After a reluctant break, Manic Street Preachers are back with their 11th studio album. Andy Welch talks to singer James Dean Bradfield about the band’s 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.
But now, the Welsh trio are back, with Rewind The Film – their 11th studio album. 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.
“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 friends Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards in 1985.
You only have to listen to the 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, Rewind The Film is much smaller in scale and introspective in theme – not something
normally associated with the Manics.
“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?’
“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.
“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, we bonded in a bar one night,” he says. “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.
“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 Cardiff, with a bad back, and nailed it in three takes!
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,” he says.
“It was my idea to have a female voice to calm it down a bit, and Nick suggested Lucy. I think she gives it just the slightest bit of hope.”
Their next album, Futurology, is expected in May 2014, 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.
“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.”