Manic Street Preachers jettison a sprawling 70-song epic to make their most stripped-back and fragile album yet.
Sitting on a gravel driveway outside Rockfield's Quadrangle studio, Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire reaches for oversized sunglasses - a signifier that conversation has become interview. Thinking back to December 2011, he recalls the Manics' last public appearance in the UK, a mammoth fan-friendly victory lap where the band played all 38 of their singles to date.
"That O2 gig distilled 20 years of the band. Playing [despot name-checking Holy Bible track] Revol in the same set as [2010's gospel flavoured] Some Kind Of Nothingness...It was Kylie Minogue and Arthur Scargill wrapped up in one package!" Coming off the back of greatest hits album National Treasures, the Manics vowed to disappear from public view for at least two years.
An unshakable and dogged work ethic meant that within two weeks, they were back in the studio. Wires original plan to record a sprawling folly called 70 Songs Of Hatred And Failure quickly morphed into something quite different.
"There were two distinct sets of songs-different sonically, lyrically, everything. We just couldn't work out a way of making them fit together so we split them into two separate albums."
The first, tentatively titled Rewind The Film, represents a huge departure from 2010's anthemic Postcards From A Young Man, their self proclaimed "last shot at mass communication". Described as "acoustic soul", it is the antithesis of Postcards' bluster - spartan and occasionally fragile. "We haven't covered anything up with noise, like loud guitars or string sections. As a band, there's nothing to hide behind," notes Wire."It's frightening to think how we'll play it live. On the up side, it means me and Sean can sit in the dressing room for half the gig while James does all the fucking work!"
Continuing the Manics tradition of working with guest singers, the album features a solo vocal from eccentric singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon on Four Lonely Roads - a rolling Valleys stomp reminiscent of The Beatles' Two Of Us - and a duet with Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley on the majestic title track - imagine Scott Walker singing Love's Forever Changes as the sun sets over a Welsh seaside town. Elsewhere, brass-heavy potential first single Show Me The Wonder has James Dean Bradfield doing his best Las Vegas-era Elvis. Lyrically, there's mortality, world travel and the small matter of the last three decades of British politics.
"People expected me to be banging on about Thatcher when she died, but everything I thought was already in Thirty Year War, a song we wrote six months ago. It addresses everything from the roots of Thatcherism through Hillsborough and Orgreave, right through to now."
Once mixing is completed, the Manics will finish work on Rewind The Film's companion record - a set of "schizophrenic European-sounding songs with a proper Manics energy" partly recorded in Berlin's Hansa studios (birthplace of Bowie's Low and"Heroes") with Holy Bible co-producer Alex Silva. After that, they head Down Under to play alongside the British Lions rugby tour. Glasses off, rugby fanatic Wire becomes excited at the prospect."It's been an incredible year for Welsh sport and with the team they've chosen, a Lions victory could be the crowning glory. I know it's not the kind of thing you'd expect from us," he says, "But sometimes it's good to do something with a bit less fucking meaning."
Manic Street Preachers take a holiday from themselves? With their bravest album to date waiting to come off the benches, don't count on it lasting too long.