Being celebrated by the British music press as "the best band in the world" means very little these days, says Manic Street Preachers front man James Bradfield.
His band has enjoyed that distinction, storming the Brit awards in 1997 and taking home best band and best album honours for its last album, Everything Must Go.
Being big at home has been nice, Bradfield says, but it means "bloody nothing these days.
"It's all press-led in Britain and it's a little silly," says Bradfield, slightly groggy from a lightning press tour of the U.S. "It's still one of the only countries in the world that has a national music weekly press, so it's in their interest to nominate gods once in a while to sell copies."
The Manic Street Preachers gained a following in the U.K. by producing pretty, haunting pop anthems with sharp teeth -- smart music an intellectual peg higher than the politically non-committal slacker mush of other British exports.
Their stance on the left of the political spectrum is no accident, Bradfield says. The Manic Street Preachers are the product of a small, tough Welsh mining town, a place it was hard to grow up in without acquiring a political stripe, he says.
The latest album's title, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, is a phrase coined by Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan, a former miner who became the architect of Britain's National Health Service.
The first single from the album, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, is a tribute to the volunteers who served in the International Brigade against General Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil war.
Selling records in Britain has never translated into success in North America for the Street Preachers, and even their more marketable contemporaries Oasis, Blur and Bush haven't captivated audiences here of late. Despite constant suggestions from the industry that groups like theirs could tip off another so-called British invasion, Bradfield thinks that has long become an industry cliche.
The group has gone through enough ups and downs over the past few years to feel truly grateful they're still around, Bradfield says.
Manager and close friend Philip Hall died of cancer in 1993, then guitarist Richey Edwards, who had suffered a previous nervous breakdown, disappeared without a trace in 1995.
"It was very much a personal thing for us because we all grew up in the same small town," Bradfield says.
To make the loss more painful, rumours that Edwards had been seen in various places around the world began to circulate.
"It's people who want to be a part of and perpetuate a rock myth," Bradfield says sadly. "We never talk about him as if he's dead."
When the band tours North America this summer, the goal is to make a breakthrough, but not necessarily a commercial one.
"We're not 20-year-old, snotty-nosed kids coming over now, going, 'Hey, we're going to blow America out of the water,'" Bradfield says.
"Just hoping to actually play for some people for once. I think it would be arrogant for us to write songs about some of those issues and not want them to be heard by people," he says.
"I'm not going to be humble. I think we're brilliant. I think something like If You Tolerate This, for me, is some of the best we've ever done."