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Manic Street Preachers: Album By Album - Uncut, June 2007

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Title: Manic Street Preachers: Album By Album
Publication: Uncut
Date: June 2007
Writer: Sam Richards

Jun 07 UNCUT feature page 1.jpg Jun 07 UNCUT feature page 2.jpg

These Blackwood boys started out as glam-punk provocateurs who vowed to sell 26 million copies of their debut before splitting up in a blaze of glory. Instead,they finished the '90s playing bombastic socialist anthems to sold-out stadia. Outspoken bassist Nicky Wire recounts one of the most fascinating and traumatic journeys in rock.

Generation Terrorists

Ludicrous over-ambitious double-LP debut: a head-swimming collision of hard rock glamour, literate punk fury and situationist sloganeering - and, in 'Motorcycle Emptiness', a soaring teenage hymn that almost justified the hype.
Nicky Wire: "We'd done 'Motown Junk' and 'You Love Us' with Heavenly. All of a sudden we signed to Sony and we were in a country studio for 12 weeks with Steve Brown who'd done The Cult and Wham! If we could have had five more songs like 'Motorcycle Emptiness' on the album we'd have achieved our goal. But the point was to totally distinguish ourselves, to reach beyond our limited musical means. We knew it was ludicrous - that's what made it exciting."

"We were up against a lot of cynicism just coming from Wales. Every headline was 'You Sexy Merthyr Fuckers' or something about a daffodil or a leek. Besides that, we felt a disconnection with the music of the time. It's not like we didn't admire the Roses or the Mondays, but we didn't have anything in common with them. We had no hedonistic impulse. Generation Terrorists was made in splendid isolation, we had no friends outside the band."

"In a naive, glossy way, the album stands up really well. There were no records in '92 that sounded like it. When I put it on now, it makes me smile, in a nice way. It's naive idealism: anger, energy, intelligence and an element of the fabulous disaster of the Sex Pistols."

Gold Against The Soul

Chastened by their failure to sell millions, the Manics ditched the make-up and embarked on a voyage of self-examination to a strident, FM rock soundtrack.
"The four singles are great. 'From Despair To Where' and 'La Tristesse Durera' are two stone-cold Manics classics. The musicianship's unbelievable. I don't how we got to that level so quick, But there's a real lack of focus. There's not much politics, it's all self-loathing. I find it difficult to relate to."

"There's an overriding sense of failure. Instead of bristling energy there's almost a shrug of the shoulders. 'From Despair To Where' is a brilliant Richey lyric but it's totally internalised. I wrote 'La Tristesse Durera' based on Van Gough's suicide note - 'the sadness will never go away' - so it's no surprise that an atmosphere of sadness, dislocation and failure permeates the record."

"You community is such an unfashionable thing to write about, it's hard to make it glamorous. But as I'd just moved back to Wales and bought a little terraced house near to where I grew up, I was starting to feel what the Welsh would call a hiraeth, a sense of longing. Richey was on the path of internalising to the point of no return, which produced some of his best work, but I just didn't feel that way. I had got married earlier that year and my life was heading off on a completely different tangent."

The Holy Bible

An unexpected post-punk assault - Richey Edwards' lyrical concerns ranged from the holocaust to his own self-harming, foreshadowing his illness and disappearance.
"We were watching a tour bus video of Echo & The Bunnymen's Apocalypse Now camouflage period and we all though: 'Let's be an army again'. We knew we could get dropped at any moment and we were wondering if we'd lost the spirit that brought us together as 16-year olds. If we're going to go out, we wanted to go out with a record that was 100 per cent us."

"We all loved post-punk but the idea of the Manics from the start was to be glamorous and larger than life. T'he Holy Bible' was us reconciling ourselves with our love of Gang Of Four and Joy Division. It sounds weird, but we were all really happy making this record. We were evangelical again. Almost without trying, we became the biggest cult band in Britain. People felt so mainlined into the band's psyche, Richey especially, 'The Holy Bible' is more of a state of mind than a record. There's stuff on there that gets to the heart of Richey's nihilism, '4st 7lb' is as painfully autobiographical as you're going to get, but on 'Faster' he's saying how strong he is, and there's also 'Archives Of Pain' which is a pro-hanging song! So I don't know if you can read it all as a clue [to his disappearance]. In retrospect it's hard to see someone coming back from where he was.

