The Manic Street Preachers are seven studio albums into an illustrious career, but the Welsh rock act currently seems to be embracing the past as it heads into the future.
Singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore released the critically acclaimed "Lifeblood" last year. In March, the band re-issued its landmark 1994 album "The Holy Bible" as an expanded DVD/two-CD package, and Bradfield admits there are a few similarities between the two projects.
"Both albums are kind of obsessed with the darker aspects of your personal self but 'Lifeblood' perhaps comes up with more positive answers," he says by phone after a band rehearsal. "I think a couple of songs on 'Lifeblood' deal with suicide, but it talks about the selfishness of the act and the people that are left behind rather than the act itself."
Bradfield says this time around, the recording surroundings were less aesthetically pleasing than the Spanish mountains for 2001's "Know Your Enemy." But the creative process for "Lifeblood" definitely seemed more enjoyable. Working with famed producer Tony Visconti certainly didn't hurt either.
"Tony just gave our confidence back, to be honest," Bradfield says. "He said, 'You guys are searching for the second, the third and the fourth idea but you're at the state in your life where your first idea is good again.' And that just inspired confidence in us - to trust your instincts and your ideas."
The group recorded approximately 20 tracks for the album but Bradfield says the toughest to finish was "Cardiff Afterlife," which deals with Richey Edwards, the band's guitarist and lyricist who mysteriously disappeared in February 1995. Edwards is presumed dead, but his family refused to declare him legally deceased in 2002 so he is still considered a missing person.
Bradfield says the group took a four-month break from the song before finally completing it. "The lyrics in 'Cardiff Afterlife' are quite important for us in that we wanted them to be perfect - the imagery, the surroundings that accompany the words and the singing," he says.
It also marked the first time the band addressed Edwards' disappearance in its music. Bradfield says being a decade removed from the incident changed the perspective surrounding the tragedy, giving the Manics a sense of clarity.
"There's no way you could write 'Cardiff Afterlife' straight after Richey's disappearance because the song and the sentiments would be colored with so many bad emotions," he adds. "The other reason it felt like the right time was we wanted to reclaim him for us a tiny bit. The idea or myth of what Richey represents to people sometimes isn't right. We just thought it was time we reclaimed it for ourselves."
The group confronted its past when going over material for the expanded edition of "The Holy Bible," including early footage that had been locked away for years. "We had all tried to distance ourselves from that time because we really didn't want to look at those things because it was so painful for us," he says. "We actually shielded and guarded ourselves away from these images."
And even though the group has recorded four post-Edwards albums, Bradfield only recently separated himself from Edwards creatively. "Up 'til about two years ago, whenever I was writing the music to some lyrics Nick gave me, I was still using Richey in my head as a mental checklist," he admits. "I would say to myself, 'I wonder what Richey would think of this.' But I stopped doing that. I think it's healthy for us to stop doing that."
The Manics remain superstars in the United Kingdom, but have no plans to tour in North America anytime soon. "The biggest thing is we're not quite sure who is going to turn up if we play a concert in the U.S.A. or Canada," Bradfield says. "We're never quite sure if anyone is going to turn up at all."
What is quite sure is that the band plans on taking a long break after touring behind "Lifeblood." Wire is also hoping to release a solo album of poetry during the break. But Bradfield downplays the constant speculation that this album will be the Manics' swan song.
"The fact that we will take a long break will turn into another rumor," he says with a laugh. "So we just have to accept that. Between us and Blur I think we've [allegedly] split up at least 60 times and we're still here."