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Preview Special: Manic Street Preachers - The New Cue, 5th July 2021

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Preview Special: Manic Street Preachers
Publication: The New Cue
Date: Monday 5th July 2021
Writer: Niall Doherty


In September, Manic Street Preachers will release their new album The Ultra Vivid Lament. It’s their 14th record and, as the trio have been known to do across their career, takes a left turn away from the sound of the album that preceded it. Whereas 2018’s Resistance Is Futile was heavy with orchestral bombast and rock swagger, The Ultra Vivid Lament taps into the icy pop sound they explored on 2004’s Lifeblood and 2014’s Futurology. Many of the songs were written by James Dean Bradfield on piano and there are strong ABBA vibes too. Niall spoke to Nicky Wire on the phone to hear all about it. It was the day after Wales had beaten Turkey to all but confirm their progress to the last 16 of Euro 2020 so, naturally, Wire wanted to talk about the football first…

Hello Nick, how are you?
Alright, not too bad. Good morning to be in Wales today.

I bet it is, how are you feeling?
Brill. Sometimes football is so boring and it was just one of those games, it was so fucking exciting. The Tottenham massive came through!

Totally. I've been supporting Wales as they've got the most Spurs players - I'm still counting Bale as a Spurs player.
Haha, yeah. I have no idea why no-one played Rodon this year, I mean fucking Toby was so off the pace at times and Dier is such utter shit. Fuck me. How can he be that catastrophic? He's not that bad, is he?

His drop-off has been very dramatic.
Rodon just needs a rhythm, he's real brave player. You know, I've been doing my all-time Welsh-Tottenham side.

I love it, that’s excellent.
Cliff Jones, Gareth Bale...

Jones on the left, Bale on the right?
Exactly. I've gone for 3-5-2, wing backs.

Talk me through it.
The goalie is a bit of a struggle because I'm only going post-World War II. I had Mark Kendall in goal, who was actually born in Blackwood. He only played for Spurs once or twice, but he went on to have a decent career. And then Simon Davies and Ben Davies, Mike England, Rodon at centre half. And Paul Price from the golden era, the Keith Burkinshaw era. He played 28 times for Wales. So those are the three centre halves, Mike England, Paul Price and Rodon. Then Terry Yorath and Teddy Medwin. Terry Medwin was an amazing player, won the FA Cup in '63. And then Bale, Cliff Jones. I'm missing one which I can't remember at the moment. That's from the top of my head anyway. Oh, Ron Burgess, who was apparently a colossus in the 50s.

You could have Chris Gunter too.
Good shout with Chris Gunter. I forgot about that. That's a good fucking shout. Maybe as one of the three centre halves, cos he's done that for Wales as well. He's exceptional for Wales. There you go.

Brilliant. Congratulations on the new album, it's great.
Thank you, sir. I do think we've hit a groove on this one.

Take me back to the beginning of the record. Where did it start?
It started with The Secret He Had Missed and Orwellian, which is probably two years ago, no COVID, nothing. Those were the two songs, I think Happy Bored Alone as well. James was itching as usual to fucking get started, nagging me for lyrics, and we did those demos, a long time ago it feels now. But even then, the idea being sonically to make it really kind of... the sonic framework is basically 1974 to 1984. We rehearsed like fuck. We haven't rehearsed so much for an album since Send Away The Tigers, we've been winging it in the studio a bit, but we just played every song over and over so when we actually went to the studio, which really got an in-the-pocket live feel.

Why was it so important to get that right on this record?
Resistance Is Futile had some great moments, it's a proper pick and mix that album, but we were just winging it a little bit. My mum and dad were fucking dying and I was dipping in and out. We didn't play any of those songs together as a band. You know, which is a pretty good achievement to come up with something quite coherent. Futurology was the same. We just wanted to feel like we could go out on the road and play them all live, really.

Rather than panic at the first rehearsal.
Exactly, 'Why haven't you learned that?' 'I can't, I've only learned the two...'

