Following on from ill-founded rumours that 2014's Futurology may have been the final Manic Street Preaches album, the Welsh trio have released a youthful new record - Resistance Is Futile. Laura Williams chats to frontman James Dean Bradfield to find out more about their return to the fray.
When Long Live Vinyl catches up with Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield, the notion of age and an ever-changing society crops up regularly during our hour-long chat - and it's a prevalent theme that also accounts for the provocative title of the band's new album. "We're a bunch of 49-year-olds, there is no point in pretending otherwise," explains James. "This is our 13th album. When we first started as a band, there was no such thing as a download; CDs still felt new; you couldn't buy bottled water in the Valleys in Wales; none of us had a mobile phone. It's a timelapse in terms of culture and general change around you as you get older. Our records now get played on Radio 2 - if you'd have told me that in 1992, I wouldn't have you; if you'd have told me that people find it hard to listen to albums full-stop now, wouldn't have believed you; if you'd have told me that an iconic standalone good guitarist has not arrived in this world for the last 10 years, I wouldn't have believed you...It's all low attention spans and general cultural attention deficit disorder. Everything has changed. Once you come to terms with all those things, you think 'fuck it, we're just gonna do what we do'. Resistance is futile."
Describing the new album as "youthful and juvenile", he points to its "naive optimism". Musically, it follows the strident melodic formula which the band has followed in recent years - and this is no accident. James, Who never streams or downloads music himself, says: "The one thing I don't want to do on an album anymore is have an album track that is too indulgent, too long or lacks form. If people find it hard to listen to albums all the way through now, just make an obsession With melody your modus operandi - drench it in that melody that we've kind Of always been a bit obsessed with."
The album's influences are as broad as the band's growing fanbase; from composer Anna Meredith's Nautilus track to The War On Drugs' A Deeper Understanding album. "You just want music to make you move," says James. "You want to be dragged along with it. You want it to be relentless. International Blue is relentless in the sense that it's charging towards something hopeful."
International Blue is the first single from the album, With lyrics that were never supposed to be on a Manics track. James explains: "About five years ago, Nick went to Nice for his wedding anniversary. They were visiting the Yves Klein museum and he kind of wrote an extended haiku. When was nagging him for more lyrics, he said, 'I have got this thing I wrote, but it was never meant
to be a Manic Street Preachers song', and I snatched it from his hand. I was desperate for words."
He continues: "International Blue shocked us when it started taking shape, and we didn't have to do much to form it. It came to us naturally. And we thought, 'If that's still what's in us, in a natural sense, let's just go With it'. It gave us a bit of a rush."
Unlike many bands who stick to the familiar personal experiences of love and loss when approaching lyrics, the Manics
have a long and rich track record Of taking inspiration from politics, history and art - aided by late lyricist Richey James' ferocious curiosity and current wordsmith Nicky Wire's frequently outspoken and often insightful world view.
Over the years, the Manics have tackled some difficult subjects in their songs - from anorexia and suicide to the Holocaust and the Spanish Civil War. James, who writes the music alongside cousin and drummer bandmate Sean Moore, has
nurtured an incredible ability to squeeze the most complex lines into soaring sections, With song titles you could barely fit into a tweet; the likes of If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next and Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit'sworldwouldfallapart.
But James says his job is much easier these days: "The whole serendipitous nature of our band is that we've known each other for so long that we have so many of the same sensibilities and likes," he says, "and when we don't agree on something - be it a record or sport - we just argue and talk about it.
"I would never make the claim to completely and utterly lock into every line of a lyric I've ever been given by Nick and
Richey, but I get the sense of it. There were a few times on The Holy Bible where I had to ask a lot more questions, because some of them were observations of darker spaces which people inhabited. Like 'I T' them 24-7 all year long', I wanted to know What 'T' was.
"After The Holy Bible and some lines off the first album, anything else is a walk in the park. Take the opening couplet
of International Blue". "You wrote your autograph on the far side Of the sky/ You recorded the falling rain but you never told us why" - if someone found that hard to sing, I'd think they were a bit of an idiot."
As with a lot of Manics album covers - such as the unmistakable Jenny Saville watercolour cover of 1994's The Holy Bible - the image used for Resistance Is Futile is both powerful and poignant. James says: "Nick will have something percolating in his head and usually that's the title of the album; that guides me on the moods I want to write in and it also guides him towards an image." After an expedition through digital archives, photography books and art pamphlets, Nick found three incredible final photographs of The Last Samurai - one of which instantly jumped out as the album cover. "We love the double-edged nature of the image," said James, "knowing that the photo's captured something which is in its death throes, but with that stubborn resistance. There's a look in his eyes which you can never extinguish."
BY THE RIVER
The album took the equivalent of just five to-six weeks to make, spread over a number of years thanks to losing their Faster Studios in Cardiff to "the ceaseless march of progress". The record's release was put back by a week due to a delay with the vinyl pressing.
"The one downside of the vinyl revival," says James, "is that you've got to have things prepared so much more up-front now. There are not enough pressing plants in Britain to keep up With demand, so the queuing gets longer and now you've got to have things finished even earlier. We cut the vinyl before Christmas. I brought those test pressings home and listened to them several times on my little old Teac, which I use a lot and love. It's very, very true. I still hear different things when I listen to it on vinyl, which is good."
The records James listens to are diverse, ranging from Michael Schenker to Gemma Hayes and including a wave of old indie
7"s from the likes of The Jasmine Minks, World Of Twist and Big Flame. "I tend to compartmentalise what I listen to on vinyl," he says. 'Once I get in front of the record player, I only want to hear certain things. It forces me to listen to music that I don't listen to in any other place."
Listening to records also features heavily in the band's regime at their new Door To The River studio, which James describes as a 'youth club: "We set up a studio because we needed a clubhouse," says the father-of-two. "Sometimes, we don't play a note of music, we go in and have a bitch and a moan and watch Countdown, literally. We've got loads of vinyl there and we just listen to music."
"We tend to listen to a lot of older stuff on vinyl, just can trust it a lot more. Successive masterings change your sonic memory of some of these records. Some of the mastering is amazing, especially some of the Led Zeppelin stuff; but sometimes, especially if you're an idiot musician like me and you spend a lot of time listening to sounds, you put a remastering on and you're like, 'Wow, the drums are nothing like I remember', and you go back and put your old album on and you go, 'Ah - there they are'"
When asked how he buys records, James spits: "I never fucking order online". Instead, he's a regular customer at Spillers in Cardiff and, previously, Martin Luther Records in his hometown of Blackwood.
"Sometimes, you'd order a record and it would take a month to come back, but it was such a brilliant wait," he says. "You'd go down on Saturday with a dinner-ticket-style order slip to pick up your order. I remember it came in an amazing bag, it was an eagle flying against the sun. Spillers are great, they tend to get things in within a week."
James says that Nick's the one with the full Manics back catalogue on vinyl, while his collection has some semi-deliberate gaps. "Some people may hold us up in the vinyl court for the picture discs that came out around Generation Terrorists. And there was a picture disc that had a single tape cassette of Suicide Is Painless just sellotaped onto the front of the vinyl."
He laughs at the absurdity of such a move. "Ah those were the days..."