After a reluctant break, Manic Street Preachers are back with their 11th studio album. Chris Peregrine talks to James Dean Bradfield about the band's introspective new vibe and why they couldn't stay away for long.
It was a return to more familiar territory for one of South Wales's finest, Manic Street Preachers, last night when they took the stage at Newport Centre.
The setting was more traditional than one of their most recent public appearances, last month's surprise visit to Gower College Swansea's Gorseinon campus as part of a nationwide radio station tour.
Students from the college's music and music technology courses were treated to two classic tracks and one from their new album in an intimate session arranged by Swansea Sound and The Wave.
It is not the first time the Manics have made what could be termed an unorthodox gig in the Swansea area following their October 2011 appearance before an invitation-only select audience at the Bay View in Oystermouth Road.
But what the Gower College Swansea outing and last night's tour opener meant was that bassist and Swansea University graduate Nicky Wire was as good as his word.
"We'll see you back in two years, hopefully," he said before stepping off stage at the London O2 Arena in December 2011.
The concert, during which they played all of their 38 singles, was billed as a giant send off before taking a well-earned break. They had released three albums in as many years, touring the world with each one.
But now, the trio are back, with Rewind The Film - their 11th studio album - and a string of live shows. They've also already recorded their next album, to be released in 2014. Some holiday.
"We always knew it was going to be hard to be away," says singer James Dean Bradfield.
"The word 'institutionalised' carries negative connotations, but we are - we're institutionalised within the Manics; having something to aim for, being organised, having a schedule, deadlines, being told by the tour manager to be in the hotel lobby for 4.30, we love it.
"We're very disciplined like that. And if you've written songs you love, it's difficult not to want to play them to people. We nearly made it two years without playing a show in the UK, so that's not so bad."
What would he have done if they'd had more time off? Bradfield pales at the thought. "I honestly don't know," he says, horrified at the idea of life without the band he formed with his cousin Sean Moore and childhood friend Nicky Wire in 1985.
Unlike previous album Postcards From A Young Man, which was full of the grandiose political statements, huge string arrangements and rousing choruses that have become one of their signatures, Rewind The Film is much smaller in scale and introspective in theme - not something normally associated with the Manics, a band who've consistently railed against consumerism, class during their 28-year career.
"Is that introspection now outweighing any of the traditional angers and passions that we might have had?" asks Bradfield. "It's a question we think about. There are lots of questions we ask ourselves, others being 'Is it ridiculous that we're still doing this job at the age of 44?', or, 'Have we got anything left to say after 11 albums?' "We're asked similar things by journalists, and rightly so. Often there'll be this sepia image dragged out, and people will talk about the nihilism that was in our music, and the world we were trying to create because we were so angry at the one we lived in.
"We have been true to how old we feel sometimes, and this record is exactly that. It's filled with self-doubt and the creep of mortality, but there's a song on there called 30 Year War, which is one the easiest songs we've ever written."
It was inspired by the politics of Margaret Thatcher, not, as they're keen to stress, by her death earlier this year.
"It shows we are still quintessentially the same band, occasionally engaging in politics, asking the same questions and really enjoying doing it," says Bradfield.
The new album's title track sees Bradfield duet with Richard Hawley, one of the few musicians the un-starry guitarist counts as a friend.
"I've known Dicky Boy since about 1997, and we bonded in a bar one night over a love of our respective home towns," he says. "Over respect for our parents, too. It was a very drunken conversation, needless to say, but we swapped numbers and have been friends ever since."
He says he knew the song needed a certain croon, something to which his voice isn't suited, and he didn't want Wire to sing it.
"It's a brave song and he'd taken enough of a hit writing it," he says. "So I called Hawley. He drove down from Sheffield to our studio in Cardiff, with a bad back, and nailed it in three takes!
"The song's about losing people, knowing what that loss is like and worrying it's going to happen again."
It's one of three duets on the album, the others being 4 Lonely Roads with Welsh singer Cate Le Bon, and This Sullen Welsh Heart with Lucy Rose.
"Lucy has a powerful voice, really authoritative, but broken at the same time," he says.
"I also like the idea of Sullen Welsh Heart being tempered by a quintessentially English artist. There is a long tradition of deep, dark melodrama in Wales, whether it's Richard Burton, Rachel Roberts, Pete Ham from Badfinger or our own Richey," he says, mentioning former bandmate Richey Edwards.
Edwards went missing in 1995, and was officially presumed dead in 2008, although there have been spurious reports of sightings in places as far flung as Goa and the Canary Islands ever since he vanished.
Their next album, Futurology, is expected in May, but for now it is all about Rewind The Film.
"I can hear the TV advert now," jokes Bradfield. 'Filled with a sense of self-doubt, mortality and the oncoming creep of one's tender years - 12 new songs from the Manic Street Preachers'. We've never made things easy for ourselves, so let's not start now."
"If you've written songs you love, it's difficult not to want to play them to people."