When Malcolm McLaren rewrote the Sex Pistols story as The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, he invented a new genre – rock bands who come forth toting masterplans. Manic Street Preachers are the latest in the lineage of groups (such as Sigue Sigue Sputnik) who have it all worked out in advance.
Their masterplan is a kamikaze mission; after releasing one double album, which they vow will sell as many copies as Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction (ie at least 16 million), they'll break up. There'll be no undignified fifteenth-anniversary reunions. Instead, the Manics will gladly return to their South Wales home town, Blackwood, having bequeathed rock 'n' roll an immaculate gesture of repudiation.
When they first emerged in late 1990, Manic Street Preachers were tagged as punk revivalists. Their apocalyptic rhetoric echoed the Pistols, their slogan daubed clothes and rabble-rousing singles recalled The Clash. But the Manics quickly insisted that their real reference points were Guns N' Roses and the black militant rap group Public Enemy. Their ambition was to be their own dream band, a fusion of the former's insurrectionary hard rock and the latter's righteous rage.
At first, their target was the peace-and-love vibes of the Manchester scene (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays), which the Manics condemned as Ecstasy-addled escapism. At the moment, they define themselves against the 'dream-pop' groups (Ride, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Lush) of the indie scene. The Manics dismiss them as apolitical and effete. "Those bands are educated and middleclass, but they don't have anything to say," sneers rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. "It's an aesthetic of blanking out reality," adds bassist Nicky Wire. "Their music is nullifying, there's nowhere you can go with it but into your bedroom."
Friends since primary school, the Manics spent most of their adolescence cooped up in their bedroom HQ, fermenting in boredom and angst. They devoured every morsel of stimulus they could grasp – records, videos, music papers – and plotted escape.
The Manics are a completely compartmentalized group. Singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore compose the music and do almost all the recording. Self-educated, working-class intellectuals Wire and Edwards bone up on political theory and philosophy, write the lyrics, organise the design of records and promotional material, do interviews and generally control the group's image.
The fruit of this specialised approach will be heard early next year in the shape of their first and last album. Generation Terrorists. Right now, there's a taster in the form of their fifth single, the double A-sided 'Repeat'/'Love's Sweet Exile'. 'Repeat' is an anti-patriotic anthem that doesn't quite dethrone the Pistols' 'God Save The Queen', but 'Love's Sweet Exile' is their most convincing slice of combat rock yet. According to Wire, the song is about the fleeting but glorious camaraderie of youth and "the dawning awareness of the massive loneliness that's to come."
Manic Street Preachers are dedicated to resurrecting the concept of 'youth'. But for the Manics, youth doesn't mean carefree hedonism, but desperation and perpetual dissatisfaction. "The only time you really have a chance of doing anything is when you're young," claims Wire. "At a certain age, your thought is primed, you're ripe for anything. When you've got family responsibilities, you can't devote yourself to revolt."
The pair proudly admit to being emotionally stunted. At 23, Edwards claims never to have had a girlfriend; 21-year-old Wire tried it once and found it too scary. For the Manics, love is "a biological tragedy" that clouds the vision.
The Manics are hooked on the buzz of alienation. They love to hate and they love to be hated. Their greatest thrill is being slagged off by other bands in the music papers. Generation Terrorists, they promise, will be jam-packed with hate songs (targets include London, royalty, the banks, religion).
"Where we come from in Wales there's this non-conformist tradition where Methodists always hate Baptists more than they hate the devil," grins Edwards. "In the same way, we will always hate minor indie groups like Slowdrive more than we hate Adolf Hitler. We loathed Slowdrive because they said punk was never important to them, and that ‘there's nothing to be angry about’."
The Manics' lack of a sense of proportion and their fondness for the terroristic gesture, climaxed in an unpleasant incident earlier this year. Confronted by a sceptical music journalist, Edwards carved the words '4 Real' in his forearm with a razor blade. The Manics' record company Columbia plan to use a photo of the gashed and gushing arm as the basis for their American marketing campaign.
At once asinine and impressive, the incident demonstrates the Manic Street Preachers' willingness to sacrifice themselves for an idea. Right now, their suicide mission is hurtling ahead. "The album's out in January, we tour for a year, and then it's all over," says Wire. "We're looking forward to auto-destructing more than ever."