In Sylvia Patterson’s excellent Q cover feature around the time of Resistance Is Futile, it seemed a bit like the creative spark had gone out of you. When did it come back?
I mean, like I said, my mother had passed away and then my dad then died a year later. Not just emotionally but there's so much to sort out when people pass away, let alone your own emotions. And I didn't know what I was writing about. I guess about six months to eight months after that, I started really exploring my internal galaxies. I actually started to think, 'I'm much more interested in myself than I am anyone else'. I got to that point where I consumed so much and read so much, I just looked inside myself and found myself innately more interesting than other people.

What came out when that manifested itself in lyrics?
The key line, I think, is in Diapause, and it goes "I mapped out a journey to reach my broken heart/Before I even started the plan began to fall apart." And I started to realise that most things I believe in seem irrelevant to being in a band now, and that's probably what makes us stronger in a funny kind of way and more unique. I think a lot of our generation probably feel the same way. But I just wanted to articulate that. It's not a polemic album lyrically, for sure. I think it's very subtle and nuanced.

The songs have got a lightness of touch to them.
Yes. And, you know, I was writing fast by then. There was words coming everywhere, I’d been reading a lot of Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, the essay against interpretation in particular, the kind of over analysis of everything that you just can't be hit by a visceral feeling of 'this is right' anymore, everything has a backstory, everything has so much fucking history, do you like the person, do you not like the person, that had a massive influence, and a book by Jill Lepore, If Then, which is about the start of the internet and the people machine, first thinkings of Facebook in the 50s in America. And that was all converging together, really.

This is your 14th record. When you're making a record, do some inhabit a similar feeling to others or do they all feel distinct?
They do inhabit a similar feeling... You know, people often talk about different versions of the band, the Lifeblood/Futurology version, the more sort of high futurism, or the more Everything Must Go/Resistance Is Futile, big string-based pop rock, or the darkness of The Holy Bible. I think this definitely has a lot more elements of Lifeblood and Futurology, but obviously with a massive overhang of ABBA, which was a genuine thought, we weren't just saying that for the sake of it. The glacial pop, the idea that pop music used to be huge when it was innately sad, that the melancholia was kind of what made it huge. And now you just don't get that, everything is so up-tempo and positive. And then we did have that idea of The Clash on London Calling, the way they could just transfer styles, a band at their peak of musicality. We were really on it as a band, even I was really fucking putting the effort in.

There’s guest appearances from Mark Lanegan and Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming. How did you go about getting them involved?
I'm a total fanboy of Sunflower Bean, Twentytwo In Blue is one of my favourite fucking records of all time. So that was just a really natural fit. And Sean and James are massive Lanegan fans, Sean in particular loves the comedown nature of Mark Lanegan. Both of them couldn't have been sweeter and so easy to work with, just an absolute pleasure. With The Secret He Had Missed with Julia, we just wanted to really get that kind of Swedish glacial pop… I'm so bored of vocalists and their scales and their over-singing, if you grew up with ABBA or Lou Reed, voices of character which were kind of quite flat and calm. We wanted that, not over the top histrionics.

I think you've got enough now that you could do a Manics Guest Of, collating your best guest appearances.
Very true, very true. It shows how open we are as people and musicians!

Haha! Give me your top five Manics plus guest songs...
I think 4 Lonely Roads with Cate Le Bon, Your Love Alone with Nina Persson, a little bit of a wildcard - Black Holes For The Young with Sophie Ellis Bextor, which was a B-side back in the day, very good. Richard Hawley, Rewind The Film. I won't mention the two new ones, it'd be unfair. And the fifth one which is a different vibe is Duff McKagan playing bass on A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun. I couldn't be arsed and James said, "why don't we ask Duff McKagan?" and he just did the most fantastic bassline.

That’s great, cheers Nick, lovely talking to you.
No worries Niall, nice to speak to you sir.

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