There was so much volume to Richey's words that James saw it as a challenge to carve them into stone. Someone described 'The Holy Bible' as a giant obelisk.

Everything Must Go

Controversially for some, the Manics continued as a three-piece. Arty pretensions were replaced by rousing everyman anthems that won the band the mass acclaim they'd once so dearly craved.
"Five months after Richey's disappearance, James played 'A Design For Life' down the phone to me. He said he could hear Ennio Morricone, R.E.M., Phil Spector, 'Motorcycle Emptiness' was the last time he'd been that excited about a song. So that was the catalyst for being in a band again. If it hadn't been for 'A Design For Life' I'm not sure we'd have continued. We felt that the country needed to hear that song."

There was a weirdness to it [without Richey]. But, there was also a relief that we were back to doing the only thing we could do. It was important that we didn't try to carry on 'The Holy Bible' aesthetic. That would've been false and stupid. There's always been a telepathy within the band and at this time it was particularly strong. We just knew we were doing the right thing."

"'Everything Must Go' is still elevated by Richey's influence, 'Small Black Flowers' is one of his greatest ever lyrics. So you've got the perfect mix of me being more social and direct, and the wayward genius of Richey. On the other hand, Richey's disappearance allowed James to indulge his love of big productions and sweeping string parts. We were surprised when we mopped up the flagging entrails of Britpop. 'A Design For Life' became a bit of a football anthem, but the meaning must have seeped through. There aren't many huge hits that deal with the welfare state."

This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

The winning formula of 'Everything Must Go' was applied again, to even greater success. But despite hoisting a song about the Spanish Civil War to No.1, critics called it bloated and bland.
"Sonically it is a progression from 'Everything Must Go', although there's less energy and euphoria. 'If You Tolerate This...' is perfection. To comeback with an even more political lyric [than 'A Design For Life'] and have a No.1 record all over Europe was a great moment for us. We played in Barcelona just off the Ramblas and there were 3,000 Catalans singing along to Tolerate...We did feel utterly vindicated. It's such a difficult and wordy song, it's amazing it was a huge hit. You couldn't get away with it today."

"I'd gone up for an Aneurin Bevan celebration at Tredegar. It was pissing down with rain in the middle of the mountains, and one of his old speeches was booming out: 'This is my truth, tell me yours'. I couldn't imagine any other band using something like that as an inspiration for their album. But the LP tails off into mid-paced navelgazing, I did think 'Have we lost our cool?' I remember playing Wembley Arena three nights on the trot and for the first time I was looking into eyes that didn't believe in us. The Manic Street Preachers is more than a band, it's a concept. And here were people coming along 'cost they been bought the record for Christmas - Mondeo man. I had a nagging feeling of, 'Wouldn't it have been brilliant if Richey had still been around shake it all up?'"

Send Away The Tigers

After a pair of unremarkable albums in the 2000s - and the inevitable solo projects - the Manics' latest is an attempt to reconnect with what made them vital.
"I wanted 'Know Your Enemy' [2001] to be two separate albums: a really vicious, political album, then a softer West Coast LP. But we bottled it. 'Lifeblood' was cold to the point of freezing. We didn't play in the same studio. People had no idea what we stood for anymore."

"We wanted to feel naive and idealistic again. The theory was to do what we're best at, and if that is anthemic, bombastic songs with hopefully intelligent lyrics, let's not worry about it. There are no keyboards on the new record. It was such a relief to hear James play his Gibson through his Marshalls again."

"'The Second Great Depression' is the first time we've explored the theme of the friendship between us. It's a touchy-feely lyric, but it's also about how US and UK foreign policies have sunk us in a gigantic big fucking depression. Of course, it's the easiest thing in the world these days to write a song saying 'America is evil'. I wonder what all these people have been doing for the past 20 years. Do you need the catastrophe of Iraq to open your eyes? When Jarvis Cocker sings 'Cunts are still running the world', I think, 'Here we go - what have you ever done?' Fucking fiddled with your arse in front of Michael Jackson. We've written a million songs on America. We're 38 now and there's no one left from when we started, apart from Radiohead. That just shows our determination and maybe a bit of talent."