After a reluctant break, Manic Street Preachers are back with their 11th studio album. Andy Welch talks to James Dean Bradfield about the band's introspective new vibe and why they couldn't stay away for long.
"We'll see you back in two years, hopefully," said Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire before stepping off stage at the London O2 Arena in December 2011.
The concert, during which they played all of their 38 singles, was supposed to be a giant send off before taking a well-earned break. They'd released three albums in as many years, touring the world with each one.
But now, the Welsh trio are back, with Rewind The Film - their 11th studio album - and a string of live shows. They've also already recorded their next album, to be released in 2014. Some holiday.
"We always knew it was going to be hard to be away," says singer James Dean Bradfield, 44.
"The word 'institutionalised' carries negative connotations, but we are - we're institutionalised within the Manics; having something to aim for, being organised, having a schedule, deadlines, being told by the tour manager to be in the hotel lobby for 4.30, we love it.
"We're very disciplined like that. And if you've written songs you love, it's difficult not to want to play them to people. We nearly made it two years without playing a show in the UK," he adds, smiling, "so that's not so bad."
What would he have done if they'd had more time off? Bradfield pales at the thought. "I honestly don't know," he says, horrified at the idea of life without the band he formed with his cousin Sean Moore and childhood friend Nicky Wire in 1985.
You only have to listen to Manic Street Preachers' new album to understand why he's so fond of being part of it; the chemistry's abundant. Unlike previous album Postcards From A Young Man, which was full of the grandiose political statements, huge string arrangements and rousing choruses that have become one of their signatures, Rewind The Film is much smaller in scale and introspective in theme - not something normally associated with the Manics, a band who've consistently railed against consumerism, government and class during their 28-year career.
"Is that introspection now outweighing any of the traditional angers and passions that we might have had?" asks Bradfield. "It's a question we think about. There are lots of questions we ask ourselves, others being 'Is it ridiculous that we're still doing this job at the age of 44?', or, 'Have we got anything left to say after 11 albums?'
"We're asked similar things by journalists, and rightly so. Often there'll be this sepia image dragged out, and people will talk about the nihilism that was in our music, and the world we were trying to create because we were so angry at the one we lived in."
He says things changed a long time ago, and that early singles, like Motown Junk and Faster, aren't comparable to If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, their first No 1 in 1998.
"We have been true to how old we feel sometimes, and this record is exactly that. It's filled with self-doubt and the creep of mortality, but there's a song on there called 30 Year War, which is one the easiest songs we've ever written," he adds, referring to the song inspired by the politics of Margaret Thatcher, not, as they're keen to stress, by her death earlier this year.
"It shows we are still quintessentially the same band, occasionally engaging in politics, asking the same questions and really enjoying doing it."
The new album's title track sees Bradfield duet with Richard Hawley, one of the few musicians the un-starry guitarist counts as a friend.
"I've known Dicky Boy since about 1997, and we bonded in a bar one night over a love of our respective home towns," he says. "Over respect for our parents, too. It was a very drunken conversation, needless to say, but we swapped numbers and have been friends ever since."
He says he knew the song needed a certain croon, something to which his voice isn't suited, and he didn't want Wire to sing it.
"It's a brave song and he'd taken enough of a hit writing it," he says. "So I called Hawley. He drove down from Sheffield to our studio in Cardiff, with a bad back, and nailed it in three takes!
"The song's about losing people, knowing what that loss is like and worrying it's going to happen again."
It's one of three duets on the album, the others being 4 Lonely Roads with Welsh singer Cate Le Bon, and This Sullen Welsh Heart with Lucy Rose.
"Lucy has a powerful voice, really authoritative, but broken at the same time," he says. "I also like the idea of Sullen Welsh Heart being tempered by a quintessentially English artist. There is a long tradition of deep, dark melodrama in Wales, whether it's Richard Burton, Rachel Roberts, Pete Ham from Badfinger or our own Richey," he says, mentioning former bandmate Richey Edwards.
Edwards went missing in 1995, and was officially 'presumed dead' in 2008, although there have been spurious reports of sightings in places as far flung as Goa and the Canary Islands ever since he vanished.
"It was my idea to have a female voice to calm it down a bit, and Nick suggested Lucy Rose. I think she gives it just the slightest bit of hope."
Their next album, Futurology, is expected in May, although writing and recording both at the same time was a complete accident.
"Originally Nick wanted to make one album called 70 Songs Of Hatred And Failure. Sean and I just looked at each other and told him to go away and come back when he was ready to be reasonable, but we had so many songs.
"We realised seven months in that what we'd been doing was a complete car crash, not holding together, and then we had this eureka moment when Nick realised we'd made two albums.
"The next album feels different, more Germanic, it's really good but we're going to have to understate the release of it. It's not an easy pitch," he adds. "That said, this one's not easy either; I can hear the TV advert now - 'Filled with a sense of self-doubt, mortality and the oncoming creep of one's tender years - 12 new songs from the Manic Street Preachers'.
"We've never made things easy for ourselves, so let's not start now."