The Manics are back, and they've got a new set of fans, says Andy Welch
Considering they never really went away, it's odd to announce that the Manic Street Preachers are back. After the Welsh trio released their seventh album, Lifeblood, late in 2004, the public saw a band seemingly coming to the end of their days - even their hardcore fans were disillusioned.
Their music had become formulaic, overly earnest and something an energetic, politically-charged group should never become - boring.
Thankfully, lifelong friends James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire saw the same things, and decided to stop the rot. So when they released their record Send Away The Tigers in May this year, they kick-started a resurgence that saw their best reviews in a decade.
They've also won an armful of awards and a legion of new, young fans. Only the combined pop powers of Beyonce and Shakira could keep them from the top of the singles chart in April, but whether it hit number one or not, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, the Manics' duet with The Cardigans' singer Nina Persson, is their best song in years and made music lovers sit up and take notice.
The end of this month sees them tour the UK and Ireland for the second time this year. It seems like a perfect way to cap off a triumphant 12 months.
"It is, really," says singer and guitarist James. "There has some kind of revival this year - I guess we just got back to what we do, or know, best.
"I don't want to be overly dramatic about it, but it felt as if we'd settled with our ghosts somewhat," he continues. "And we've sold about 90,000 tickets for our gigs this year and done festivals too. Things like that affect us more than they used to.
James is candid, forthright, earnest and sincere, like much of the groups output over the years. But he's not all doom and gloom, as might have been believed, and he cracks self-deprecating jokes every other minute. For example, when explaining why he wanted The Enemy to join them as support on their last tour, he gushes about the young Coventry band's music and attitude, before revealing the real reason he offered the invite. "I loved the fact they're all so short. When you've got a Napoleon complex like mine, you need a few fellow shorties around to empathise with."
Each date on their forthcoming tour brings back special memories for James, of the days he, Nicky, Sean and Richey Edwards - tragically missing since 1995 - travelled around in an old van, playing dodgy venues all over the country.
"Inevitably, we've got rose-tinted spectacles now," he says. "The good old days weren't quite as good as we might remember and our memories are kind of low rent, to be honest. We'll come to a town and it might just be a chipper that we went to years ago that sparks us off reminiscing, or an Army And Navy store where we bought some clothes, but I like that?"
Formed in the mid-80s, the Manics were an out-and-out punk band. Their gigs would often descend into slanging matches between them and the crowd, while their lyrics often contained socialist sentiments, informed by their tough working-class upbringing in the south Wales mining town of Blackwood.
They famously once dedicated an award to Athur Scargill, and more recently played in Cuba at the personal invitation of Fidel Castro. MSP released three albums as a four-piece, and after Richey's disappearance in 1995, it looked like they were going to call it a day. Instead, they came back with their career-defining album Everything Must Go in 1996, which had the anthemic single A Design For Life.
They were immediately propelled into the mainstream and inevitably the Britpop movement - but unlike many
other bands from that time, the Manics managed to ride the demise and came out the other side intact.
Now, after a series of events echoing their mid-90s resurgence, they find themselves with a new set of fans. The irony is not lost on James: "On this last tour, there were a lot more young fans there...They know the words to everything, which is brilliant, and to see the audience engaging with everything we've done in the past is really gratifying."
"Its great when we play an old song and its lyrics still have the ability to shock me."