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'I Lost Both My Parents So That Does Hang Over The Album' - Herald Scotland, 25th September 2021

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Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire on the band's new album and his love of ABBA

SO, Nicky, I say to the fiftysomething man currently sitting some 400 miles away, have you or the other members of the band had a midlife crisis yet?

Nicky Wire, lyricist, bassist, sometime controversialist, long-time ABBA fan and, alongside guitarist and vocalist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore, effectively lifetime member of Manic Street Preachers, thinks about the question for a moment before answering.

“I don’t think we have,” he says finally. “Sean had a phase – this must be 20 years ago – when he spent a lot of money on cars. He’d never learnt to drive, and he always wanted to. And he turned up in a 911 Porsche and I accidentally opened the door straight onto a stone pillar.

“Fair play, he forgave me.”

It’s midday on Monday, a few days after the release of The Ultra Vivid Lament, the 14th Manic Street Preachers album, and a few days before it will go to number one in the album charts, beating off the challenge of Steps.

Wire is sitting in his home in Newport, South Wales, surrounded by a couple of guitars, a piano, a drum kit (“My son plays drums, and my daughter plays piano and I pretend to play guitar,” he says) and a lot of vinyl. His mood, he says, is somewhere in the region of subdued optimism.

“The album is selling well surprisingly because …” He pauses. “Who can tell about anything? I used to think I had a vague sense of judging the atmosphere, but not anymore. To be honest, culture-stroke-music is so vital at the moment, so to be part of it; to be asked to do interviews and to be played on the radio when you’re on your 14th album, is quite a big achievement.”

That the Manics are still in existence more than 30 years since they crashed into the public consciousness as glammed-up generation terrorists back at the fag end of the 1980s and despite losing key member Richey Edwards when he went missing in 1995, is testament to their working-class work ethic and perhaps a strand of stubborn contrarianism.

If the punky thrash of their early singles and the intensity and nihilism of their Holy Bible years has long given way to a comfortable classic rock setting (“dad rock”, their critics would say), The Ultra Vivid Lament is still a confident example of what that might mean.

It has arrived trailing namechecks for ABBA, Echo and the Bunnymen and even The Associates (“What a band, what a band,” Wire says today) amongst its influences.

“I think this album certainly feels like Waterloo in ’73, ’74, right through to Bring On the Dancing Horses in ’85 by Echo and the Bunnymen. That’s the sort of musical framework,” Wire agrees.

“Because James learnt the piano and wrote literally all the music on piano I think the ABBA influence in particular just seemed to come out really naturally.”

Yes, he says, he has heard the new ABBA album. “I was really impressed that it sounded like ABBA. Sometimes the mistake you can make when you’ve been away is actually not sounding like you did before.”

He loves the fact that their new music remains “sumptuous, seductive and quite cold. The way they sing is never over the top, it’s not scales going mad. It’s always really controlled, and I really appreciate that.”

Controlled is a good word for the new Manics album too. It is the sound of a band who know exactly what they’re for. But that title, Nicky, what are you lamenting?

“I lost both my parents, so that does hang over the album. It was lamenting losing something really precious … the warmth that I had with the parents I had. The one thing I’m more grateful than anything for is growing up with my mum and dad and my brother, and just looking back with such warmth and kindness. But obviously that comes with a huge void as well.”

Inevitably ageing and mortality, then, had a bearing on the album the band has created.

“It sounds a bit old-fashioned but … We looked at ourselves and thought creativity is the only thing we’ve got left. We were all 52 at the same time with family and kids and everything else, parents getting older and passing away and all that. It really flowed from there.”

It is the work of people who have known each other basically all their lives, he points out. “I was in the same class as James at school from the age of four and a half. We were in school together and then we were in a band. It’s probably not that healthy really. And James and Sean are cousins. It’s a bit of a Hollywood story, really, all in the same comprehensive, including Richey as well.”

The past and what has been lost is very much in the album’s DNA. The opening track Still Snowing in Sapporo takes us back to a moment in time before Edwards disappeared, when the band were still young. "I'm walking on my own, it's 1993 ..." the first line goes.

“It just gives me goosebumps,” Wire says of the track. “It’s such a vivid recollection of that particular time. I can remember that more than what I did yesterday.

“I don’t know if you’re the same. Such a bizarre thing. I can remember me and Richey doing hairspray and doing eyeliner. I don’t even know if I’ve had a shower yet today.”

In 2021 the Manics are a long way from the young firebrands who burst out of Blackwood, all gobbiness, make-up and utter certainty in their own brilliance.

“I really miss that certainty of youth,” Wire admits. “The power, the energy. I wish I could be like that again, but I think it’s a real falsehood to pretend you are like that if you’re not.

“It’s much more about navigating the complexities now in all forms of life whilst trying to live the fantasy of being in a rock and roll band on top of that.

“Look, we’re not going to be like the Ramones just bashing it out, ‘one, two, three, four.’ I do admire bands that grow and develop and have different phases and different eras.

“Most of our contemporaries have split up and reformed three times while we’ve been going.

There is still the odd flash of anger and fire in the Manics, though. There’s a couplet on the new album very much designed for the moment we are living through. “Don’t let those boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten,” James Dean Bradfield snarls at one point on Don’t Let the Night Divide Us.

Are you hopeful or despairing right now, Nicky?

“Working class culture when we were growing up, to me at any rate, seemed much more powerful. Everywhere you looked there was someone you admired, and they came from the same kind of background as yourself, shared similar viewpoints. And that seems to have disappeared. And I don’t blame anyone for it. It’s just the culture.

“I always give young kids a pass because I was an idiot when I was young and I feel they don’t have half the benefits that I had growing up, all the certainties.”

The Ultra Vivid Lament, it should be said, is as much about the personal as it is about the world around us.

“I like internal galaxies as well, and this album is very much about still trying to discover yourself in your fifties. What makes you tick and where your beliefs lie. I think self-examination is really good for the soul. I think it’s much better to do that to yourself than through a mobile device. I think that’s where things can get really twisted. I prefer the mirror to the screen.”

There can be surely few bands more aware of the weight of their own history than the Manics. Is that ever a burden?

“It is difficult,” Wire agrees. “The more it goes on it does become a weight on your shoulder a bit.” He pauses, redirects the thought. “There’s loads to celebrate. I’m glad we’ve been commercially massive and commercially disastrous. You appreciate it more and it’s just much more interesting anyway.

“People still want to write about us even if they don’t like us. You can’t complain about that.”

When Manic Street Preachers first appeared they were angry, spiteful and often hilarious; suffused with the arrogance and flash of youth. You seemed to hate everyone, Nicky.

“I’m not afraid to say we were hatred-fuelled and nihilistic at the start. A lot of my favourite music growing up was like that.

“But I’ve learned to control it and try to turn it into … I don’t know … I hate the word thoughtful … But to articulate it a bit better than through nihilism.

“I wouldn’t swap those years at the start for anything, but as a human being you’ve got to try and develop. Or so my wife has told me over the last 30 years.”
'I Lost Both My Parents So That Does Hang Over The Album'
Publication: Herald Scotland
Date: Saturday 25th September 2021
Writer: Teddy Jamieson
Photos: Alex Lake

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