Oh, these pretty, pretty boys in their second-hand glamour and cheap make-up and Marilyn tattoos. The Manic Street Preachers preach DIY insurrection for the bored and the lonely and the powerless; they come from "urban hell" Wales and they vow "to destroy rock 'n' roll". Well, it's about time.
Fronted by James Dean Bradfield, whose strut, choice of trousers and scuffed-upcoughed-up vocals echo Bruce Springsteen, with perhaps a hint of Tina Turner, the Manics came together in 1988 four schoolfriends conspiring to bring about the Pop Apocalypse in their bedrooms. From the very beginning, the Manics had a manifesto: rage against the ordinary; sexual equality; stay beautiful. As the music scene at the time was top heavy with fiercely "laddish" bands like The Farm and Happy Mondays, the Manics' brand of glittery androgyny and deliberately provocative interviews swiftly earned them bucketloads of controversy, and gigs where the air was alternately filled with flying beer cans and the sweaty bodies of loyal fans.
Richey Edwards is the sometimes guitarist and ideas machine in the Manics; he has that patented aura of rockstar hanging around him, and looks like all the cool members of the Rolling Stones put together. University educated, fearfully articulate and overwhelmingly charming and polite, he sits curled up on the hotel bed and explains the Manic Street Preachers' original plan. "In the beginning, when we formed, we wanted to sign to the biggest record label in the world, put out a debut album that would sell 20 million and then break up. Get massive and then just throw it all away. By the time we were giving interviews and saying that to the press, though, we didn't believe it. We knew we couldn't quite do that. But if we had aimed any lower in the beginning, I don't think anyone would've paid as much attention to us."
The Manics have had a lot of attention paid to them. A veritable cartload of the stuff. In May 1991, NME journalist Steve Lamacq interviewed the band after a gig, and remained unconvinced by their burning rhetoric and hyperbolic proclamations; the Manics were just a Welsh re-hash of the Clash and, in short, Lamacq didn't believe they were "for real". Richey took a razorblade from some place, rolled up his sleeve and carved the words "4 REAL" into his left arm.
It required 17 stitches, and the pink scar-welts across his skinny white forearm remain as a testimony to the Manics' utter, consuming belief in the band and their message. "4 REAL" is a piece of rock 'n' roll mythology, up there with Hendrix burning his guitar, Lennon instructing the Queen to rattle her jewellery, and Jagger deciding to have that fifteenth paisley-painted limousine. Self-mutilation is a very female thing to do; to externalise their rage, men blame it on someone else. Women will internalise their rage, and take it out on themselves. "What you say is probably true," Edwards says. "In Wales, the women are as bored as the men, but the men will go out to the pub and beat the shit out of everyone else; the women will stay at home and concentrate on surviving."
"A lot of girls, of 14, 15, love the band," Nicky Wire, the Manics' glamourpuss bass-player, says. "I think they see us raging on their side. I hate men. Males don't seem to have any self-control any more; something catches their eyes and they don't see why they shouldn't have it."
The Manics inspire fiery devotion in their fans; hardcore Manic fanatics reportedly follow Richey's lead and carve "4 REAL" into their arms, too. Of course, all this press-perfect controversy makes it stupidly easy to ignore the music.
Generation Terrorists (Columbia Records, all formats) released earlier this year, is 18 tracks of crunchy, fuzzy power chords, riot-inspiring samples, lyrics that read like lists of Glamorous Rock Things which only occasionally rhyme sometimes, you feel, accidentally. Half the tracks aren't necessary, but the other half...four-minute bursts of hunger, and aggression, and racked gorgeousness, like "Motorcyle Emptiness", the utterly beautiful, strung-out ballad-type thingy. "Culture sucks down words...Hurt, maim, kill and enslave the ghetto/ Each day living out a lie/ Life's sold cheaply forever."
The Manic Street Preachers the first up on stage when the revolution comes.