Manic Street Preachers' bassist and propagandist-in-chief Nicky Wire takes Marc Burrows through their new album track by track.
You always knew the next Manic Street Preachers record would go somewhere else. 2010’s Postcards From A Young Man was an assured, bolshy, commercial rock record and the Manics have never managed two of those in a row- they always turn inward. Rumours of a sprawling double called 70 Songs Of Hatred And Failure proved unfounded but the trio have clearly been busy. Rewind The Film is the first of two separate albums - this one isolated, quiet and introspective where its forthcoming sibling [Futurology] will apparently be spiky and uncompromising. It’s the most melancholic and inward looking the band have been in quite some time, and sits apart from a body of work that’s lasted two decades.
THIS SULLEN WELSH HEART
"The first line, 'I don’t want my children to grow up like me, it’s too soul destroying, it’s a mocking disease', sets the tone for the kind of cruel self examination of the album. It’s about looking in the mirror and realising we’re all 44, and while we’re still deeply enthralled and still in love with the delusion of being in a band and playing to people, and all those brilliant rock cliches which we’ve always specialised in - we probably can’t do it any more. That line, 'I can’t fight this war anymore, time to surrender, time to move on', I don’t want to be like that but I think… it’s better if we are. It’s The Holy Bible for middle aged men - the horror of realising you’re in charge, you’re the grown up. I think our generation hangs on to being young more than any there’s ever been, but it’s fucking hard. Musically it’s very tender, we wanted something very Leonard Cohen-ish with Lucy [Rose] adding those beautiful textures. I think it’s the most sparse start to a Manics album."
SHOW ME THE WONDER
"It’s the one uplifting song on the album - slap James’ electric guitar on that and you could have had a more traditional Manics song. We were obsessed with 70s Elvis at the time - the horns are from our Mums and Dads' record collection, ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’- it gives me a lift every time I hear it. Just that celebration, the idea that we’re sick of the opposing forces of science and religion trying to prove truth. We just wanted to wallow in the magic of how something you see, a song, how certain things work, how certain individuals are unexplainable, a good haircut, the way a drummer will react to a guitar, the way a footballer will be truly stunning without even trying - science or religion just cannot explain certain things."
REWIND THE FILM
"I was listening to David Axelrod a lot, and I literally started singing the vocal line over one of his songs, ‘Little Girl Lost’. I did the demo of it for James, he sent it off to [Richard] Hawley and he kept the vocal line, he said, 'I love those words Nicky.' James knew him from when we did Shirley Bassey, and James loves him anyway, they get on really well. We just wanted something deep, very Scott Walker and cinematic, a bit of Johnny Cash. We’ve been lucky to do some great duets, and it’s definitely one of the best. He kind of quivers - without being overbearing he controls the song, and that’s a really hard trick. It’s a tiny bit heartbreaking, that song - 'I want to be small, lying in my mother's arms.' It’s saying, 'I’d like to do it all again.' It’s not about changing stuff because it’s been fucking brilliant. That’s hard to put into a lyric. I loved growing up, I loved being a kid, I love my Mum and Dad and my brother, and then I loved being in a band, and doing education in between. Being very blessed in a very simple way - there’s no extravagances in those years." It’s about realising it’s fucking over, and that’s what permeates the sadness. I think Postcards was nostalgic, it was one last 'C’mon! We can fucking do it! We are Queen!' This album is more, 'I can’t fucking star jump without my arthritic knee packing up and my back packing in.' It’s about having a migraine if I read too much because my eyes are shit. A lot of the stuff that has fuelled me is just no longer applicable. It’s difficult to put that into a commercial album."
BUILDER OF ROUTINES
"It’s an odd little ditty I think. Very short for us, and as technological as we’ll ever get because it was written by text message. James and Sean were in Hansa in Berlin and I was under a mountain of shit. My Dad was in hospital, and my wife was in hospital, the kids had norovirus and I was just mopping up sick and shit, amazingly I didn’t get ill but everyone else was so poorly. I’ve never been through so many Flash wipes and so much Domestos in my entire life. I was walking round in rubber gloves. It was proper Howard Hughes, I had face masks on and everything, but there you go. Out of misery a flower blossomed. We’d arranged this two week session in Hansa which I was so looking forward to, and everyone did get slightly better so I thought I might go for the last four days- and then I got snowed in. James said, 'Have you got anything going?' So I texted him that and within two days they’d done that track. I didn’t even write it down on paper, which I’ve never done before. It’s about crawling through the ship wreckage and still trying, I guess like a junkie will try and get some semblance of justification and routine, I’m always obsessed with how, in whatever situation I’m in, trying to invent that one bit of stability to keep it all together. Sean plays this amazing flugelhorn solo which I love, it’s very ‘God Only Knows’, something about it lifts the song out of the pit. Something about how you’ve been through all of that and now you’re out."
