With their guitarist seriously ill in hospital, it's no wonder the Manics' new album is called The Holy Bible
1994 - a year of rock 'n' roll purgatory. Kurt and Nirvana gone. Hole's bass player OD'd Courtney in a critical condition. Sinead admitted to a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt. Evan Dando fucked up on crack and now fielding rumours of a Lemonheads split. Suede in crisis after Bernard Butler walked out. The Wonder Stuff finished. Manic Street Preachers' favourite band (of the moment) Alice In Chains, among an infinite number with recurring heroin problems.
A matter of weeks ago, Manic guitarist Richey James checking into a private clinic, on the verge of anorexia (5'8", 6st), suffering nervous exhaustion.
Richey's excess have been well documented; the flagons of vodka, the groupies, the Thai prostitutes. He's best known for hacking '4 REAL' into his arm with a razor blade, to stress a point to a member of the press. The grisly pictures published at the time were quite macabre. Yet we quickly became familiar, even comfortable with the notion of Richey cutting himself. The Manics' interpretation of rock 'n' roll nihilism had always been meticulously studied - it seemed easy to believe that Richey was in control. He'd always said self-mutilation was a 'sexual' thing, but his lyrics on the new Manics' album The Holy Bible read 'HURT MYSELF TO GET PAIN OUT'.
Meanwhile, the Manics have seen their original ideals reduced to rubble. The band aspired to be as confrontational as Public Enemy and as big as Guns 'N' Roses. "Fame is everything," Richey told Loaded editor James Brown in 1991. Three years later they've achieved a marginal level of success - a respectable half measure - when they'd vowed it was all or nothing.
Manics singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield looks fucked. He's drinking Irish whiskey in a west London boozer at 11:45am. Bradfield has worked like a dog for the Manics this year.
He'd clock up 16 hour shifts in the studio, stitching the lyrics that Richey and Nicky supplied against the insolent melodies for The Holy Bible album.
"Even when I'm in the studio on my own, I'm working for the rest of the group, I'm working for them," he says pointedly. "But Richey has persuaded me there's no catharsis in art. We made the new album without the record company's permission, laid down our own money for it. It's completely uncompromising in every sense, and it's our best album yet. I really hoped Richey would find some kind of redemption in it, but he didn't. And that's upsetting."
Richey contributed 75 per cent of all lyrics on the new album. Mutilation, anorexia and alienation are among its many complex themes, and Bradfield is now watching his boyhood mate live through this. As yet, it's impossible to ascertain the significance of a song hinting at suicide that Richey also put forward for the LP, 'Die In The Summertime'.
There are points in our chat, when Bradfield's frustration is acute. As yet, there are no tangible answers, just a sense of stress about Richey's condition, about what might happen next. Perhaps The Holy Bible lyrics sheet holds further clues. But how the fuck do you identify them? Even bassist Nicky Wire who partnered Richey in writing a proportion of the lyrics, will admit he doesn't fully understand Richey's contribution.
Imagine Bradfield's pedicament, he must give a voice to these words - so many of which have become self-fulfilling prophecies - while the author is still desperately suck in hospital.
"I was really worried about the therapists asking Richey to submit to a higher God, and then trying to re-construct his life. Because that's crap," says Bradfield. "I keep thinking they'll put a disclaimer on his work. That would be awful. He has actually started to reject some of the therapy now, which is a sign of a very intelligent person. But it's scary when you're depending on these people to recognise the vital signs, as regards your mental state."
He talks about a split with his fiancée, his 'cherry picker' and partner since the age of 17: his move to London at Christmas, after the break up. Bored already, living seven day weekends on a diet of 'gals and Jamesons. Gutted that as as a consequence, he's shaved 15 seconds off his running time over a mile. Livid about ignorant questions posed by complete strangers on a daily basis.
"People will say to me, 'Do you think you did everything you could to stop Richey doing this?' I say, 'Yeah.' Then they'll go, 'Are you sure?' And at that point I just want to fill their faces in."
there are members of the music press suggesting that 'this is the way that Richey would have wanted it' Martyr Of The Month - how very fucking convenient - yet his story becomes worthless currency if the band were to split.
In truth, Bradfield is the only member with a chance of holding the Manics together. He saw to it that Richey and Nicky's lyrics iced the most effective ever Manics album. It was up to him to actually pull it off, when the group were forced to play as a three piece at Glasgow's T in The Park and Reading Festival. And if the Manics do survive, it'll be because against all odds, Bradfield is still able to commit.