They said they'd rather burn out than fade away after one 20-million selling album! they said they were '4 Real'! They're the Manic Street Preachers and they're growing up the loud way! Christ Watts catches up with generation terrorists Nicky Wire (bass) and Richey James (alleged guitarist), and unravels their great expectations!
The knives are out for the Manic Street Preachers.
"The minute your sister likes a record you bought, you go, 'Fucking hell, it's crap!'. It's a very teenage thing."
Richey James pours another cup of tea. Nicky Wire stretches back in one of the most horrific orange suits to have ever been created. The legs are too short and the jacket too tight. His Marilyn Monroe tie is no better.
"Sometimes I do worry when other band come along," the lanky bassist says. "If someone got into us for the excitement, the glamour, the destruction or whatever, then they might be into something else by now. It's elitism. It's no fun any more when everybody gets into 'your' band."
It's a dilemma created by the band themselves. It was all supposed to be over by now, if comments they made years ago about splitting up were to be believed. One album then fuck off. That was the deal.
"The first album was supposed to be a full-stop," says Richey wearily. "It was supposed to be a 20-million full-stop!"
In fact, 'Generation Terrorists' sold around 350,000 copies worldwide. Not sloppy, yet not 'Thriller'. The band signed off at the end last year with a clutch of Top 40 singles and a few ill-chosen comments concerning AIDS. It was the end of a massive tour. It was Christmas.
"It was also very nearly the end of our career!" Wire laughs. "We haven't grown up, we've just aged. We're starting to feel like Keith Richards!"
"We've aged more than most," admits Richey. "Before all this we had 20 years of doing absolutely fucking nothing except just staying in. In a stupid way, that was quite healthy."
"We'd just wander around, eat, sleep, phone up journalists, try and get a gig and go back to bed again. Most people's lives are very docile, really."
Wire: "The only thing I really enjoy these days is lying down on my own and just thinking. About everything. Inside my head, I sometimes think I'm the Prime Minister!"
After a celebratory show at the Kilburn National, the band returned to Wales to take stock of a career that could put most to shame. If the Manics had indeed been a sham, it might be over now.
"We came to a decision about this album," says Nicky. "We all decided that this time we wanted to make a proper record."
What's a proper record?
"A record that we can all be happy with."
Richey looks bashful. "Cos we've never been in other bands, we didn't even know how a studio worked. We've all imagined we were in a band since the age of 15. We didn't even get our guitars until we were 18!"
'Generation Terrorists' wasd over-produced, over-played and under-chorused. It was a unique collaboration between the Manic musos (drummer Sean Moore and James Dean Bradfield playing everything else), and the two quotable magpies, Wire and James. The two camps were deliberately separated; the latter supplying the lyrics, the former writing the music. It encouraged criticism that the band were a fabrication. With typical, headline-grabbing intention, the band whole-heartedly agreed. Richey admitted he had about as much time for his guitar as James Dean Bradfield had for the Press. The perfect marriage.
"It was stupid at the time," says Richey, now to be seen wandering aimlessly around town with a guitar in a carrier bag - it's good for the pose. "When I said I never played much on the first record, everybody started looking for another guitarist behind my amp! People missed the point. 'Motown Junk' was never avant garde noise. It was a pretty derivative Rock record. We were never a Punk band and said we were. It was just the easiest thing to pin on us."
"Even lyrically, it was always stuff like 'Beslen death-camp babies asphyxiating in a rotting hell'! But people never took in the whole picture."
‘Generation Terrorists was also, however, one of the freshest, most gratuitous slogan-tests since the heyday of Punk. The Manics wrote cool tunes ('Motorcycle Emptiness', 'You Love Us' and 'Repeat), and said a bunch of stuff in the Press to guarantee massive public interest.
But can you do it all again? Haven't the Manics served their purpose?
"It is difficult," says Nicky. "We think that we've made a brilliant record. We'll just have to wait and see."
"In these days of total Thrash intensity, saying you're inspired by someone like Springsteen can almost be subversive! Everything can be so powerful, it's almost missing the point of music. We have more class than that."
Richey: "Death Metal is just elitist, because no fucker can understand it! It's hard to react to something like Pantera's 'Fucking Hostile'. What the fuck are they on about?"
"Nobody ever wrote about it at the time, but our lyrics were just as media-led, slogan sound-bites - Sun-speak! That got ignored, but Rage Against The Machine speak the same language."
"In other words, we've influenced the whole Rap-Metal nation in the US without realising it!" Nicky laughs. "But I think we did pave the way. No one could believe it when we got into Kerrang! for the first time. History will be kind to us in that sense."
Heroes have come and gone within the Manics' three-year career span. No one is more acutely aware of current media faves than Wire and James; they are quick to distance themselves from the media they once so energetically courted.
"We're much more cynical about the industry," says Richey. "We know there are a lot of people in the industry who don't really give a fuck about the music. Yet I know people back home who'd work in the music industry for no fucking money!"
Nicky: "The only people we really trust are ourselves. Even journalists on the 'credible' papers know nothing. They're still comparing Alice In Chains to Vince Neil. It's pathetic!"
Richey's even been dabbling in Grunge.
"I stole the Brad record from Columbia, and there are three songs on it that are so fucking brilliant. They're my favourite songs in the last two years." "How can you like a band called Brad?" Nicky retorts. "Imagine a 10-year-old going, 'I'm into Brad!'. Fuck off!"
The release of the Manics' second album will not be an easy period for the band. All four are proud of 'Gold Against The Soul' and the success of the first single, 'From Despair To Where'. But Richey and Nicky are awaiting the backlash with all their usual defeatism intact.
"There's always been a universal backlash," Richey says. "If not one fucker out there bought it, it wouldn't really be worth carrying on. Loads of bands say they only make records for themselves. Then why the fuck release it?
Nicky: "I'd feel so humiliated if this album doesn't do well - you wouldn't see us again. It's good that we can say that. I do love making music and all the rest of it, but we've always had such huge ambitions."
"Despite all the drawbacks, last year we still probably played some of the most exciting and well-attended gigs on the circuit. No one ever mentions that, either."
Despite the fact that Nicky once blasted Therapy? by saying that "ugly people shouldn't be allowed to make records!", the Manics respect the way that the Belfast trio are tackling North America. The Manics have only played about four US dates. The LA Times called them 'a real Punk Rock band from London'!
According to Nicky, America considers the band "somewhere between Prong and Bon Jovi!".
"It's really difficult for any British band out there," says Richey. "They don't need our bands out there because Pearl Jam just keep on fucking selling! The British standard-bearers like Little Angels and Thunder - fuck off! They don't even want them out there! It's embarrassing."
"The British scene will always be very fast and very foolish. But it'll always go around in ever-decreasing circles because there's not that belief in bands any more. How can you make Pop music when it isn't popular? It might be interesting, but it'll never sell any records!"
And anyway, Punk IS dead.
"All that's left of Punk is that one image of Sid pointing his finger," Richey sighs. "Pathetic!"
Similarly, the one lasting image of the Manics might be Richey carving '4 Real' into his left arm. That would be equally sad.
Nicky: "It would be hard if the band split up. It would probably be a huge shock to the system. I could probably get a job on Kerrang! with my extensive knowledge of Krokus!"
Richey: "I don't know. I haven't got any fond memories of any of the small gigs we did, so to go back and do them as an ex-Manic Street Preacher... I'd at rather die! I'd probably just It go back to bed."