The band closes a door to open a new chapter with the uplifting Postcards From A Young Man.
Contrary to popular belief, not all rockers wake up past noon. And if the theory that as we grow older, we need less sleep needs to be put to the test, look no further than “veteran” Welsh rocker James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers.
“Honestly, it’s true. I don’t need much sleep these days...that way I get to see more of the day,” the 41-year-old frontman insisted over the phone from London, just a little after 10am there.
On the sticky topic, Bradfield also says it bewilders him how people associate age with dwindling creativity and quality.
Even if age has dulled the band’s senses (not that it has), the trio has certainly earned that right having been around for 24 years now. In that time, the band also released 10 albums, which includes the band’s latest Postcards From A Young Man, out now.
Is that a healthy return for a quarter century’s work, then?
“I think it is, especially since the average life span for a band these days is two years or one-and-a-half albums. If you look at the Stone Roses, it’s a good return,” he takes a dig at one of Manchester’s finest, who in their 10 years of existence, only released two albums.
He conceded that like Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, the Manics - featuring him on guitar and vocals, Nicky Wire (bass and vocals) and Sean Moore (drums and vocals) - has repeated itself, too.
“We’ve also had some cataclysmic things happen to us,” he suggested. There aren’t too many things as disastrous or tragic as losing a band member ... and in the strangest of circumstances to boot. Rhythm guitarist and lyricists Richey James Edwards mysteriously vanished on Feb 1, 1995. Two years ago, after having been missing for 13 years, he was officially declared “presumed deceased”.
Hence, the band’s last, Journal For Plague Lovers (2009) was somewhat of a cathartic affair.
Bradfield drew the previous and current apart: “Firstly, to make the new album, we had to react to what we had done previously. Journal featured Richey’s lyrics - we let the words guide us, and we in turn just served what he wrote. It was an intense period. We knew it was the last time we were gonna work with Richey’s material. We felt completely drained after that record and tour.”
In contrast to Edwards’ sombre lyrics, bassist Wire’s literary work is more uplifting.
The Manics were weaned on classic rock, citing the likes of the Eagles, Boston, Aerosmith, REO Speedwagon and even Guns N’ Roses as part of their musical diet.
And that allowed the band to vie for the more classic rock feel of Postcards.
“Somehow we’ve always come across as tragically un-hip. When we started out, the whole Manchester scene thing was happening, and we were just an anomaly,” Bradfield laughed.
He rues the fact that people are so conscious of wearing their hearts on their sleeves these days and there’s so little in the way of genuine artistry, especially with the prevalent singles culture as opposed to albums.
“People don’t want to leave something special behind anymore, they just do it as a hobby. They don’t see an album as a journey and this mind set is a direct reaction from the Internet. Likewise the listening audience, who assumes music should be for free. A lot of people don’t want to pay for art anymore.”
Consider the Manics fortunate then because the band came up at a time when promoting and sharing music wasn’t purely an Internet-driven endeavour. To date, the band has racked up an impressive eight Brit Top 10 albums and 15 Top 10 singles. Three strikes at the No.1 spot (1998’s This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours album, and the singles If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next and The Masses Against The Classes) have firmly etched the Manics into the pantheon of modern British rock.
The Manics ethos doesn’t allow for mere accolades though and to critics and the band’s legion of fans, the band will always remain the leftist crunch rockers who took a page off the Sex Pistols and The Clash guidebook to conjure a sound all its own.
Postcards From A Young Man features a few cool collaborations, an option the band has exercised previously by working with the likes of former adult-movie actress Traci Lords and The Cardigans frontwoman Nina Perrson.
This time around, the boys have roped in a motley bunch including the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch on Some Kind Of Nothingness, John Cale (of Velvet Underground fame) on Auto-Intoxication and Duff McKagan (of Velvet Revolver) on A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun.
Bradfield admitted that it was a coup of sort getting these guys.
“They were on a wish list and we were just lucky they all said yes. So we just knew to quit while we were ahead. We wanted musicians, not celebrities,” he explained on how the band’s collaborators were banded together. The songs featuring these musicians simply called for them and the Manics adhered to that.
It’s an eerie thought now but would the band have ever imagined back in 1992 when it released its major label debut Generation Terrorists that we’d be living in such scary times today?
“Well, the situation has always been there. There’s the situation in Kenya, there’s Northern Ireland, Guy Fawkes ... the big political elephant is always around,” he explained almost nonchalantly. The band’s first single from the new long player, (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love, typifies the times we live in.
Bradfield is self-deprecating and funny, but he also takes the state of the world seriously. The Manics wouldn’t be writing the kind of songs it does otherwise, would it, now? Rock is a serious business after all, even with the chaos and absurdity that sometimes comes in tow.
Likewise football. So are the Welsh boys thrilled at Cardiff City’s new Malaysian ownership? And does that new support come with copious servings of Malaysian food? “I eat a lot of Malaysian food, actually but I’m more of a rugby guy. I also like boxing and cricket ... football only comes after that.”
Nothing quite like sampling the real McCoy but Bradfield and Co. won’t be tasting food right here just yet because the band’s world tour takes them up to Japan and Australia, the two closest destinations to our shores.
Then again, those “young” men can certainly send us a postcard.