Manic Street Preachers have been involuntarily reborn. Most bands would bale collapsed under the weight of the ions and expectation they've been forced to bear - but with the new album Everything Must Go (their first as a three piece), the Manics have declared their unwillingness to be stopped. On February 1, 1995, the bottom fell out of their world. Rhythm guitarist and co-lyricist Richie James went missing without leaving any clues. There is evidence that he withdrew £200 from his bank in the fortnight that followed, but there's been no word since. The authorities and the band don't even know whether he's alive or dead. It seems tragically out-of-character since Manic Street Preachers were a very tight unit.
As bassist and co-lyricist Nicky Wire has stated: "It's not like the Kurt Cobain thing...There wasn't a day during the last five years when I didn't speak to him. We used to sit down and co-write lyrics together. It's very rare for a band."
They'd grown up together - for a short time in primary school, they even had to share the same bed. I mean, for Pete's sake!
Anyway, they've stared the pressure down and presented an album of remarkable character and strength. The record company asked that we not ask them about Richie's disappearance to save them from any more unnecessary pain. In much the same way Joy Division were reborn as New Order, so too have the Manics found a new life. With that knowledge in mind I spoke to frontman James Dean Bradfield about the past, present and future of Manic Street Preachers.
Everything Must Go - the walkthrough: Manic Street Preachers songwriting in quite different to the 'norm'. James and Sean (drums) write virtually all of the music while Nicky and (in the past) Richie provided all the words. I asked James if he was happy to be the mouthpiece for somebody else's words?
"Yeah, more than happy to" says James in a gentle Welsh accent. "When we started the band, we all found out what we could do and we all found what we were really good at and then we just do it. Nicky and Richie really wanted to write lyrics and they were pretty good, if I remember at the time. Myself and my cousin Sean [drums] obviously weren't the best lyricists but we had a natural aptitude towards music. We did for each other what we couldn't do for ourselves - and also I have complete respect for lyrics. I always read them through before I write the music for them. I don't just sit down and write music that has no connection to the words. I want them to evoke a response. I don't see any reason in writing out of context. I always let the lyrics come first.
"It does give me a freedom but I'm also in a privileged position. Someone's actually giving me the chance to interpret their words. The only way you can reward that person's trust is to put over the best music you can.
"Libraries gave as power, then work came and made us as free...We don't talk about love, we only want to get drunk, we are not allowed to spend and we are told that this is the end." - A Design For Life.
Do you care about the seeming lack of ambition in most lyricists? "I'm happy for them, its not my concern really [TS Eliot would be proud]. I do find it strange that some people write whole albums around their relationships. A whole album around 'love'! It just seems strange. Everybody knows, at least I hope, what it feels like to fall in love and break up. Not everybody knows what its like to hate - or hate with a vengeance. That's what we started off with, though we may have veered off that path, but it still remains our basic points that what's the point in writing a song about love when everybody's felt it at some point in their lives?"
"I want to fly and run til it hurts, sleep for a while and speak no words - in Australia." - Australia
With the song Australia, you use our country, less as a real place and more as some mythical ideal - why?
"Nick wrote those lyrics basically about a hypochondriac. At any given point of the day, he's stuck in an illness - he'll walk in the room with a bizarre cinema in his mind and a flannel on his head."
Like Monty Python's Gumby?
"[laughs] Yeah. Australia is his metaphor for the cure. When it gets too much...people will walk in and see him with his eyes closed and ask, 'Are you alright?' and he says 'I'm in Australia'. He's trying to take himself away to a place he's always wanted to go to; a place he thought would make him feel better. Nick thinks Australia's like that. It's like life on Mars to us here. I think we're going to try to come over at the beginning of the year, around January."
What can the public expect from Everything Must Go's pre-cursor, The Holy Bible (inferred to in one Great Britain mag as the British Nevermind - only just released here)?
"The Holy Bible is completely different to this album. It's a nihilistic confrontational album. A lot of our influences from when we were young came out: a lot of Gang Of Four and Magazine. It's a very inward album and there's really no escape from it. Its not a party album, so to speak. Its too confrontational for that."
You tackle rock in an odd way. I've read people refer to you as having a 'stadium rock' side, which I find weird. I can't imagine a football-type crowd of lighter wavers doing a rousing chorus of 'Stomach collapsed at five, lift up my skirt, my sex is gone, naked and lovely and 5st 2. May I bud and never flower.. problem is diet's not a big enough word, I wanna be so skinny I rot from view ' But there is that side to you! It seems both hypocritical, banal and entirely justified all at the same time. Even as far back as You Love Us, the classic Motown Junk and Motorcycle Emptiness. Its world's away from 'Gimme something for the pain,' or even worse, 'Feel like makin' love'. So (I laugh) is this what can be achieved when someone applies themselves?
"I dunno how I feel about this. The only thing I'm scared of being is cliched. I'm such a fan of the people I grew up listening to and they always seemed to get it right. It's a massive relief to get something off that we like and it's great to have someone like yourself have the same impression."
"Freed from memory; escape from our history. And I just hope you can forgive us, but everything must go. And if need an explanation, then everything must go." - Everything Must Go.
What's the feeling within the band at the moment? "We're fine. The new album's success has been good and as a band we feel very strong. When Nick started writing the song Everything Must Go, freedom was inspiring him. There's a lot more comfort in the music. I wouldn't call it optimism, just a lot more positive anger."
"It makes me angry; ashamed but really alive. It may have worked but at what price. What's the point in looking back when all you see is more and more junk." - Everything Must Go
How are you compensating for the music live?
"I'm not really interested in recreating the record coz that's, to a certain degree, impossible. We're using a keyboard player. Live seems to be more 'in-your-face' and essence than on record."
Everything Must Go and The Holy Bible are extraordinary albums. Be warned though, they're uneasy listening at the best of times. Be prepared to put in some time with the records because the material is very dense and detailed: cram packed full of ideas and invocations. The band have again proved why they've attained cult status in so many countries.