With new single, 'From Despair To Where' recently gracing the charts, the brazenly unrepentant MANIC STREET PREACHERS are back with more voluble ways to win friends and influence people. ANTHONY NOGUERA talks to guitarist RICHEY JAMES about the life and loves of a Manic Street Preachers.
They've made Rock music respectable again, taken Hard Rock into the upper echelons of the Top Forty and this week, to cap it all, Richey James, the Manics' chief lyricist and spokesman recently made an appearance in the legendary Judge Dredd lead 2000AD comic! Inked as 'Clarence', from 'The Crazy Sked Moaners', the idisputably cartoon Richey lasers '4 Real' into his forehead in a direct parallel of an incident a while ago when the real Richey took a razor blade to his arm to prove how serious the band are about their music. '4 Real' has since become the band's code de vivre.
I wasn't about to argue with Richey, sat opposite me in his luggage strewn London hotel room a few weeks back. But after all the double talk, back tracking, pre-meditated sell-out scams, the whining and the frankly ludicrous sloganeering, that has grossly back lit this foursome's career to date, can anybody really believe in the Manics anymore?
"Yeah, I think so" Richey answers solemnly. "Even right from the start we've had people really passionately believe in us and we knew straight from the off that we'd probably make another record. That having been said, a lot of Japanese people really took all the 'one LP and then quit' business very seriously," he smiles. "They've had us down as this 'Hari Kari Mishima' kind of character who believes in making your one moment of greatness and then, 'Suicide Central' here we come! But people in Britain understood us much better. We're not naive enough to believe that music can have kids rampaging through the streets. That's why Rage Against The Machine are so popular," he continues."'Killing in The Name Of' doesn't say anything directly against anything. It's not like, 'Mr So And So, Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me'. It's a very ambiguous statement, because you don't know why you're pissed off, or who at, you just know that you are. And everyone understands it."
It's all a little bit predictable for me I'm afraid. You know, middle class kids with nothing better to do than moan. The same accusation could be levelled at The Manics too, of course...
"I know," he laughs. "but the kids love it. White Rock, from The Smiths to us, is much more indirect than something like Ice-T, because with him you know straight away who he's pissed off at."
It's honest admissions like this that separate The Manics from Guns 'N' Roses and their ilk. They've been accused of just about every crime against humanity possible in the last eighteen months. From releasing a deeply flawed debut double album that they foolishly boasted would be the finest Rock album ever to wearing too much mascara, singer James sporting un-wise face furniture and finally, being too damn good for their own boots. This isn't a day job for The Manics though. They show up Rock 'N' Roll for the shameless sham it is, yet they still live out some of it's hard worn cliches to the full. Yet more contradictions...
Whatever, the new album, 'Gold Against The Soul', is wonderful. It's not going to alter the course of Rock 'N' Roll history, nor is it going appease those carnage hungry hacks looking for any excuse to maul The Manics over their roles, but it does house a song called 'La Tristesse Durera', which just about makes up for any amount of extra musical tomfoolery the band might be accused of. 'Gold Against The Souls' is better than 'Generation Terrorists' in all respects, from the frankly knockout playing of James and Richey (playing on a Manics record for the first time ever!), to the sparkling Rock lucidity of songs like 'From Despair To Where' and 'Roses In The Hospital'. Lyrically the band have toned down their infamous William Burroughs inspired sound bites in favour of a simpler, but no less meaningful set of song lyrics. 'Gold Against The Soul' sees the band playing seamlessly good Pop Metal with no rough edges. Typically, themes like alienation, boredom, and despair are given a rigorous outing, whilst musically, the band have never sounded so exciting. There are no weak links this time round.
"With the first album we hadn't been in a studio before and we tried to do everything too perfectly really," explains Richey of the more rounded sound this time. "We just kept playing the same thing over and over again until everything was clean and machine like. It was a good thing to do because everybody was expecting us to put out fifty-two songs, all lasting two minutes, recorded in thirty seconds in a fucking toilet! So it's good for us to do things like that."
How do you think the pundits will react to 'Gold Against The Soul'?
"'Dodgy second album'? No, I think that everyone's second albums are difficult. To stay on top of things we needed to make a really good record, and I think we have done. "There's always the fact that we might be seen as not very exciting anymore, yesterday's men. But you know, we've made a much better record and people can judge us on whatever terms they see fit because we're not that precious about it. If they want to judge us in the fact that we have made a second album when we said we wouldn't, or whatever, then that's okay."
"Do you mind people reminding you of past follies?
"Yeah, we're fine about it. We realised early on that we could be as hypocritical as the press because no journalist is as pious as God. The reason that we said it was because we thought that after all those early gigs with no people at them, that we'd never get to play another London gig, let alone make a record. The only thing that kept us going was the thought that if we kept at it sometime somebody would like us and we'd make a fucking great record and the whole planet would buy it and then we could fuck off and no-one would hear from us again. I think that if we didn't have that level of self belief we would have just gone the way of every other provincial band; come to London and do one concert, it goes wrong, so you never hear from them again. We never entertained that thought for one minute, even when we had terrible times we knew we'd make a record that would sells millions of copies. The minute we got a record contract though we knew no band could sell a trillion copies or whatever. It's a physical impossibility. Michael Jackson is more than a singer, he's Coca Cola, a car, whatever, nothing. It's more than music was ever intended to be and we knew we'd never be like that. But at the same time we needed to believe we could be. But we are hypocrites, I think that most people are. I think that most people under thirty are so fucking cynical it's unbelievable!" he snorts, making clear that he classes himself in the same bunch. The Manics are a band full of eccentricities and contradictions. They willingly extrapolate the foliage of Rock 'N' Roll's garbage and recycle it as the Guns 'N' Roses it's politically okay to like. For that at least, we can only be thankful.