4 LONELY ROADS
"It’s a lovely sepia-tinged groove isn’t it? I think we’re all, dare I say it, pretty good musicians now. It’s not something people remark on, apart from James’ guitar. I did the demo without anyone, I did the drums on that. I wanted it to sound like ‘The Two Of Us’ by The Beatles, a sort of lolloping groove. I could see that James and Sean liked the song but as usual I just didn’t want my voice on it, and the first person we thought of was Cate [Le Bon]. We wanted something really pure, almost folk-tinged. There’s a severe clarity that cuts through the haziness of the backing track. She really pierces. We sent her the track in LA, at the start you can hear her walking in her high heels, clip clopping up to the mic. She did it in three takes, it worked perfectly. There’s a lot of A. E. Housman poetry there which filters through."
(I MISS THE) TOKYO SKYLINE
"It’s a lot of peoples favourite. It’s about being completely seduced by Tokyo. I think we all were when we first went there and we did the ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ video, it’s the first place we ever got a gold disc. I’ll never forget, we turned up at the airport at six in the morning and there were hundreds of people, we all looked behind us because we thought The Black Crowes were there or something. We realised they were all waiting for us, and thought, 'Fucking hell!' It was such an indelible scar. It’s the most alien culture I’ve ever been to, in a good way, and I’ve loved the feeling of safety. Whenever we go back there’s a special bond. The next album in particular is filled with travel and motion and other places, because you just get tired with your own environment. The overarching power of London on the culture of the UK gets wearisome sometimes. I think the music is really interesting on that track, we did the bare bones of James on the acoustic, and then there were kids running round and the usual stuff, and we were exhausted in the studio, so we said to Sean: 'Just fuck off downstairs Moore-o, put some noise on it.' We really needed sleep. So me and James were upstairs lying on the sofa, and then four hours later we go down and he’s got all these fucking leads and boxes, it’s like a Tangerine Dream studio from 1972, he said, 'I’m trying to make it sound like a Bullet Train.' So we thought, 'Alright, we’ll go back upstairs for another hour then.' There is a real magical quality to it. The violins actually sound Japanese. Japan occurs on the album [as a theme] a few times - 'As beautiful as the spring in Japan.'"
ANTHEM FOR A LOST CAUSE
"A James lyric. We should do an Ian McDonald Manics book really, because there’s a lot of subtle interfaces. I think there’s two songs, ‘As Holy As The Soil’ and ‘Anthem…’ that really go for that kind of Dexys soul thing. Trying to write an old fashioned standard. It was originally called ‘Composition Rights’, I said, 'That’s a bit fucking John Cale isn’t it? Who’s going to know what a fucking Composition Right is?' [He said], it's rites as in ‘rites of death’. So I said, 'Well nothing sums us up better than ‘Anthems for Lost Causes’ does it?' He did all of that. The brass arrangements took ages, we were really trying to get the feel of Sam Cooke or something, for ‘As Holy As The Soil’ as well. We were trying to imagine someone like Amy Winehouse singing it."
AS HOLY AS THE SOIL
"I think this is as close to a love song to Richey as we’re ever going to write. It’s the oldest song on the album, I wrote the music and the words and I’d kept it hidden for about three years, because it’s one of those topics you just feel a bit… but then you realise it’s 20 years. We’ve done stuff like ‘Cardiff Afterlife’ and ‘Nobody Loved You’, but they were a bit more autobiographical - this is more, 'Fucking hell, it would be good if you were around, if you just turned up one day. Imagine how many festivals we could headline?' At which he would laugh. I just miss his pulverising intellect. It’s not just us - I think the musical landscape misses him. Then I lost a really good friend at Sony, our product manager for the last five years, and he died really young, so I changed a couple of lyrics because it had an awful impact. It became this song about redemptive loss. I think this is my best vocal, I put a lot of work into it. James said he thought this is the one my voice should be on, because it’s got that sort of cracked frailty in the verses. I’m dreading playing it live - I don’t like singing live."
