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Eye Of The Tiger - The Star Online, 14th November 2008

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Title: Eye Of The Tiger
Publication: The Star Online
Date: Friday 14th November 2008
Writer: Zack Yusof

Brimming with new energy and enthusiasm, the Manic Street Preachers are in the mood for an awesome show in Singapore on Nov 24.

Unlike other run-of-the-mill rock bands who rarely venture further than the Hammersmith Odeons, Madison Square Gardens or Budokans of the international touring circuit, legendary Welsh indie rockers Manic Street Preachers can’t get enough of playing in countries that they have yet to visit – even after two decades in the business.

Back in 2001, the Manics (as they are known by their legion of fans) became one of the first Western rock bands to play in communist Cuba, when they staged a concert in Havana playing to an enthusiastic sell-out crowd that included a certain Fidel Castro.

Going back even further to 1994, the Manics undertook an ill-fated trip to play two shows in Bangkok, a short tour described by bean-pole bassist Nicky Wire as “the darkest stain” that was beset by a host of unforeseen problems – madness, anorexia, nervous breakdowns and even violent self-mutilation on the part of enigmatic guitarist and resident tortured soul Richey James Edwards.

On Feb 1, 1995, Edwards walked out of a London hotel and promptly vanished, leaving his bandmates to cope with his loss. His whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

Fast forward to the present, and while things are certainly a lot less darker in the Manics camp, the band is nevertheless still aspiring to break new ground by touring in uncharted territory.

During the course of the band’s tour for Send Away The Tigers (the band’s eighth and most recent album) which began last year, the band took in several countries that were off the beaten track, including Romania, Latvia, Poland, Istanbul, Greece and Croatia, where they enjoyed the distinction of supporting Bob Dylan.

To round off the tour in true Manics fashion, they will be venturing into the unknown once more for three dates in the region later this month, taking in (for the very first time in their career) Singapore’s Fort Canning Park on Nov 24 and the HITEC Star Hall in Hong Kong on Nov 26 before returning to Bangkok for the first time since that blighted trip back in the 1990s to play the Bangkok 100 Rock Festival alongside Ash on Nov 30.

As the affable singer-guitarist James Dean Bradfield tells it, it’s the fear that comes with operating out of their comfort zone that keeps the band interested in playing in new territories.

“At the start of Send Away The Tigers, one of our ambitions was to play in lots of places that we haven’t been to before,” explains Bradfield, 39, during a recent phone interview from London.

“That excites us because whenever we come up against (a live situation) that we have no experience with, I think we play harder. We have a fear of what the crowd reaction may be like. We formed the band in 1985 and for a band like ours to have new experiences and to have a small element of fear when playing a concert is really good for us.”

Manic Street Preachers is completed by bassist Wire, 39, and drummer Sean Moore, 40.

As much as the band is pumped up about heading to this part of the world, Bradfield reveals: “I got to tell you, our apprehension is doubled when it comes to playing shows in places like Singapore and Hong Kong not just because we haven’t played there before but also because there is an ... otherness about playing a gig in places such as these where the culture gap is wider than perhaps doing a gig in Europe. So the apprehension is doubled because you just don’t know what to expect. But it’s a motivating fear because it keeps us on our toes.”

On this tail-end of the Send Away The Tigers tour, which has received rave reviews, the band has re-established itself as a live force. What is apparent on this latest album is that the Manics have rekindled its love affair with rock ‘n’ roll, hence explaining the directness of the recent material. After losing some of its edge (and fan base) on less-than-exciting albums such as Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood, it’s certain that the band wanted to get down to basics – making guitar music and a racket to wake up the neighbours.

Two solo albums from Bradfield and Wire in 2006 also gave these blokes a chance to experiment. But it has always been about the collective unit when it comes to the Manic Street Preachers, and to a large extent, the band has won over the masses again with Send Away The Tigers.

Recent singles like Your Love Is Not Enough and Indian Summer have reflected fresh energy and enthusiasm from the Manics ranks.

As reported by several British music magazines, Manic Street Preachers have also announced a new full-length record due next April or May. The forthcoming album, tentatively titled Journal for Plague Lovers or I Know I Believe in Nothing But It Is My Nothing, features production work by Steve Albini. Interestingly, it contains unused lyrics from Edwards, the long-missing Manics member.

“Musically, in many ways it feels like a follow up to the Holy Bible but there is also an acoustic side – tender, romantic, nihilism, Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky-esque. It’s a record that celebrates the genius of his (Edwards) words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect. We have to make this great. Wish us luck,” stated an e-mail message from the band members to the Manics online community last month.

Nine new tracks, as rumoured, have been nailed in the studio, but don’t expect to hear any of them live just yet.

According to Bradfield, Manics fans in Malaysia making the trip across the causeway to catch the band live can expect a set comprising their hit songs with a selection of tunes from the acclaimed Send Away The Tigers, an album very much heralded by critics and fans alike as a welcome return to songwriting form for the band.

“To be honest, when you visit a country for the first time, I really do feel that you haven’t got the privilege of trying new songs because you haven’t played there before. So therefore, a large degree of the audience would not have seen us play Motorcycle Emptiness, Design for Life, If You Tolerate This ... , Motown Junk, You Love Us and so on ... so you’ve got to play those songs.

“And some people have been waiting for you to visit for a long time so it definitely will be a what you would call a greatest hits set (in Singapore).”

Apart from the hits, the one thing that fans can be assured of getting at the Manics show is a healthy dose of what made the band such a thrilling live prospect in the first place – plenty of passionate onstage energy and rock ‘n’ roll histrionics.

Judging by Bradfield’s immense solos on Send Away The Tigers, you can expect the bloke to be in complete Guitar Hero mode –with a bit of punk spontaneity thrown into the fire.

“Yeah, the one thing that hasn’t changed about us is the fact that sometimes, we are more interested in the live performance than what we actually sound like,” laughs Bradfield, winding down the interview.

“I mean, sometimes when you go and see a band, some bands are obsessed with replicating their record on stage whereas we are more interested in the actual performance itself.

“We want to have an actual connection to the audience, than trying to play a solo perfectly. We move around a lot and are still really unpredictable ( on stage) which is the thing I love about playing live.”

The Manics might have survived the years – starting off at odds with the early “grunge-laden” 1990s, taking the lead in the Britpop invasion and now looking to its past to move ahead. The blokes from Wales have come a full circle.

“I don’t think that’s ever changed about us. We still feel that going on stage is like a battle and that you have to give everything. I know that sounds earnest but that’s just how we feel about it.

“We’ve always felt like we’ve got a tiny bit of a Bruce Springsteen complex: we always feel that we need to put on the best show possible and give people what they want.”