their first interview of the day, it seems I might have just jumped the gun a little. Indeed, despite what anyone else has to say about the matter, Manic Street Preachers ain't goin' anywhere. And that's a fact.
"We didn't think that sounded like it's gonna be the last album," says Wire, he of the sunglass-wearing rock star bassist variety.
I'll take that as a joke, thank you very much. Then again, it's not as if we haven't come to expect a few surprises along the way. Having originally formed in 1986 with a view to record just one album before calling it quits, the Manics have allowed for several changes of heart over the years. And not without reason, either. But whether it's their timely graduation from Generation Terrorists to million-selling agents of the world stage, or the unsolved disappearance of former lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards, it's almost a certainty that theirs is a story that will one day merit a screenplay. Until then, we've got a new album to talk about -- and it's a far cry from their last effort, too (more of which later).
In fact, Postcards from a Young Man -- an altogether more radio-friendly collection than its darker predecessor -- is yet another reason to believe that there has always been two sides to the Manics; the boys who gave us the likes of 1994's The Holy Bible, and the men who tried to Send Away The Tigers. But which do they prefer?
"That's a really good question," smiles Nicky. "The Holy Bible, for instance -- making that was fantastic, but touring . . . that whole year was just so dark and depressing, I can't say I enjoyed it."
"So obviously you think to yourself 'oh is it better being the more kind of uplifting band?' But being a four piece had symmetry, and having Richey in the band had such a different kind of capability, that it was a wonderful beast to be part of. But then, you know, playing A Design for Life at the Brit Awards to all those millions of people with all our imagery behind us -- that was pretty spectacular as well."
James -- the band's ever-commanding vocalist -- intervenes, offering a more technical discussion of the trio's song-writing skills . . . but it's still no closer to an actual answer, mind.
"We don't know really, do we?" laughs Nicky. "They both have their plus points and they both have their drawbacks, you know?"
Indeed I do. But what with Postcards being the band's 10th album and both men having turned 41 this year, what's the mood like in the Manics' camp these days? After all, it was once an opinion of Richey's that the band only ever created a record to encapsulate the collective spirit of its members at that particular moment in time.
"I think with Postcards," says Nicky, "it's a mixture of sort of rage, desperation, and just a genuine love and kind of passion of being in a rock'n'roll band; that idea of giving it everything you've got before it's all a pile of crumbling dust."
I see. And what about when people still bring up the subject of Richey's disappearance? Sure, the guy may have been as unstable and eccentric as they come, but 15 years after checking out of a London hotel, never to be seen again (he was officially "presumed dead" in 2008), it must be frustrating when strangers like myself continue to quiz the group about their lost band mate.
As it turns out, they just don't like it when we get his name wrong. "It's like, 'do you miss his guitar playing?'" offers James, "and if you knew anything about Richey, you'd know that he couldn't play guitar and he didn't really want to play guitar by the end."
"It's more annoying when people just go into the B movie vibe of it, you know, like 'what do you think happened? Come on, tell me -- you know the truth!' I think it's the contrary, really -- we get annoyed when there's, say, lists of 'top 50 best lyricists ever', and Richey's not in there."
To Wire, Richey was more than just a friend -- he was also a "genius rock'n'roll star". Which explains why the guys decided to use a leftover collection of lyrics when working on their last album, 2009's Journal for Plague Lovers.
"I was a bit scared -- wrongly," he tells me. "I think Jim kind of dipped into the Pandora's Box and became really stimulated and really energised, and when he started playing the music to us, you could tell it was totally the right decision. I'd had [the lyrics] in my cupboard at home for a long time, and for some reason -- I knew they were brilliant -- but I didn't want to confront it, I guess. But that was it really -- he left them to us."
Time's almost up, which leaves me with one final question -- what sort of advice would the band offer to their younger selves if they could send them a postcard? Nicky just laughs: "I'd want to give me and Richey a slap!"