Manic Street Preachers return to their bombastic best on new album 'Futurology'.
"I think the reason we're still around is because there's never been anyone to fucking replace us - no-one to make us extinct," says Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire, backstage at London's O2 Academy Brixton. He's sipping a glass of half fizzy water, half Coke ("That's like a metaphor for my life, that is...") and nursing a cold as the band prepare for the final night of their tour. "It's fucking hard work being in a band like this!"
Wire - alongside singer James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore - will later play a set that takes in everything from early single 'You Love Us' to 2013's 'Show Me The Wonder'. It underlines the band's transition from firebrand rockers wearing T-shirts spray-painted with the slogan 'Retaliate First' to the largely acoustic ensemble of last year's 'Rewind The Film', a move that even saw them headlining a festival for Radio 2. "It pushed us to be delicate and intimate and earnest and all those things we'd never really been,' says Bradfield. "It didn't come naturally; it was really awkward at times."
The band are plugging back in with 'Futurology', their forthcoming 12th album, out on July 7 - and that's how they plan to stay. 'I think it's full on, blasting rock'n'roll from now on, until we literally have wheelchairs," says Wire. The album - written at the same time as 'Rewind The Film'. recorded in Berlin's Hansa Studios and conceived as a heavier companion piece to their previous offering - makes for a ballsy and energised statement. New single 'Walk Me To The Badge has an 80s synthpop power-chorus influenced, Wire says, by Simple Minds and Eat Lights Become Lights. 'Between The Clock And The Bed' continues the band's fascination with that decade, and features a guest vocal from Scritti Politti's Green Gartslde; and the title track is a soaring, hopeful statement that 'the good will out' and 'rock and roll will return'.
The biggest bubble of disquiet, however, comes in 'Let's Go To War', a classic slice of barbed Manics discontent. "'Let's Go To War' has implications of the crisis of the working classes in it, but it's also referencing us as a band." Wire explains. "Let's have one last fucking angry song, like 'The Masses Against The Classes' or 'You Love Us' that references our own desire to lay waste."
The record as a whole is rooted In a fascination with Europe, but - unusually for the Manics - that's not an invitation to talk politics. "I think, in all honesty, its not a very political record," says Wire. "It's an inspirational record in that it's feeding off the idea that every place you go, no matter how big or small, has something really interesting to say. It's about art being the ultimate comfort and solace, be that still believing in the art of the three-minute song or visual art. Perhaps politics has been usurped. Maybe art is the saviour, not politics." Bradfield says the album has as much to do with the landscape of Europe and his interest in bands such as Neu!, Simple Minds and German electronic act Kreidler as any social themes. "The only identity Europe has is that it's completely fractured," he notes. "You can't trivialise it or say 'our differences keep us apart' or 'we're all the same', and I think the record delves into that."
The notoriously outspoken group haven't mellowed, exactly - it's more that they're less likely to, well, preach. "I just feel like I'd be almost a caricature of a mad, wailing man with no fucker listening and no-one even caring if I carried on as before," Wire says. "That needs to come from a young band - it needs to come from four young people from the middle of nowhere who are angry and articulate and have found a way to channel that. I still get the same instincts, undeniably, and it still seeps through, but there should be someone else, there really fucking should. Twenty years since 'In Utero', 20 years since 'The Holy Bible' - it still doesn't feel like there's anything akin to that." Bradfield chips in: "We're not living in an extreme age in terms of the way people transform their politics into music. I go to gigs and I barely hear a political or radical statement from any musician these days. It's really weird that we've been through so many wars and economic crashes, and we had the English riots a couple of years back, and it barely seems to touch the surface of the musical canon. People seem almost baffled by how to channel that indelible tension into music."
With the 20th anniversary of 'The Holy Bible' coming in August and tentative plans being touted for a celebration tour, maybe the Mantes could still be the band to inadvertently ignite that fire all over again. "It feels like people need to be reminded that you can create your own world," Wire smiles. "At the height of Britpop, full of fucking Fred Perry, bad haircuts and songs about geezers, we just burrowed away among glue sniffers and prostitutes in this shithole studio in Cardiff creating 'The Holy Bible'. It just reminds you that you can create this special world where you feel you're against something rather than for it." He pauses."And that's kind of good."