The Manic Street Preachers are back making music, as well as history. Neil McKay talks to them about the new album, and why Belfast won't be getting an encore.
The only certainty with Manic Street Preachers is that you can never be certain what they'll do next ... and that they don't do encores. They're the band who vowed to split after their debut album if they weren't as big as Guns 'n' Roses. They weren't and they didn't.
They were expected to split when their guitarist and main lyricist Richey Edwards went missing in 1995. The band's response was to make their best and biggest album, Everything Must Go. They have confounded expectations again with their new album Lifeblood, a marvellous collection of guitar pop that marks a new maturity in the band's music and approach. Yet it is in stark contrast to their previous album, Know Your Enemy, which harked back to a punk ground zero and contained some of their harshest, most confrontational music.
Bass player Nicky Wire says: "The idea with Lifeblood was to make an accessible record. With Know Your Enemy we reached a peak with our politicking and nastiness, and we really did want to write a kind of graceful album, an album that reflected our age - we wanted to write ten singles. That was the theory, to have this kind of elegiac pop that included everyone I guess. We wanted to make a record for 10-year-olds and 60-year-olds. Know Your Enemy was a record for ourselves, but we just wanted to make a record for everyone. The other thing was to keep the songs short; I think the longest song is just over four minutes"
"We're always at our best when we've got a concept behind a record - Everything Must Go was a Spectoresque wall of sound, Holy Bible was a very definite concept about the way we looked and sounded - and we just needed that back. It felt very natural, it felt like the right time"
"Everything just overtook us with the last record - going to Cuba, meeting Fidel Castro, it seemed like it was more about making history than making a record. That's really why we reined ourselves in to do a focused pop album. We just wanted to achieve a sense of clarity within it all and less hype"
"We've always been built around hype and hatred and ideas, but for the first time ever there's a bit more clarity and a little bit of love on a Manic Street Preachers record. We've learnt a little bit of grace, it's more delicate and more subtle and more subversive, I think. We still feel a need to make a statement with a record, to shake things up a bit. It is totally innate to our psyche, even in a deeply flawed way, to take the opposite view sometimes"
"I think the one thing we've learnt in our career is to be human, learn to make mistakes. All the best bands, all my favourite bands, have had so many ups and downs, have made so many cock-ups, and you only prove yourself if you come back really. You've just got to present yourself as a human being, admit you make mistakes, but draw strength from them"
The band play the Waterfront in Belfast early next month, and their desire to buck convention will be on show again.
Wire says: "We've only ever done one encore which was at the old Marquee in London in 1991. We didn't want to do it because it had actually been a good gig, which was quite rare in the early days, but when we went back on we had waited so long everybody had p****d off; there were only about 50 people left from about 800. It was embarrassing, and that was it - we've never done one since. It just feels like the right thing to do. If you end with A Design For Life you tend to reach such a climax and such a peak it seems really ... you put so much energy into that finale it's pointless coming back"