Touring in support of their new album, Postcards From A Young Man, Manic Street Preachers perform at Metropolis Fremantle on Monday, November 22. Bob Gordon reports.
Manic Street Preachers drummer Sean Moore sits in a London office, on the eve of yet another album release. After 10 albums, he’s well used to this, but can’t help but feel a little nervously hopeful.
“You do hope it’ll be a success,” he says. “To work on something for a year-and-a-half only to have it fall flat on its face at the first hurdle would be...”
A bit deflating?
“Exactly,” he laughs.
The Manics’ new album, Postcards From A Young Man, comes at an interesting time in their existence, arriving as it does on the heels of 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers, an album written using the previously abandoned lyrics of former member Richey Edwards, who disappeared in 1995 and was pronounced ‘presumably dead’ a few years back. It was seen as a watershed moment and one that would have a heavy influence on what the band did next.
“I think it was just a lot of people supposing it would be like that,” Moore clarifies. “Whatever we did after Journal For Plague Lovers, I think that was going to be assumed. After 10 albums you’ve pretty much covered most of the bases.
“That’s the importance of that mass communication thing that Nicky said, throw everything at it, the kitchen sink. Try and do the radio, do the TV, do all the media coverage and hopefully it would propel us all into the next era of Manic Street Preachers. And I think the next album, if we get to the next album, will be nothing like Postcards or Journey. It will be a totally different Manics, whether it be avant garde or experimental. We’ll just decide what direction we want to go in.”
Manic Street Preachers are a band that certainly has its polar opposite sides. Their albums run the gamut, from raw and emotional, to avant garde, to pop, to polished – they’ve set big boundaries to work within.
“That’s right,” Moore says, “we can go anywhere we want. We can and I don’t think anybody’s gonna be surprised about where we go, just because that’s what we always have done. Maybe we have a band sound, journos think the band’s music is drawn in pop but I really don’t know. Maybe we should do a dance album, given its popularity. I really don’t know. On the other hand maybe we should take a leaf out of AC/DC’s book and give everyone the same album for 30 years! I enjoy it, though. That’s the thing, when I hear that sound I think, ‘yeah that’s Angus. That’s rock’. It’s the definition of rock music for me.”
Was there a mindset that Postcards From A Young Man would be like it is or did it organically go the way it did?
“We have a mindset for every album to be honest with you,” Moore explains. “It may turn out a little different, but say for this one the strings idea was there from the start. We wanted to make it enjoyable for people’s ears.”
The album is also marked by the presence of three guest luminaries in John Cale (Velvet Underground and solo mastermind), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver) and Ian McCulloch (Echo & The Bunnymen).
“John Cale is our mate,” Moore says with some pride, “so we chased him down in LA and sent him the files and it was a bit of wait-and-see. James [Dean Bradfield, guitar/vocals] had worked with him a few years back so he knew how he was to work with and also he’s a big influence on us, being the first Welsh alternative rock star, hanging out with Andy Warhol and all that. For us he was like a big inspiration, because if someone from our hometown could rub shoulders with the intelligentsia pop art world of New York then we can do it, so to speak. And when it came back it had this sort of Phillip Glass feel to it...to me, anyway. I really enjoyed listening to what he did, although you probably can’t hear it very well in the mix.
“Duff McKagan presented us with a Mojo Magazine ‘Maverick’ Award. He joined us onstage when we played [Guns N’ Roses song] It’s So Easy at the Hammersmith Odeon, he definitely shined with that Appetite For Destruction bass sound. So from that experience we sent him some tapes also to LA and when we got them back we were pleasantly surprised. Then with Ian McCulloch, Echo & The Bunnymen were the first band that me, Richey and James went to see live. He came to our studio in Cardiff and he was the brightest light. It was like watching Bing Crosby and David Bowie doing a tune together in the room. It’s so great that you can pick up a phone and say, ‘do you wanna do this? Okay? Let’s do it’.”
It certainly seems like a concept more aligned to hip hop than to the rock world, having three major guests on the one album.
“That had never really occurred to us,” Moore says, “though we had been talking about the UK Top 10 and how every track features somebody.”
Then again, the Manics have always had a field day with off-kilter ideas, mad cover versions, big statements and changes in direction. As ever, they are masters of their own destiny.
“We’ve never been ones to be pigeon-holed anyway,” Moore says. “We just throw ideas into the mix and see what comes out of it. We’ve pretty much been left by the record company to do our own thing. We don’t get it right every time and we don’t profess to, but all you can do is just do what you feel, put it out there and hopefully it takes the baton on a little further.”