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Rebels Without Applause, Daily Mirror, 16th March 2001

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Title: Rebels Without Applause
Publication: Daily Mirror
Date: Friday 16th March 2001
Writer: Gavin Martin

Their last album, the million-selling This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, finally won the Manic Street Preachers the mass audience they'd spent 10 years trying to attract.

This time round, though, they seem intent on career suicide. Why else would they choose to launch their new album, Know Your Enemy, in Havana, Cuba, with Fidel Castro on hand with a fraternal welcome?

For the band it was a dream come true, but it passed most of their new audience by. Others simply saw the meeting of the Welsh wannabes and the ageing dictator as a desperate lunge for rebel chic by a group near the end of its creative life.

"The broadsheets were cynical in their coverage of it," complains Nicky Wire, the group's 32-year-old bassist, lyricist and spokesman. He might have added that popular papers all but ignored it.

"They made out Castro wanted to leave by using a picture of him looking at his watch, but that happened before the gig started. A huge element of cynicism is to be expected. The Clash went through the same thing. In five years people will look back and see it as a good gesture."

Wire, unaccustomed to meeting politicians, says he fell for Castro's wit and charisma. "I felt some kind of empathy, really," he says.

However, it's strange that he should only visit Cuba - a country he says he's long identified with - when his band has a new album to sell.

When promoting This Is My Truth, the band's running argument with Oasis about who was cleverer hit the headlines.

"If you wanted a rock 'n' roll University Challenge I'd beat any pop star out there, no problem," boasts Wire. Hardly the sort of thing guaranteed to bring rock rebellion to the masses.

At the time, Wire claimed This Is My Truth was their best album, although now he reckons it was where they lost the plot. Maybe he'll be saying the same thing about Know Your Enemy in a few years time.

But one thing that's certain is a meeting with Castro is unlikely to help the band's prospects in America, a country they talked of conquering as twenty-something, slogan-splattered, third-generation punks.

"When we first went there, the record company put Manic Street Preachers urinals in the toilets, so I was peeing on my band's name," Wire laughs. "From then on I don't really think we had a chance. Hopefully, the next time we go there they'll refuse us admission at the airport because we've got Cuban visas."

But the real reason the Manics align themselves with rebel icons - they've sampled the voice of the great left-wing singer Paul Robeson on their new album - could be that they're just plain dull.

Their singer, James Dean Bradfield, is over-serious, stocky and touchy about his weight, and drummer Sean Moore professes to be just "another one of the faceless millions".

Wire, meanwhile, may be a millionaire with a penchant for donning dresses and wearing lipstick, but he's never happier than when he's attending to domestic chores in the three-bedroom terrace house he shares with his wife in Wales.

"So many couples splash themselves around and then split up. We don't lead that sort of lifestyle. I just buy what I've always bought - more CDs, books, DVDs, videos and bigger tellies. I don't drink, drive or take drugs. I'm not that exciting really," he says.

The strain of staying at home with the pipe and slippers while trying to ignite rock 'n' roll rebellion shows on Know Your Enemy.

Songs like The Year Of Purification and Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children suggest uncompromising principles, but musically the Manics are firmly rooted in the past and never quite manage to live up to their ideals.

"It's about reconnecting with the records we loved when we were growing up. Found That Soul is meant to sound like Iggy and the Stooges," admits Wire. "We're trying to sound like a young band, though we look like an old one."

Wire is looking forward to compiling a Greatest Hits compilation, but doubts that there will be another album proper.

"I don't think I'd do anything else. I've always been happy being bored. I'd like to be like the writer JD Salinger and never be seen again," he muses.

But, as history shows, all that could change. So if your name is Arafat and you'd like a mutually advantageous meeting with a pop band, keep a space clear in your 2004 diary. Just in case...