‘I don’t believe in absolutes anymore. I’m quite prepared to admit I was wrong’. That’s the opening line from the title track of the Manic Street Preachers’s new album, Postcards From A Young Man.
If you’ve followed the career of the Welsh firebrands, you’ll realise what a monumental statement that lyric is.
“Don’t worry,” says the band’s bass player and lyricist Nicky Wire. “We still hate everyone, but it’s not all-out war anymore. It’s tempered.”
When the Manics emerged amid a flurry of guitar riffs and combative statements in 1991, the music press wasn’t quite sure what they’d stumbled upon.
Four skinny white lads from a small Welsh town who combined lyrics of leftist politics, philosophy and high culture with a glam-punk soundtrack, while wearing feather boas, eyeliners and nail varnish.
They definitely weren’t your average guitar band.
Surely after all these years of staying true to their punk manifesto, the Manics haven’t gone soft when we need them most?
“You can’t be angry forever,” says Wire. “But I think we channel the anger in more constructive ways these days.
“The air of nostalgia on this record is defined by our personalities being the same as they always were. The nihilism and the vanity of rock ’n’ roll – which I think is important to all great music – is still deeply embedded in us, but now there’s the faint sense of wisdom that age has brought us, too.
“I’d love to believe in the absolutes, but they don’t exist anymore.”
The Manics came of age in an era where selling out was the worst possible thing a band could do. Now, we have John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, once the embodiment of youthful revolt, advertising butter, and that notion seems, at best, out of date, or at worst, completely non-existent.
“I knew it was over when I saw Jack White, an indie icon, doing a Coca Cola advert... That just wouldn’t be allowed when we were starting out. In the early Nineties you would have been crucified and it’d be career over.
As you might expect from someone who’s been making provocative statements for more than 20 years, Wire is a hugely skilled interviewee, virtually fluent in ‘big quotes’.
Ask him to describe new album Postcards From A Young Man and, quick as a flash, he says, “It’s like Van Halen singing Motown, Queen singing songs by Abba.”
While music fans perhaps shouldn’t have to look to three 40-somethings for their socio-political commentary, there’s an air of, ‘Well no one else is saying it, so we have to’ to the Manics’ music.
“We should have been replaced,” says Wire, in agreement. “But there’s such a dearth of guitar bands saying something, anything. There’s a sense of reality in some urban music, but guitar music? It’s truly pathetic.
“I think they’re more interested in getting a bargain at Top Shop than they are writing about the greatest economic recession we’ve ever suffered.”
The economy features heavily in Postcards, the Manics’s 10th album. It might sound mundane to some, but many of the lyrics were sparked by the takeover of British chocolate institution Cadbury’s, earlier this year.
“The song All We Make Is Entertainment is about this, and the idea that all the things we’ve been good at in this country, we’re willing to sell off – the car industry, steel, coal, water, gas and electric... The saddest irony of all is that the only nationalised industry is the banks, all under a Labour government. It’s surreal. And people talk about bands selling out!
“This is what I mean about the absolutes. They’re dead. We’ve been told so many times over the last 20 or 30 years since Thatcherism that you can’t subsidise industry. But the people saying that, as soon as their industry goes bad, they’re coming crying for subsidies and they get it.
“It disgusts me and fills me with rage. Labour just thought free Wi-Fi and a Costa coffee could save the world.”
Describing Postcards, Nicky said the album was the band’s “last shot at mass communication”.
He stresses he didn’t mean this would be their last album, rather that the early Noughties were unkind, and they’re currently riding on a second wave of relevance since 2007’s resurgent Send Away The Tigers.
“We’ve thrown everything at this record, and made something genuinely commercial,” he offers.
“We’re well aware it could connect with people or be a complete disaster. There are no in-betweens.
“It’s Not War (Just The End Of Love) is our biggest radio hit in years, and there’s a good feeling around, but I just don’t know what that means anymore.
“Ask me this in 1999 and I’d have said ‘We’ll sell a million records’. Now, we could sell 50,000.
“We survived Madchester, Britpop, whatever. We’ve drifted away and made our own niche, much like the best bands do. Of course we’ll make more music, indulgent, 70-track albums probably, but we’ll always be around.
“We could trade on our past and make quite a good living doing it, but we’ve still got this inexpressible urge to communicate, and get our point across.
“I think we’ve really done it this time. We may never be this good again.”