Just because you're an intelligent Welsh pop group with socialist tendencies doesn't mean you can't hunger for the same mass appeal in North America as you have in the rest of the world. Hell, even Mike Leigh must have felt a tingle in his toes the day he heard Secrets and Lies was up for an Oscar.
After appearing on the cover of every British music magazine and winning piles of awards, including the 1999 Brit Awards for Best British Group and Best British Album for their million-selling This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (Virgin/ EMI), the Manic Street Preachers should have been poised for something greater than a mild ripple over here. Three months after its North American release, the album has yet to do quite the gangbuster business it has in Britain, but Virgin Music Canada is still pleased with the strides it has made - so much so that a November Canadian tour is in the works, on top of the current jaunt that brings them to the Warehouse Saturday. "This album has outsold all previous Manic Street Preachers albums in Canada, and we're outselling America," says Virgin rep Paul Shaver. "Not all groups can spark off a single."
On a recent promo pit stop in Toronto, singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield expressed the group's disenchantment with Sony Music in North America, which he partially blames for the tepid response to Everything Must Go (their first album released after the 1995 disappearance of guitarist/lyricist Richey James) in the U.S. and Canada. Though they remain signed to Sony for U.K. and international distribution, the band is optimistic that Virgin will do a better job for them over here. Still, Bradfield insists they're not desperate to "crack America," like Oasis or the Spice Girls. "For us, America and Canada isn't this big, insurmountable task that it is when you're young," he says, puffing on a cigarette. "We just want to get it done and see what comes out in the wash."
From Richey's visceral prose to the intriguing subject matter of bass player Nicky Wire's lyrics, class consciousness has been at the heart of most Manics songs. Bradfield acknowledges that the proletarian bent of "A Design for Life" (which reached No. 2 on the U.K. charts) likely contributed to American indifference toward Everything Must Go, and believes the singles from This Is My Truth have more global potential. So far, his predictions are close to the mark. With the first single, "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next," becoming a Top 20 rock hit, and the poppier second single, "You Stole the Sun From My Heart," scheduled for a mid-September release, things are still looking up. "Our lyrics have translated really well in other parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia, and you can't get more different than Sweden and Wales," says Bradfield. "You've got to find some sort of consensus within a song that can transcend all those class things so it becomes universal."
The Manics recently put their money where their socialist mouths are when they snubbed the Royal Family by turning down a chance to play a concert to celebrate the opening of the national assembly in Wales. Conversely, they came under attack this summer when they brought their own toilets to the Glastonbury Festival.
Whether it's fair to accuse the Manics of elitism for not wanting to stand in a line-up of 900 people to take a pee at a festival they're playing is a moot point. What's less clear is whether the amount of money they've earned (they just offered to donate £30,000 to the Football Association of Wales to hire ex-England manager Terry Venables as coach of the Welsh national team) is at odds with their fascination with class structures and their working-class background.
Unlike many rock groups who yearn for stardom, then whine once they make it, Bradfield says the Manics have yet to feel stifled by their success. Nor do they feel guilty. "We've kind of gotten used to it. It's given us a lot of freedom to do the album the way we wanted to. Bands usually say they've become prisoners of their own success. I can see it a bit, but the upside is much more positive than the downside.
"If we hadn't wanted to compromise, we would have formed our own little indie label. We made the decision to sign to a major label, so we knew what we were getting into."