3 WAYS TO SEE DESPAIR
"It’s just fucking sludge rock, isn’t it? When we were playing it we thought, 'This could be on This Is My Truth…' It’s got that fucking misery beat, as we call it; [it's] a suicide ballad. We wanted to do something like The White Album produced by Steve Albini, we were looking for those big drums. I was looking at the pictures of Stuart Adamson, and it’s not specifically just about Stuart, just the idea of, 'How could things go so wrong?' How could something so beautiful and talented eat itself up with anxiety and self-doubt, and can you ever fucking stop it? Which you probably can’t. There’s a lot of Elliot Smith [in this], [in the] way he mixes Black Sabbath and The Beatles, I think only he can do that. There’s also the exhaustion of being in Manic Street Preachers, that line, 'I’m as tired as John Lennon sang'. I think ‘I’m So Tired’ by John Lennon is the perfect example of just being fucked, just that White Album haze. Lennon was incredibly intelligent, but he could distill that, and that’s the fucking hardest thing on Earth to do. You’re shutting down a little bit, you realise you have to be economical. That’s the miracle of ‘Tolerate...’, we didn’t shut down at all - we got a million words in and still managed to have a huge hit. It’s a rare beast. We always get that accusation of being clunky, but I’m glad we are. When it works, on a track like ‘Yes’, it’s better than some fuck-wit on the front of the stage banging a floor tom and shouting 'Woah', like every fucking band does now. There’s nothing more irksome than that, 'Oh look, another fucking floor tom.' It’s become this moment of rapture, the crowd want it right from the first get go."
RUNNING OUT OF FANTASY
"It’s my favourite lyric on the album. It was inspired by two things, the Jan Morris book Conundrum, which is Jan when she was James, before she had the sex change, which is startling to read - you don’t think of it happening in the 70s. She had to go to Morocco to become a woman. Jan’s probably my favourite travel writer of all time. When Jan became a woman she stayed with her wife, which I think is remarkable. It was that idea of drastic change and realisation that you have to push for the truth to be happy, which I apply to being in a band. Then there’s this line in Burden Of Dreams by Werner Herzog where he goes, 'I am running out of fantasy.' He’s making Fitzcarraldo and he’s pulling a fucking boat up the mountain through the Peruvian forest and it’s not working, you can see he’s thinking, 'What the fuck am I trying to do here?' All of those elements combine. There’s this line in there, 'The seduction of a fading power in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere' and that’s the core of it really, that’s what I love about being in a band, but I realise that kind of seductive delusion is probably over."
"I think [this track] is a bit of a breather. After the amount of words in ‘Running Out Of Fantasy’ it’s just a calm before the storm. It’s a place in west Wales I visit a lot, where Virginia Woolf visited and George Bernard Shaw. They all wrote in this castle which leads down to this amazing beach. The title informed the music, it became this theremin-infused almost medieval thing, then this Pink Floyd sort of thing at the end, where James is a one-man choir, and it sort of slips into ‘30 Year War’ there."
30 YEAR WAR
"It’s not about Thatcher, it’s definitely about Thatcherism, about the establishment across the last 30 years, and it doesn’t matter what government is around, we always love to portray ourselves as this holier than thou country, and yet we have scandal after scandal uncovered, right to the root of power, government, Murdoch, the police, Hillsborough, this stupification of the class I grew up in, which I think all stems from Thatcherism really. The idea that if you break down any power that we had we’re going to be fucked forever. That ominous [line]: 'I ask you again what is to be done?' which is obviously Lenin. Simon Price said we must be the first band to quote Lennon and Lenin on one album. I didn’t want to give the lyric to James, because I felt the album is so intimate and internal, do they really want me ranting on about class war? But he was genuinely excited, it gave him an energy, and it’s certainly a musical bridge to the next album. It’s slightly more odd sounds, a bit Blade Runner with the keyboards. I listen to it and I think, 'Fuck me', maybe 20 years ago we could have released this as a single because it sounds different for us, it’s spiky but quite considering. It’s not splenetic raging, which I can be prone to. It’s got something weirdly in common with ‘Tolerate...’ with that kind of retro-futurism. There’s that line about 'hiding Lowry’s paintings' as well, the idea of connoisseurs of taste is such a London-centric thing: 'We’ll keep these in storage because he’s a Sunday painter.' He’s not, he’s a true genius - it’s not just matchstick men, there’s true depth to his painting. I find that elitist, 'We know what’s better' is so all pervading, from the monarchy to fucking Cameron to Mumford and Sons. We’re just told… what did one of Mumford and Sons say the other day? 'Either ignore it or celebrate it.' What a fucking futile attitude. Don’t say anything bad, just ignore it or celebrate it. So what about fascism then? We don’t like it, we’ll just ignore it. It does feel like the last five years has been such a redress of monarchy and establishment and public school through all points of our culture. I feel a bit helpless about it."