'The Manic Street Preachers release their eighth studio album next week - and bassist Nicky Wire says it could be their last. But he also tells music journalist James McLaren that the recording marks their return as a "proper" band.
After about seven years of trying, I finally got to interview the Manic Street Preachers a few weeks ago.
Well, it was meant to be all three of them sat round a conference-call phone system, but what with one of the world's biggest record companies not having a suitable phone, and Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield sticking to the speed limit on the M4, it ended up just being Nicky.
No bad thing, I think. After all, Nicky's the one with the mouth. And what a mouth: he's a god's gift interviewee. Some bands offer monosyllabic, unintelligible teenage grunts which don't make for good copy, really.
Others have verbal diarrhoea but wander off topic so spectacularly it's nigh-on useless. And some speak in one never-ending sentence and you have to donate some of your own punctuation.
So Nicky's up for talking these days, after a few years in which the Manics really weren't interested in playing ball with the media. He's cheerful, enthusiastic, effervescent even. And, thank god, as honest as he's ever been. This is a man who's never shied away from speaking what he sees as the truth, and he thinks they just haven't cut it as a band in recent years.
Their last few albums, he thinks, have lacked a spark; that je ne sais quoi which takes an album from a collection of songs to a cohesive whole. They recorded their parts separately, and it shows, he says. Lifeblood and Know Your Enemy are albums I found very hard going. And speaking as someone who loved the Manics as a teenager, that's kind of frustrating.
Back in the day, as a spotty, long-haired teenager, I loved the stadium rock of Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul; then I loved the caustic, bleak but melodic Holy Bible. Those songs I still know almost word-for-word and they're part of my history. That's a responsibility for any band.
Nicky talks to me about the new album, Send Away The Tigers, being a return to that "proper" band. They worked as a band in the studio, didn't shy away from rock solos and followed their instincts to embrace some of the things which made them the Manics in the first place.
As he says, "We wanted to reclaim all the things that kind of made us."
They're comfortable with their history now, he tells me. They've used both artwork and music to bring people like me back into the fold; we recognise the signs.
Given that, as Nicky says, they may call it quits if this record doesn't go right for them, they've returned to their core strengths: big choruses, rock flourishes and clever lyrics.
What has to be remembered is that the Manics had been going for a decade before they got their biggest success. The first album had the shadow of Richey's 4-Real cutting incident hanging over it, and they were written off in some quarters as Guns N' Roses rip-off merchants. The second album didn't fare any better critically, and spawned a few Top 40s.
Then they gave the world the Holy Bible, a bolt from the blue if ever there was one. Gone were the stadium rock anthems and instead we had Richey's psyche writ large across a sometimes furious, sometimes delicate musical landscape. The critics loved it, and it became as much a touchstone album for disaffected British teens as The Sex Pistols' Nevermind The Bollocks or The Smiths' Meat Is Murder.
Then Richey disappeared in 1995 and things would never be the same again.
Their return, A Design For Life, was released in the middle of Brit Pop and they were lumped in with that turgid musical "movement". Their follow-up, This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours and subsequent albums were released in an almost unprecedented slump for exciting British music. The album reflected that. It was still their biggest success.
The trouble was that having huge commercial success pushed them into an audience not au fait with their socio-political standpoints and punk rock background.
On the flipside, it also took them away from their original audience. The glam-punk devotees who'd been there for years found it hard to relate to this new, safe Manics.
This put them in a difficult position: they didn't keep up the commercial success of anthemic radio hits, so their new audience abandoned them to a large extent. And their original audience were still suspicious.
It was something of a lose-lose situation for the Brit Award-winners who wrote lyrics about Sylvia Plath.
You can see why Nicky told me that the band would break up if they didn't do something. They wanted - if they were to go out - to go out on a high. They want to be true to themselves, and to be comfortable with themselves.
The new album sounds as if they've remembered Richey's influence and the intelligent rock 'n' roll they used to make. The album is their best in 10 years and has been applauded in all the reviews I've read. It's tied up loose ends and if it ends up being their last, it's book-ended their career very nicely.