What do The Manics do after their Lifeblood album proves pretty lifeless? Call it a day? No way, bassist Nicky Wire tells Susie Wild
I think the only time we ever seriously considered splitting up was after Richey disappeared, says Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers. After Lifeblood we knew we had lost the essence of the Manics, that we had become far removed from all that we stood for. Although I still really loved the album, I knew it didnt really connect with us or the fans.
Reconnecting involved getting back that essence of the earlier albums edgier, more aggressive songs with a greater readiness to take a stance more like The Clash in their heyday (an oft quoted influence). Part of that process of rediscovery involved going off and doing their own things too. Wire and James Dean Bradfield both spent time alone in the studio. The solo projects were a decluttering exercise that allowed us to get back on track with the big stuff, The Manics, says Wire. Id wanted to make a record like Lou Reed with loads of miserable lyrics about suicide. It was a vanity project but it cleared my system. We tried to take elements of both into the new recording. The joyful naive idealism of Generation Terrorist and the song writing euphoria of Everything Must Go. We thought back to our favourite albums and what makes us tick as a band and we went from there." It definitely worked. The result is 38 minutes of a band declared to be back on form by everyone from the NME to Uncut.
Nicky Wire may be renowned for being quite outspoken, but a decade on, do the Manics really still have anything left to say? It seems so and politics remain on their agenda. The album title, Send Away The Tigers, was taken from a phrase coined by comedian Tony Hancock whenever he started drinking. According to his MySpace essay about the new album, Wire saw, a parallel between that line and the animals being released from the zoo in Baghdad when the Allies invaded. A misguided idea of liberation. I ask about this. Wire explains: I did a degree in politics; it would be pretty embarrassing if I didn't write songs that reflect the modern world. There's not much point in me writing about girlfriends and nightclubs and bouncers and all the rest of it. What he does write about is the inescapable sense of doom he feels we live amidst in Britain. The album looks at misconceptions. It deals with those bad decisions you make that others judge you for throughout the rest of your life, no matter how much more good you may do. You will always be remembered for the bad stuff.
Talking of good stuff, the first single, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, reached Number Two in the charts. The track saw Dean Bradfield duet with Nina Persson of The Cardigans. It was always written as a duet and Nina was always our first choice. We're huge fans of The Cardigans. I really like Ninas lyrics; shes underrated in that respect, especially as Swedish is her first language. After doing all the TV promo for an album you tend to get sick of the first tracks very quickly, but Im desperately in love with this song and it still gives me goosebumps which is very, very rare. There was a real serendipity that came together for it. When a song is effortless, when it just happens like it did with A Design For Life, it is destined to become one of our best tracks. It has always been that way in the past.
Wire explains that the track, which has become a big sing-a-long hit live, started as a conversation in his head with Richey Edwards, his friend and co-writer who famously went missing from the band in 1995. I was trying to figure out what it takes for a person or a country to have a semblance of happiness. Is it religion? Is it democracy? Is it love? Is it hate? Is love ever enough? I wanted to look at what it is that makes people or countries reach a level of contentment. He didn't find the answer, I dont know what the solution is for happiness but Im all for balance. Im guessing it has a lot to do with everything, with a need for compromise. Their next single, Indian Summer was released on October 1. Wire is hopeful that it is indicative of the stage in their career that the Manics have reached. It is an unlikely track for the band, focusing on friendship, yet as Wire explains, this is the gel that holds the Manics together.
The 23-date tour over the summer has taken in performances at Glastonbury and the V Festival but the Manics hardly seem the types to get into the camping spirit. We really struggled at the start there were no mirrors to do our make up in. As time has moved on, Ive come to like festivals a lot, lot more than I used to and I know to make sure that there is a mirror in my dressing room now. The frocks, leopard print and pink feather boas that got the Manics their attention before are more likely to appear on members of the audience than the band themselves these days. Wire is never without eyeliner but has the infamous bass player put his cross-dressing days behind him? When looking for new outfits for the tour he told me that hed visited emo-punk clothing store Blue Banana looking at girls dresses. Its brilliant. If I was 16 I would never be out of that place. Surprisingly then, there have been few sightings of Wire frocked up on stage on the latest tour. At Glastonbury he cited all the mud as his reason, all his pretty gowns discarded in favour of Holy Bible era military jackets. No such excuse will be possible for the CIA date so anything could happen.
Life on tour with the Manics is far different from those tabloid-shock-horror early days with Richey slashing his chest open with knives in Thailand. Instead it has become more of a pipe-and-slippers affair. All the same, Wire seems at home: "The tour bus is like a mans garden shed. It is one of the real sanctuaries of life in the band; especially as were not the most excessive of people. We just sit around and watch films, eat sandwiches, read books. The fact that our last tour sold out in just a few days really surprised us. Youre always insecure in a band. You never know if people really still want you. That, as much as anything, has really kick started us to get down to work, to raise our game.
So what does the future hold for the Manics now? Id be lying to say that we havent changed. I think we went through a process of almost destroying all of what we had achieved. We're 38 now, so we haven't got as much energy as we used to but overall I think weve gone back to the things we loved about being in the band, about our fans and our music. We did try to work out who, apart from Radiohead, is still going strong from the time we started out but we struggled to come up with anyone else on their eighth album.
There comes a time that, if you sell less and less records you will eventually fizzle out. These days I think that whole idea holds less drama for us. Were not the kind of band that will play The Point for the rest of their career. Instead, thanks to Send Away The Tigers, they can go out on a legal and oh-so-mature high.