With a double-gold double-album under their belts and great things predicted for the follow-up, Manic Street Preachers should really be on top of the world. But they’re not. Far from it. In fact, they’re well pissed off. Pete Paphides hears the woes of the Welsh Wunderland.
POW! Juddering great proclamations of existential angst! Rampant yoof culture Iconoclasm! The pressmen don't know, but the little girls understand! Yeah!
BANG! Having flagrantly ignored God's little-known Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not, under any circumstances whatsoever, come from any part of Wales and be successful or talented at doing pop music." Bonnie Tyler, The Darling Buds, Anhrefn and Mike Peters' Poets Of Justice immediately issue a fatwa against you, but you thunder on regardless. Riot on!
THUD! Fearsome juggernaut Clash rifferama smothered by unfeasibly sexy Axl yowl! Way to go!
THUNK!!! Top 20 chart success and top-selling debut album in the face of music biz cynicism and journalists who resent your dazzling musical ineptitude! Alraaaht!!
BIFF!!!! Immortality in the Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame guaranteed following dead hard yet quite poignant gesture of sincerity as your guitarist carves the words "4 Real" on his left arm!!!! (Everyone is, in fact, so Impressed that they don't even think to question the comparative poofiness of writing "4" instead of the more grammatically proper "Four" in order to alleviate the pain) Most excellent!!
KER-THWACK!!!!! Just as critics, punters and your record company are beginning to worry slightly about the fact that it's November 1992 and you haven't got any songs for your eagerly awaited second album, you saunter in to the studio and reel off six absolutely monster tracks, which instantly call to mind the heady days of Guns 'N' Roses when Axl Rose wasn't a byword for "Superannuated Egomaniacal Ninny Whose Self Opinion Is Matched Only In Size By The Small Peninsula He Feels The Need To Stuff Down His Tights". Cor lumme blimey!!!
ZAP!!!!!! In short you are The Manic Street Preachers and you have every reason to think the world is a wonderful place ...
Except there is just a slight hitch. The Mania themselves appear none too flushed by their Ladbrokes-defying ascent to the giddy heights of megadom.
Not that you'd know it to start with, mind. As the Embassy Hotel lift doors slide back to reveal the canoe-sized smile of Nicky Wire - the Manics' gangly Henna-topped bass dude -one assumes that, contrary to the existential misery that pervades tracks like "Motorcycle Emptiness" and the current hit, "From Despair To Where", that the Manics have come to agreeable terms with their success.
And so it is, that with an outstretched hand and a "HELLO!! I'm Nicky! What's your name?" the chirpy Mr Wire bounds in the general direction of the bar so that the interview might commence. If everyone in The Manic Street Preachers was like Nicky Wire, The Manic Street Preachers wouldn't be The Manic Street Preachers. They'd be the Pathetic Sharks.
No sooner does this thought leap across my head than Richey Edwards (the Manics' rhythm guitarist) walks into the foyer. Richey - of slightly more modest haircuttage than Nicky -has one of those congenitally glum faces that complements his attitude to the world perfectly. With the two more musically "capable" Manics (singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore) sadly absent, and a Bloody Mary where my breakfast should be, it's probably as good a time as any to test the mood in the Manics' camp.
Richey, what's your general mood these days?
"Same as ever, I suppose ..."
Come on! Life's not really that bad, is it? You're in the Top 20 with a divine slab of anti-hedonistic metal angst and everyone loves you. Cheer up!
"Those things don't necessarily equate with happiness though," mutters Richey holding onto his vodka and tonic for dear life. "You spend all your formative years growing up in a declining two-bit banana republic, with a standard of living that would have been unthinkable a hundred years ago. And yet people are still sad. There are a hundred different ways of describing sadness, but hardly any ways of saying, 'I'm Happy'. What does that tell you?"
That Morrissey wrote your thesaurus? "It tells you that our lives are tainted by constant melancholia," I turn to Nicky, who, still sporting that delightfully unerring smile, surely can't be in agreement with his pal's relentless pessimism, but to no avail.
"I'm afraid I concur totally," he sighs, "Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of great moments. Things like being at home with my mum cooking my dinner. Watching the football down the pub. Nature. But how many times can you retreat to your bed at the end of the day and say, 'Wow! That was a perfect day! You can't, can you?"
So, there's nothing that can alleviate the purgatory of being in The Manic Street Preachers?
"Well, It's not quite purgatorial," concedes Nicky, "but then I can't say I get many days of pleasure out of being in a group. Richey: "It's true. People are generally miserable. They hate themselves. That's why body piercing has become so popular. And tattoos. Even people who are really healthy pump themselves up with lots of drugs."
Oh, come on! It's a nice theory, but the surely the ultimate aim of something like a tattoo is making yourself more attractive. And if you can do so by undergoing the personal sacrifices that having a tattoo puts you through, then that will merely add to the happiness that you'll feel having undergone the process.
"Alright then," concedes Nicky, running away with the goalposts, "That might give you happiness for a while. But not contentment."
Richey: "Even when your record's going up the charts, you just think, 'Oh well, we're going down next week. Everything is ultimately futile. It's not real success."
Looks pretty real to me, mate. "No, no," insists the surly generation terrorist. "Real success only happensabout twice a decade. Perhaps something like the Happy Mondays' Elland Road gig. For a couple of months they had the whole fucking world. And perhaps Guns 'N' Roses."
