The Manic Street Preachers are back with a new message for the people. Christie Eliezer reports
James Dean Bradfield, singer with Manic Street Preachers, has a tattoo on his left arm reading "Useless Generation". The Manics take themselves seriously.
They trashed their gear onstage to express their, "anger and frustration". On one British tour alone, they destroyed $50,000 worth of gear.
There was a famous incident when a journalist taunted guitarist Richey Edwards about whether the band was genuine. Richey took a razor blade and carved "4 Real" in his arm, later needing 17 stitches.
In Bangkok he appeared on stage with bloody slashes across his chest. In 1995, after a battle against manic depression and alcoholism, Richey disappeared, presumably having killed himself but the band continued.
The Manics' audience is equally as intense. Some have threatened to commit suicide while others slashed "rejected" with razor blades on their arms.
Two years ago, the Manics' fourth album Everything Must Go catapulted them from cult status, giving them four Top 10 hits in the UK and was chosen by Q, Select and Vox magazines as album of 1996.
A Design For Life was given an Ivor Novello songwriting award - the first time a song dealing with the class struggle and erosion of the welfare state, got such a prestigious and highbrow prize.
In September 1998, the Manics return with their most challenging CD yet, This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours and a TV doco called The Great Hunger.
"We haven't opened ourselves to media scrutiny before," Bradfield says. "But we thought the time was right. We've had more history in 10 years than some bands have in their lifetime. We knew Mike Connelly who directed it, he also did a documentary on Shane McGowan, so we let him do what he wanted, essentially."
The Manics started out as best friends growing up in the dismal small town of Gwent, Wales. Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore are cousins. In 1990, the four 21-year olds formed a band, awed by the sound of The Clash and Public Enemy and glam of Guns N'Roses.
Richey and bassist Nicky Wire had politics degrees from Swansea University, and were into working class heroes and revolutionaries.
They'd rehearse at James's house where James's dad was everything they didn't want to be. He'd come home after a hard day's slog at the coalmine, exhausted.
He only left the house when he went to the pub with his mates.
The Manics were discovered by Sony, who took them around in limos and gave them $1.2 million to record Generation Terrorists.
While the old spectre of The Clash remains, This Is My Truth takes on new angles. There's a duet between Bradfield and Sophie Ellis Nextor of the young band Theaudience, Bradfield plays sitar on two tracks, and there is everything from exquisite string arrangements to Badfinger-inspired harmonies.
The album is more keyboard-based, with keyboardist Nick Naysmith's role now permanent.
Bradfield aimed for some tracks to have a Simple Minds circa The American (1981) feel, so sessions moved to London with Apollo 440's Howard Gray. They also worked with Greg Haver and Dave Eringa, before flying to a French chateau to cut tracks with Mike Hedges, who did Everything Must Go.
Bradfield agrees that commercial success has challenged them to be more eloquent and poetic. This is especially so in dealing with love songs (You're Tender And You're Tired, The Everlasting), manic depression (Black Dog On My Shoulder) and bassist Nikki Wire's autobiographical song about non-gay cross dressing lads (Born A Girl).
Some themes can hardly contain their rage though. These include police bungling of the Hillsborough soccer disaster when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed in the Sheffield football grounds (South Yorkshire Mass Murderer), the soul destroying existence of being on the dole (I'm Not Working) and the dangers of allowing extremist ideologies to flourish under the "freedom of speech" banner (My Little Empire).
The first single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next reflects Wire's obsession with the Spanish Civil War.
The tour T-shirt on the last Manics UK tour featured a quote from a Welsh farmer who volunteered to fight with the communists, saying "If I can shoot rabbits, I can shoot fascists".
"Working class people went from all over Europe, fought against fascism in Spain, even though it didn't directly affect them. They had ideals. Contrast this with the five years it now takes the United Nations to do something about troublespots," says Bradfield.
"It's a comment on the Manics as well. We're part of the first generation that never had to make sacrifices for ideals. Would we give up comfort and money for our ideals?"
What inspired the title Ready For Drowning?
"It works on two levels. There's always a self-loathing in Welsh culture where artists leave to find success, drink themselves silly and return in a box," he says.
"In the '50s, the British evacuated an entire Welsh town in a valley so they could flood it to make a reservoir for Liverpool's water supply. When the water level goes down, you can see the ruins of the town, a reminder how a Welsh town was sacrificed so an English town could get its water."
His response to Richard Ashcroft's comment that rock and roll is dangerous again perhaps shows how he has changed.
"It's more cerebral than it's ever been. I'm not sure if that makes it dangerous. The only person who's dangerous is Liam Gallagher! The rest of us are content to be cerebral."