The Manics are at an interesting point. They've moved so far from their dazzling slash-and-burn beginnings - from smudged eyeliner and razor-carved beliefs to chunky-boy label-wear and stadium rock - that you might assume that they've reached a middle-age where they'll just trouser the mainstream dollar and run. But they won't. Because they're too out of condition for physical exercise, haw haw. No, because The Manics are far too clever and far too conscience-stricken for anything so tedious.
Rumour has it that they've been fired up by Blur's last LP; that they've realised that they can change their tune, experiment and still be world-beating. The new single, Masses Against The Classes, an angrier noise than anything taken from This Is My Truth Show Me Your promotional budget, hints that they'll move away from the glossy, perfectly polished sound of the last two LPs and back towards their hardcore origins.
Of course, their lyrics have never been anything other than knuckle-raw. It's just that over the last five years their words have been drowned in production gloop, swamped by hype and glory. The much-quoted "Libraries gave us power" moved swiftly from rallying call to rent-a-rant Manics' cliché. It wasn't their fault. Fame has a dismissive pigeon-hole effect.
The Manic Street Preachers are a complex and difficult band, with a troubled history and something approaching a manifesto. Fame reduces them to three sound-bite tags. Welsh. Working class. Richie. And they're lucky if they get the latter two. This cartoonification has meant that The Manics' lyrics - their finest bit, the bit that makes them different - become, at best, misinterpreted (ever seen a stadium audience bellow just want to get drunk"?) and, at worst, dismissed as the whining of champagne socialists.
I can listen to Nicky Wire talk about anything. He's always interesting, he never says what you expect. I want him to turn his immense brain on to New Labour, to treat our times as more than trivial. The last LP had its present politics (SYMM), but essentially seemed to treat today as personal (Black Dog, Born A Girl), and the past as epic history. But politics isn't dead, it's just wearing different trousers. Like The Manics, and their politics.
And, as regards fame's clichéing, all they need to do is show off a bit more. Not in a "check my guitar lick" way, but in a "see my art and angst" manner. Then people will start to take them seriously again. Once you're famous, you have to signal your intentions in BIG LETTERS so that the presenters of Live And Kicking will understand. Scary sound equals serious intention.
Anyhow, aside from such unneeded advice, The Manics are meant to be taking this year off They've said they might work on an LP, but they might not Knowing them, though, and their work ethic, they won't be lying around a beach for too long. They'll have knocked out the LP by May. Let's hope it's the one we've been looking for.