Yeah, but look at the Mondays now! I mean, it's not as if you're in Thousand Yard Stare...
After 53 minutes, Richey eventually affords himself a laugh: "Alright, that would be fucking depressing. I think it's also something to do with being Welsh..."
Well I wasn't going to say...
“... It's true. The Welsh are the worst for self-pity. We're the most melancholic people in the world. If you don't believe me, come down to one of the pubs in Blackwood [the Manics' hometown] after a rugby match and it's the most depressing feeling in the world. Like, the only thing we live for has just finished and now we have to suffer in our stupor until the next match."
Why do you think that is?
"Probably because there's nothing to do. All the people that were trained for manual labour have lost their jobs, so you just see them in city centres and parks, hanging around all day. You've got all these burly men who spent all their lives down a pit, learning to type on employment training schemes." Your families must be especially relieved about your success, then... "
I suppose so," ponders Nicky.
Richey, didn't you feel like a bit of a prat going home for the first time after the "4 Real" incident?
"Um, it was a little awkward," recalls the slightly embarrassed guitarist, trying woefully to hide beneath his vodka and tonic.
Mercifully, Nicky leaps to his defence: "It's not that big a deal though. In a small town, pointless things happen everyday. On Saturdays people walk up and down the high street all day long. For no discernible reason.
"Richey's dad is a hairdresser. His shop has been burgled eight times and there's nothing to steal but shampoo. They just go down to the park and empty the bottles on the grass."
Suddenly, carving slogans into your arm seems like the most meaningful gesture in the world.
IF you thought that "Generation Terrorists", in its more competent moments, doffed a figurative cap to "Appetite For Destruction", then wait till you cop an earful of "Gold Against The Soul".
What Axl and co swiftly lost has just as swiftly been inherited by the Manics on their new album. These days, James Dean Bradfield's bourbon-corroded growl, sounds like a genuine blueprint for how all the greatest rock'n'roll songs should be delivered. His guitar playing is coarse and lithe, adding real gravity to the slow-burning, bilious "La Tristesse Durera" and a much-needed injection of nastiness into the surprisingly poppy "Roses In The Hospital".
However, it's with t he monumental "Sleepflower" that the Manics truly, wonderfully transcend the cathartic, slightly confused menace that elevated "It's So Easy" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" to the heavens.
In short, this is one hell of an achievement. Weren't you nervous, having to go back into the studio and deliver on the back of a gold-selling double album?
With a suitably nervous grin Nicky nods to the affirmative.
Richey, however, is a little more confident.
"Even when people were dismissing us as a tossy two chord imitation of The Lurkers, we knew we had 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. No matter how bad things got, we always knew we could write a song like that. And that was one of the first songs we wrote. We came up with that one when we were eighteen. It was just a question of learning to play it properly."
And, I take it, the intensified metal sound is also what you had in mind all along? "Yeah," agrees Richey, "The first gigs vie did in London were places like The Rock Garden, where all the bands they'd put on were peddling these really dire Sabbath and Zeppelin riffs and sounding like a bad Salaam And The Angel. So there was no point In playing something like "Motorcycle Emptiness" in that context because people would have just slagged it off with all the other shit that was going down there.
"At that time, the music press weren't giving 'Appetite For Destruction' the praise it deserved, so no-one would have understood what we were trying to do anyway."
Given that Guns 'N Roses have lost it so spectacularly, who do you consider to be your peers at the moment?
Richey can't think of any.
Nicky, on the other hand, makes no hesitation: "Alice In Chains are fucking amazing. I like all the references to drugs in their songs. It makes then, sound like they take drugs rather than pratting about with a bit of spliff."
On this, the Manics are consistent. They identify intensely with anyone who - in literature, films, or in this case, music - exhibits any desire to damage himself, whatever the consequences. Martyrdom, for the Manics, is nothing more than an expression of being.
Poncing off the trappings of martyrdom, on the other hand is nothing short of reprehensible.
"We were at the Forum last night. And those wankers from Eat were there, boasting really loudly to anyone who'd give them the time of day about how they'd done some drugs, and they just sounded like pathetic middle class students."
Given your hatred of middle class student types, I was surprised to see you expressing a certain degree of sympathy towards Riot Grrrl, a movement that's only survived due to the misplaced liberalism of certain journalists in the music press.
Nicky: "I know what you mean. There are certain similarities between us and those bands. We went to see Huggy Bear a few weeks ago, and it was like watching a band with me as every member. I mean, I can't really play, and I also vicar garish anachronistic punk outfits, but it doesn't matter, because there's enough people in this band that can take care of the music to excuse my indulgence."
Warming to his subject, Nicky is now unstoppable: "The concert we went to was just a forum for middle class right-on-ness. Perhaps I'm just being narrow-minded but I've got a feeling that if the basic constructs of society are going to be overturned, then 'Supermodel Superficial' by The Voodoo Queens isn't going to be the song that will do It."
...AND nor, probably, is it going to be "Gold Against The Soul", but for the past few days, as the advance cassette of the album has accompanied my every bus journey around London, it's certainly felt like it might.
This is the album that from Day One, the Manics promised us they would one day deliver. I attempt to tell them as much, but with typical, almost religious pessimism, they're having none of it. "We're under no illusions," insists Richey. "At some point people will stop listening. And when they do, we'll know it's time to stop. It might well happen with this album." Don't believe a word of it, folks. It's gonna be a magic, manic Manics summer...