Way, way back at the beginning of the decade, a cocky bunch of hitherto unknown Welshmen known as the Manic Street Preachers announced that they would shortly sell 20 million copies of their debut album, Generation Terrorists, conquer the known universe and, with the world weeping, promptly split up.
Zip forward to 1999 and the Manics have yet to call it quits, although the still-unexplained disappearance of notoriously unstable guitarist and lyricist Richey James four years ago has reduced them to a battle-scarred trio.
They haven't quite hit their lofty record-sales target yet, either. But they have slowly but surely conquered a small part of the universe - namely the U.K., where their latest record, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, has surpassed the triple-platinum mark and readers of Q magazine recently voted them "the best act in the world today."
That album finally drops in Canadian record stores on June 8, nearly 10 months after its release overseas. And, not coincidentally, the Manics, armed with a new Canadian record label, Virgin, and what guitarist/vocalist James Dean Bradfield calls a "humbler and wiser" attitude, are attempting a renewed assault on these shores.
"It's not an assault," counters the affable Bradfield, in town recently to do some press and perform a striking solo "Manics unplugged" set for media and industry types at The Hooch. "In Britain, there's always been this myth that we've been desperate to crack America. I will admit that when I was young, 20 years old, I was absolutely just foaming at the mouth to get to America. I was like the typical British, snotty (jerk), going "F-- off. We're from Britain.'
"In the same month, I arrived like that and left a completely and utterly beaten man . . . Ever since then, I haven't really given a f- - about America. I've learned my lesson. I've gone to school, I got sent to detention and now I know that's stupid.
"We're not coming over here to sell a million records. We just want a chance to play in front of some people and get a record out."
Encouragingly, the Manics have already scored some radio and video play for the anthemic single "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next," which suggests a better domestic fate might await This Is My Truth (lauded by many U.K. critics as one of 1998's best albums) than its unjustly ignored predecessors.
"We'd be happy selling 50,000 records," says Bradfield. "And if it doesn't happen, we won't have anyone to blame except ourselves."
(That said, he does call former label Sony's handling of the band's previous album, the first post-James outing Everything Must Go, "a farce." The record was released to massive acclaim and equally massive sales overseas, but the Manics never even got a chance to tour it over here.)
To help (unwittingly) stoke the fires of public curiosity, the Manics just became embroiled in a good, old-fashioned controversy: Their widely-reported refusal last week to play the new Welsh Assembly's Voices of a Nation gala because the Queen would be attending.
Bradfield, for his part, has already grown weary of the "Welsh rockers snub royalty" headlines.
The band's stance on the monarchy has been pretty clear since day one.
"We've always been an anti-monarchy band, like many other musicians," he says. "It's not a big secret or anything . . . everybody knows they're absolutely useless, every one of them."
Calls to usurp the royals are in short supply, anyway, on This Is My Truth.
More mature in both outlook and its mannered, widescreen rock instrumentation, it certainly fits Bradfield's description as the least "nihilistic" Manic Street Preachers record to date.
The change in tone, from the angry-young man-isms of the early albums or the powerful, trauma-stricken catharsis of Everything Must Go, came about, he says, because this was the first time since James went missing that the band didn't feel like it was performing "under duress."
"For three years after that, it just felt as if we were fighting against everything, almost as if we were just fighting for our existence as a band. And after Everything Must Go, it just felt as if we had a period of grace. We didn't have to defend ourselves anymore."