Manics' bassist Nicky Wire doesn't think the current crop of young bands know how to rock 'n' roll...
Under most circumstances, Nicky Wire -the bassist, lyricist and chief spokesman for Welsh rock giants Manic Street Preachers - wouldn't mind receiving the silver medal. However; when he first heard the news last week that his band's latest LP, Resistance is Futile, had reached the No.2 spot in the album charts, Wire was apoplectic with rage. The reason? The album which eventually beat the Manics to the top spot: The Greatest Showman soundtrack.
"I detest musicals," Wire rants. "I'm fine with reaching number two in the charts. We've been beaten to number one before by Arctic Monkeys, the Spice Girls; I'm fine with that. But being denied a number one by a musical soundtrack! I can't stomach that. I can't think of a worst form of torture than being made to listen to the soundtrack of Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music."
Hatred for musicals aside, the Manic Street Preachers should have plenty to feel positive about in 2018. Over 30 years since they formed in Blackwood, South Wales, the Manics - Wire, alongside vocalist/guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore - still remain, unlike so many of their Nineties peers, a hugely vital creative and commercial force.
The band's latest LP the critically acclaimed Resistance is Futile, has become their 13th album to go Top 5, while their current UK arena tour - which visits Manchester this weekend - will surely confirm their status as one of the UK's most electrifying rock outfits. But while the Manics' latest triumphant comeback has looked effortless, the reality, the band admit, was very much the opposite. Wire describes the writing process behind Resistance is Futile as, "exhausting. Writing this album didn't come easy." Quite understandably, Wire's focus was on other things: last year, his 80-year-old mum was diagnosed with leukaemia, leaving the Manics songwriter feeling, he says, "slightly, detached. There was a lot of uncertainty".
That sense of uncertainty also extended to the Manics' own future. A band who, from day one, have always celebrated rock music as the ultimate art form ("rock 'n' roll is our epiphany", they sang on their 1992 debut LP Generation Terrorists), the Manics have recently been wondering about their own relevance in today's musical climate. In an age of social media narcissism, Ed Sheeran and grime music, the Welsh trio have rightly asked themselves: does rock music still have any cultural relevance?
"I remember that speech Alex Turner gave at the (2014) BRIT Awards," Wire says, "When he said 'rock 'n' roll will never die.' I'd like to believe that, but Arctic Monkeys were probably the last guitar band who really captured the imagination of the public on a massive scale. And that was years ago! I think those big rock stars, the ones who really connect with the wider public are getting fewer and fewer. That's why I love Noel and Liam so much. I'm glad they're still around and their interviews are still as funny and irreverent as ever."
Does Wire believe that the 2018 musical climate could produce a new band like the young Manics? "I don't think it would be possible" he says. "Young bands are too afraid to rock the boat. They prefer to be in control. And their ambitions are different: it's more important for them to get some kind of product endorsement or their music on an advert. If you look back to the Manics in the early days... I think we'd be destroyed today! I don't see that passion around these days".
The Manics, thankfully, still have that fire in their belly - though you might be surprised at how the band are channelling their passion these days. Never shy, in the past, of namechecking their political heroes (the likes of Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Aneurin Bevan), the Manics have, surprisingly, decided to avoid modern politics on their latest album. "I didn't feel like adding to the noise; it's all reduced to Twitter wars;' Wire says dismissively.
So, instead of Brexit and Trump, the band's latest LP, Resistance is Futile, finds the Manics at their most lyrically diverse. The songs touching on a wide variety of subjects including the tumultuous relationship of Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara, the paintings of Yves Klein, and the incredible story of Vivian Maier, the Chicago nanny who left behind a trove of 150,000 photos that were only discovered after her death. The world of visual arts, it transpires, has been inspiring Nicky Wire a great deal of late. He speaks enthusiastically about Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery, which he plans to visit this weekend ("I haven't been since they had the big refurb; I'm really looking forward to it"). Most significantly, however, is the recent news that Wire, in September, will be staging his first ever exhibition, entitled Paintings and Polaroids, at the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery in Wales.
Does this mean we could be losing Nicky Wire to the art world permanently? "Not at all? he replies. "But recently, I've really enjoyed expressing myself through art more than music. I just love the pure aesthetic of it; you don't always have to look for deeper meaning in a painting. But I still plan to make music. When the three of us get in the studio together, there's still that magic there."