Time is running out for controversial rock rebels Manic Street Preachers as they record their one and only album and then explode into oblivion. But are they the glue-sniffin' crash to end the E-fuelled Madchester 24-hour party?
Slashing guitar chords hurt the Kent country air as James Dean Bradfield twists and thrashes in a six-foot square rehearsal space. Looking round, he catches sight of us and abandons his fretboard, this angular, wiry stick of a lad. Waving us forward, he bounds up the stairs to the living room where the others languish, bored.
Bradfield's metallic beige shirt, open to the chest, rustles as he runs. A stencilled message screams 'I AM A SLUT' but James Dean Bradfield is no such thing. "Tea?" he offers. "Coffee?"
Upstairs, drummer Shaun fills a comfy chair like a giant plumped cushion, sullenly working out with video golf. Nicki Wire steps forward awkwardly, way out of place in this antiquarian nightmare, making way for guitarist Richie Edwards (shirt stencil: 'SENSITIVE') to take over James' role as host. Edwards, a gangling mop of black spikes and eye-liner, passes round a plate of Mr Kipling apple pies. Nickie refuses. "Too fat" he claims, pinching an imaginary inch. So this is rock 'n' roll?
Manic Street Preachers are holed up in Caterham, laying down demos for their first and only album, to be recorded in three minutes flat on August 14. When they exploded on to a cynical, hostile scene a year ago, the Preachers set themselves a time limit that has since hung over them like the sword of Damacles.
Tick, the Preachers sign to a major. Tick, the Preachers record their one and only, legendary album. Tick, the Preachers explode, never to be seen again. Who are those mascara'd men?
Time is passing but Richie Edwards seems blissfully at ease. Newly signed to Columbia, the Preachers are finally where they want to be. And that's only half the battle.
Edwards leads me to the bedroom he shares with Nicki Wire. Seven empty vodka bottles line the shelves and Penguin paperbacks lie half read on bedside tables. Since they moved to London in January, these four puny Newport boys have left their Shepherd Bush sactuary a meagre five times. Staying in is no problem for the Manic Street Preachers, it's all they ever do.
Richie open the conversation, quietly but confidentally. Without the rest of the band, there's no goading, none of the band's identifying urgency. They haven't necessarily calmed, it seems, it's just that they're tired of a music press that slaves over their every bitchy remark.
"All we seemed to be saying in those interviews was Name a band we'll slag 'em off," explains Richey. "The interviews we were doing were like two or three hours long and we'd talked about loads of different thingss. We'd illustrate a point by mentioning a band and they'd be the only quotes that ever got used. The whole interview would just be, Fuck these, fuck these, fuck these....So we're trying not to say things about other bands. Cos it's really boring. Everybody should know by now that we hate every other band around."
Hate is the Preachers most valuable commodity. It sets them apart and ties them down. 'Stay Beautiful', the new single pinpoints that moment in life when, according to Richie, "Y0u really do hate everything. You've got no sense of worth in anything."
This moment in the Preachers' whole, precarious life they know it can't last and they're measuring their own coffin. Manic Street Preachers want to drive a stake through the heart of the new love generation, they're the glue-sniffing crash to end the E-fuelled Madchester 24-hour party.
"I think the reason that got so big was that there was nothing else around" says Richie. "We obviously devoured the music press and when that was happening it seemed more exciting than anything we'd had when we were younger. But it didn't offer that much."
"It just reflected a working class culture which we all knew about anyway. Like you work all week, or you're on the dole all week - then you go out at night and get pissed and destroy each other. You rip up your own council estate or you destroy your own tower block, you kick the shit our of each other and you don't take your frustrations out on anybody else - the people who created the situation we're living in."
"All these bands are genuine " Richie concedes "But I think the should've tried to do somethin' about where they came from. The first Stone Roses interviews were brilliant , they said some great things. But then, after that, they stopped. Because they didn't need to, nobody wanted them to, nobody demanded them to say anything. I think that was quite sad."
It's the usual story, the sorry end to every youth culture of the last 20 years - unable to focus on, or even be interested enough in anything other than itself.
"I know," Richie nods. "The way it just markets itself. It's always gonna be like that. As Soon as bands start selling records...You just get cynical selling records. I suppose it's inevitable. That's why we set ourselves a target. We'll never go past it. If we do, people won't be interested in us anymore. We'll just be seen as shit."
How would you prefer to go out? Just retire>
"I think the best thing to do is just make an LP that does really well and then not put out another record. Don't do anything. See what people demand."
So you wouldn't have any grand gesture planned?
"We'd have to see how big or important we were. There's no point in making a grand gesture if you've only sold like 10,000 LPs. Nobosy would care. It's gotta matter to people who are not really that interested in music. They're the people we've always been most interested in. People who've never really needed the NME or Melody Make."
How aware are you of the animosity you've caused within such a narrow scene? We can name at least half a dozen people who would punch you in the face...
"Yeah," he nods, emotionless.
...if you walked through the door
"I know. We were really happy with that. We set out to be truly despised and hated. We wanted it that way cos when we were young it made us so depressed to see all these happy smiling faces, everybody in love with each other. It's the same now. If you go out for a drink in London there's like, every band you can think of, all in the same pub with all the journalists around 'em, drinking with 'em. It's sad. It's just really sad."
"And if we can be the one time these people feel genuine hate then that's something positive, cos they're going through the rest of their lives so happy, so complacent. At least they know what it's like for most people outside the music business, they resent everything, they hate everything, there's nothing to do. That's how most people live their lives."
"We are weak, puny little people. We always knew that. Anybody could beat us up. But then, it happens to a lot of people in everyday life anyway. So many bands forget that."
As we talk Richie's left sleeve rides up to reveal a welt of red scars - the remains of 18 stitches - that spell the phrase '4 REAL', carved there to impress a world-weary rock scribe. Richie shows no remorse or embarrassment.
Is he ever daunted by the prospect of going onstage, knowing that they're always going to have to top whatever they did before? Or whatever happened around them?
What kind of hysteria are you hoping to promote? What's the closest so far that you've experienced?
"We haven't charted yet, so we haven't done anything worthwhile."
But how do you react to hostility?
"Things like that, they just happen. At Cambridge, we were just doing a concert then all of a sudden there's World War III going on around us. We've done concerts up in Scotland and down in Brighton where there's just been non-stop violence in front of us, people chucking stuff. And that's unprovoked. That's without us going onstage saying 'Fuck you!'"
If we did that, it's completely deliberate and designed to provoke people. But this is just us going onstage and going, like 'How y doin'?' Straight away - cans, cans, bottles..."
Richie Edwards laughs, unconcerned, as if this is the most natural thing in the world. But what are they getting out of it - if it isn't fame? Would they care if they never made any money?
"People always say that," Richie muses. "If we became millionaires, what would we do? But I don't need a house in the country and I don't need a Rolls Royce. I don't need to travel all across the world. They say travel broadens the mind but it doesn't. It just makes you more of a snob. I can learn anything I need to know about any country just by reading a book."
"There's a sort of sad happiness just spending every day in James' bedroom. There was nothing to do but that's what we enjoyed. It was brilliant to spend 24 hours a day, drinking tea, watching everything, reading everything. We could easily go back to that."
"Just the way JD Salinger ended up. Even Brigitte - looking after dogs. That seems great to me."