Manics Lost Their Bite? - Manchester Evening News, 25th May 2007
Think Nicky Wire, think mascara, bombastic stadium rock, leopard print fur and heavy politics. The very last thing CityLife imagined him to be was the kind of rock star that likes a good laugh with a hack. But, as we chew the fat with the Manic Street Preachers bassist and wordsmith, we're howling with laughter and firmly belted in to an expectations-bending rollercoaster.
"I'm still of the old school that enjoys a good natter with a journalist," he chirps, his broad Welsh accent as pronounced as ever. "Every band you meet, all they do is slag off journalists, 'Oh, they said this about me or that about me.' "
In truth, despite the major global success of the Manics and a string of hit albums, Nicky has never embraced the trappings of stardom.
He still lives 10 miles down the road from the tiny south Wales town of Blackwood where he grew up and went to school with bandmates James Dean Bradfield (vocals, guitar), Sean Moore (drums) and missing rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards.
It's a shopping town now, with little in the way of new employment or new blood, after its economy was destroyed by the miners' strike when Wales was a "guinea pig for Thatcher to test her worst policies out on... you did feel like you had an enemy".
It's little wonder he's loathe to leave, because the town was the band's raison d'être - the image, a homage to the glamour of Guns N' Roses and antidote to the drabness of their surroundings, and the music, angry and politically astute.
"Sometimes I wonder why I'm so angry and bitter," Nicky recalls, laughing, "because I had such a brilliant childhood. My dad loved books, and I'd sit up on my mum's bed nicking her hairspray and make-up and she was really happy for me to do that.
"My brother got me into Jack Kerouac and then the four of us found each other through listening to The Clash - we were the ultimate bedroom boys, music obsessives."
The home-made shirts bearing bold revolutionary slogans and the teenage energy of Motown Junk got them noticed, but Richey's self-harming and Nicky's tendency to publicly air his controversial opinions on celebs of the day also grabbed the band a few headlines.
In his time, he's taken pot shots at Blur, The Stereophonics, The Beastie Boys, Gomez and Terrorvision. He called Morrissey a "bitter man who just likes irritating people" and wished a gruesome death of REM's frontman Michael Stipe (which he later retracted).
Lately, though, rumours have abounded that Nicky has been watching who he punches. But CityLife isn't ready to wave goodbye to Wire's vitriolic alter ego. We're saddened Nicky - tell us it's not true!
"Oh God," he titters "Maybe in public I'm not so outspoken, but in private I'm still...," he pauses, sensing hot water. "I dunno, it's the old Johnny Rotten thing, you know, 'Anger is an energy', and I do believe that we've learned to channel anger in a much more constructive way.
"Maybe in the past we were just too nihilistic and you get stuck in that trap of saying something just for the sake of it. Lots of what I said was absolute rubbish, but we were 19-year-olds talking in interviews like we did in our bedrooms."
With all thoughts of juicy snipes banished from our minds, conversation turns to the new album, Send Away The Tigers. Widely hailed as a return to form, positioned somewhere between their masterpiece The Holy Bible and their commercial breakthrough Everything Must Go, it's scored the Manics their sixth Top 10 album and a number one single.
"We looked back at Generation Terrorists and we thought we'd lost our sense of colour, our stupid ambition, the kinda dreams we had, the naivety, the idealism, and I just thought perhaps we'd become too cynical.
"We just wanted to get across that idea of the fabulous disaster; sometimes you have to make an idiot of yourself to get a point across, especially if you're dealing with politics."
CityLife nods in agreement, and just as we're resigning ourselves to the fact that diplomacy is pulling Nicky Wire's strings these days, out come the knives. "It's pretty hard not to be political in the times we live in. I can't really understand bands that write songs about how bad the bouncers are in Sheffield, it's just like, 'Who cares?'
"Those same bands then will do some charity event for some cause but they never actually write songs about it, and that's the weird thing for me. You never hear Chris Martin (Coldplay) write a political song, but he's quite happy to get on stage and endorse something, and he'll never do an anti-American song because he doesn't want to annoy his main audience."
The Manics' post-punk ethics and bookish lyrics have never really stood in their way, though; The Holy Bible regularly features in the upper echelons of greatest albums polls, despite its dark, introspective sense of social disillusionment.
"I actually still believe in politics but I don't believe you have to relate to your politicians or they have to have a MySpace page. No one related to Clement Atlee and he was the greatest prime minister we've ever had. I don't particularly wanna see him down the pub, I just wanna know they do a really good job.
"Politics is the most miserable, horrible job. You just cannot say anything wrong, and with a gob like mine, you'd just be in trouble all the time."
Swiftly changing the topic, CityLife turns attention back to the album - the first LP in 10 years to sound menaced by Richey's mysterious disappearance in 1995. Twelve years on, does Richie's absence still haunt the band?
"Because I played football and rugby with him from the age of 12, it's easier for me just to remember him as my best friend. I cherish memories of tackling him from behind," Nicky laughs fondly, "when he was playing football, as well as writing, and just going down the pub together, getting smashed on cheap snakebite.
"People forget that he's a son and he's a friend, he's not just an icon for other people."
The album has been about reconnecting with the energy the band had before Richie's departure.
"Apart from The Holy Bible which I think is just a genius state of mind album, all our best records are kind of euphoric but have a bit of sadness, a bit of intelligence, they are anthemic and we perhaps lost that idea of being natural.
"If you've done eight albums you're always gonna make some **** ups on the way. But when we get it right, we give each other goose bumps."
The middle-aged spread of 2005's Lifeblood LP left many wondering if it was time to come good on that Manics manifesto to `release an album better than Appetite For Destruction, tour the world, play Wembley for three nights in a row and burn out'. Is Tigers the Manics' swansong?
"I think we were in danger of maybe a fizzle out, like the drizzle in Wales sometimes. We'd reached a point on our seventh album where we weren't sure who we were - you kinda reinvent yourself and you confuse yourself.
"But, I think that's changed. I dunno where it come from, but we really are reenergised."