The Manic Street Preachers have been through Hell in 1994. Guitarist Richey James nearly didn't make it. Frontman James Dean Bradfield reveals the depths of the Manics' misery to Jason Arnopp...
'THE HOLY BIBLE'
Released in August, the Manics' third album is their darkest and most controversial to date. It is also one of the great Rock albums of '94. "We knew 'The Holy Bible' wasn't commercially the strongest album we could release," reflects Manics' frontman James Dean Bradfield. "But for us it was like regaining our own image, so in those terms it's been very successful for me. The general essence of the album is dark and fucked-up."
SUICIDE IS PAINLESS?
A suicide attempt was rumoured when Manics lyricist/guitarist Richey James was hospitalised in August. Richey was suffering from depression and the slimming disease anorexia nervosa. He was heavily into booze and self-mutilation. "It might have looked like we exploited the situation with Richey being ill, when in fact it was the other way round. It sounds a bit cynical, but Richey's situation was a good reference point, even though a lot of the songs are about other people. "I wouldn't try and put it on the same level as the Cobain thing, Richey's thing was a bit different, although I do think a lot of the press were indulging in knee-jerk armchair psychology. "Twice Richey was put on a magazine cover when we were told it would be a group shot," he recalls. "We were a bit indignant about it, but there's no point in moaning about it. Richey's now healthy and off the sauce. He doesn't do any drugs and he's not cutting himself up at the moment. He's kind of back to normal. Well... that's what 'normal' is supposed to be."
A year ago,bassist Nicky Wire predicted that the Manics' third album could be either "50 minutes of misery or utter Punk". The final, ugly picture turned out to be a combination of both - the massive iron wheels of 'PCP', 'Faster' and 'Archives Of Pain' grinding alongside the wondrous 'She Is Suffering', '4st7lbs' and 'This Is Yesterday'. "We didn't purposefully set out to do that," James notes. "We just didn't have it in us to do anything else. We knew there was something inside us waiting to get out, and that it would be impossible to try and do something else! It's our most confused album..." Are you ever confused by Richey and Nicky's gloomy, difficult lyrics? "I kind of modified my attitude. I didn't necessarily have to have an empathy with the lyrics or agree with them. The only thing I had to do was understand them. "There were some songs like '4st7lbs' (a grim journey through anorexia nervosa), where it was obviously going to be quite voyeuristic for me to sing them. "This has probably been the most interesting album to do, because I did feel alienated by some of the lyrics sometimes. Not in a bad way, but just because of the confusion I felt when I first read them."
CORPORATE ROCK WHORES!
The Manics' 1993 album 'Gold Against The Soul' was panned by the Rock-hating UK press for being too mainstream. 'The Holy Bible' is seen as a reaction to that criticism - and a rediscovery of the Manics' Punk roots. "I don't hate 'Gold Against The Soul'," James clarifies. "I've just got a few regrets about it. We swanned around for two years thinking we were totally in control of corporate things, and that was slightly naive. We thought as long as you didn't have Sergeant Major Sony barking orders at you, you were fine! "To a certain degree, I think it affected the music. I worked with (producer and keyboard player) Dave Eringa quite closely on that album, and sometimes I'd think, 'Well, we could make this song a little bit more radio-playable...'. "When I listen back to that album, I hear moments when I diverged from the true point of it, that's all. But it's interesting to hear us exercise ourselves in a more commercial manner."
Strangely enough, 'The Holy Bible' may prove more digestible to US tastes than 'Gold Against The Soul'. Possible upcoming dates might even reverse the damage done by Nicky's infamous onstage New York rant about the murder of John Lennon! "This should be the easiest album for the Americans to pigeon-hole," James reckons. "They've always told us they can't categorise our stuff on radio. I think they'll be able to see it in 'Alternative' terms this time, rather than be confused with 'AOR' with things like 'La Tristesse Durera'. "It's the most positive reaction we've had from the record company and at the end of the day you need their support. We're going for a support tour hopefully, but you can never tell with Yankee Land, can you?"
FROM DESPAIR TO WHERE?
While proud of 'The Holy Bible's uncomprising nature, James admits that the album has sold roughly the same as 'Gold Against The Soul'. "We're not particularly MTV or radio playable with this one, and I don't think we're reaching any new fans at the moment. I can feel the old attitude coming back into us at the moment. I can hear the word 'million' inside my head again! "I can feel the need for us to go for a big producer and a massive album again - to try to find that universal thing in people. I think the closest we ever got to it was 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. People just hear it and it immediately clicks something universal inside them." So after wanting to be bigger than Guns N' Roses, then not wanting to be, the Manics once again want to rule the world. "We always react against ourselves, basically! But on this album we've gone so far down the path of using our own language - 'speaking in tongues' is what I call it - that we owe it to ourselves to get our point across a bit more, to exploit people more." Which is a nice way of saying that the Manics have gone over too many heads. Especially in this, their most traumatic year. "Oh yeah, of course!" James smiles. "We knew that was gonna happen!"