The revolution will not be… stretched to a second album, they once proclaimed. However, their initial dreams of world domination unrealized, what the Manic Street Preachers want to know now is: do you still love them?
A Mere Molotov cocktail's throw from London's legendary Westway, the Manic Street Preachers gaze down on a city which, by now, should rightfully be theirs. If even half the headline-grabbing proclamations they made during their three-year ascent were true, this punky South Wales foursome would have destroyed the music industry, rendered all ineffectual indie bands redundant, sold 16 million copies of their sprawling double debut Generation Terrorists, cracked America and self-destructed in a blaze of Butch-and-Sundance glory.
It's 1993: the music business is more conservative than ever, indie adversaries still comfortably outsell the Manics, and here they are again ensconced in temporary Paddington lodgings while they finish mixing their much less ambitious second album, Gold Against The Soul. Shall we pretend the past never happened and swallow their liberal-baiting, pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric once more? No, the Manics enjoyed that for too long, allowing old punks in the media to relive their fantasy adolescence while the record-buying public were short-changed with disappointing stodge like Generation Terrorists. A cosy, collusive relationship which benefited everyone except the fans.
"True, they chose to do that, but we weren't part of that cliquey circle," protests soft-spoken rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, notorious for carving "4 REAL" into his arm and not playing a single note on Generation Terrorists. "If you talk about music press collusion, right from the start we had as much criticism as support. It wasn't like the way Suede have been treated, which is pretty much universal love."
Despite healthy UK chart action with grand tunes like 'Motorcycle Emptiness', the last 12 months of Manic-mania have seen a string of setbacks. Generation Terrorists sold a mere 300,000 worldwide, a third of which was in Britain, while the band's big American push of last summer faltered after a paltry five shows. This leaves Sony-owned Columbia with scarcely a dent in six-figure recording costs and an equally hefty advance, but the Manics' manager Martin Hall insists this is routine and the label have no intention of dropping these self-confessed "useless sluts" before they become an expensive liability. "Sony are pleased with us," Hall counters. "We finished the new album quicker than expected, under budget and on time."
Perhaps most damaging of all, bassist Nicky Wire — notably sitting out our interview despite being in the next room — whipped up more outrage than he intended at a New Year gig by publicly wishing an AIDS death on REM's Michael Stipe. James bristles at the memory. "He fully explained it, there's no point explaining it again," he sneers, rippling the muscular torso maintained with a rigorous, daily running routine. Some think this "explanation" (attempting to justify Wire's sentiments as a protest about AIDS being treated as more glamorous and worthy than other diseases) smacked of desperate back-pedalling. But Bradfield is unrepentant. "You can call it irresponsible, but it just showed us that lots of journalists haven't risen above tabloid status."
If you use tabloid tactics, of course, they will inevitably be used against you. After all, the Manics only seem crestfallen now because they didn't achieve instant world domination as promised.
"I accept that criticism," nods Richey, "but you have to understand why we needed to be like that. Coming up to London believing we were going to sell 16 million records within six months is absolutely fucking insane. We could not be any other way, we had to exist beyond that sort of criticism."
True enough, but with their Utopian honeymoon period over, the Manics are now just another band in the record racks and must be judged alongside contemporaries whose precious indie principles they once ridiculed. Labelmates Ned's Atomic Dustbin, for instance — dismissed by Richey as "cider-drinking scum" despite outselling the Manics massively.
"We are just another band in the racks, but with more intelligence," smiles Richey disarmingly. James agrees, "We never said it was a crime to come from Stourbridge. But if you do come from Stourbridge, perhaps you should reflect that more in your lyrics."
Here, we finally arrive at what is great and unique about the Manics, which is only now being realised in their music, with the looser, bruised majesty of new tunes such as current single 'From Despair To Where': their obsession with the wounded pride and quiet desperation just below the surface of British provincial life.
"There's an awful lot of white British kids that have never really gone hungry, always had a roof to live under, but at the same time are desperately unhappy," croons Richey. "It's not total poverty, just a poverty of ideas… There's something at the heart of capitalist democracy that doesn't bring satisfaction."
This is perhaps from whence the Manics' derived their vague but oft-touted political reputation, growing up in communities destroyed by the miners' strike and disillusioned with the British Left; subjects James and Richey discuss with rare passion and clarity. But the dead-end valley community of their native Blackwood, where they still live, also seems to be a source of proud self-reliance.
"Coming to London," concludes James, "what strikes you is the complete lack of moralism, and I find myself drifting towards the traditionalism I derive from my father. We just feel a total generation gap with our generation, not between us and our parents, which is very un-rock'n'roll. I still believe there's space within a generation to reject its own values."
Manic Street Preachers: from earth-shaking terrorists to home-loving traditionalists in 12 short months. Will the world love them now?