Truly at their best on the trans-European thrill-ride that is Futurology, Manic Street Preachers refuse to become irrelevant. At his sloganeering best, Nicky Wire talks about our ‘whitewash culture’, scaring the BBC and why Morrissey should head for the ballot-box.
Nicky Wire has matured. He doesn’t want to squabble with old Tories any more. “I mean he’s 70 years old!” the Manic Street Preachers bassist, songwriter and mouthpiece guffaws. “I’m not going to do a Russell Brand and start a fight with a 70-year-old.”
It’s the morning after Wire and frontman James Dean Bradfield’s appearance on The One Show, where they reflected on their fascist-baiting No. 1 single ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’. In the run-up, Manics acolytes got suitably excited when a rogue tweet suggested the proudly working-class Welshmen would share a couch with former British Prime Minister John Major. Alas, the Manics bit was a pre-record, meaning the man who followed Thatcher’s lead in the early ‘90s got off lightly.
“I think they were best to avoid it, that clash of cultures,” says Wire, with a hint of mischief. “It was probably a relief for everyone.”
Perhaps the producers took a look at the tape of Wire and Bradfield on BBC Breakfast last September. Ostensibly promoting 2013’s Rewind The Film, they indulged in some pleasant chit chat about Strictly Come Dancing before deftly turning the couch into a soapbox, bemoaning - sensibly and eloquently - the current state of the British Labour Party as the presenters squirmed in their seats.
“That was very edgy,” Wire, perhaps the most personable and self-aware rent-a-quote in rock, laughs.
It was very rare - a guitar band getting a TV audience of millions and sharing a few awkward home truths. That the band still willing to do it formed in 1986 says it all. Russell Brand may be the only other example of a pop culture figure successfully infiltrating political discourse.
“Even though he’s random and fucking nonsensical, I still admire him for doing it,” says Wire. “For putting his body on the line and taking criticism. Cos it’s fucking hard. You live in this whitewash culture where there’s - it’s not a word obviously - ‘blandisation’. You just get people saying how great everything is and thanking their team of songwriters, sync merchants, team of... everything. Can’t you just go on and say something yourself? Everything is just one long test card for how to behave properly.”
Once young firebrands, now middle-aged men behaving badly, Manic Street Preachers have matured in the right way. He takes a more curmudgeonly tact, but Morrissey is a similarly seasoned artist willing to engage on a political level. A hero of Wire’s, the two do differ when it comes to the solution to the world’s ails. With their respective new albums arriving the same month, the Manic Street Preachers’ Futurology embraces Europe and renounces apathy. Conversely, the title track of World Peace Is None Of Your Business finds Mozza taking abstinence to a whole new level of despondency. The line “each time you vote you support the process” is a point made time and again by his friend Mr. Brand.
“I’ve still got that old school Labourite thing where the fight for the vote was so important that I’d hate to see that go. I still believe in democracy and all those things. But I do understand that the choice of who you vote for is becoming fucking pretty impossible!
"I can’t vote just through habit anymore, I can’t do it. I can’t bring myself to vote for people that don’t represent anything I believe in. And I don’t want to feel like that because I’ve loved politics all my life and did a degree in it and I feel a shallower person for feeling so disillusioned with British politics. It's getting to the point where, unless I create my own political party, which would be entertaining at the very least...”
Is it likely?
“Well, I have said if there was a presidential system in Wales, I’d fucking run.”
“I think I might! On a fucking barmy level! I’m the kind of kid that used to take days off to watch the conferences when I was 10. To feel that all abandon me, it annoys me to be honest. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Disillusionment to disinterest. Wire sees it in younger artists. Ed Sheeran irks him - “That song when he says ‘give me love’ about fucking 89 times? I mean, we’ve got the idea!” - and he insists that no bands have come along to replace his own.
“I don’t think anyone wants to take on the weight of doing what we’ve done. There’s a much easier option out there. I associate bands almost with products rather than their own music, which is really sad. You don’t even end up thinking of them as a band that release records, you just associate them with a fucking Japanese car. Or a beer or something.”
In 2011, the Manics released Postcards From A Young Man as, according to Wire, their “last shot at mass communication.” A successful campaign followed, but in its aftermath he suddenly saw a generational gap emerge for the first time. His daughter, then 10, would ask him what it was like back in the “black and white” days.
“I was like, ‘It wasn’t that long ago, love, that I was top of the charts!’ I’m still amazed how big we got - how big we still are to be honest. Certainly how big we were. To have records like ‘Tolerate...’ and ‘Design...’ with fucking pretty hardcore political content, smashing down barriers.”
He might argue that he can’t “wage a one man war” on the current malaise, but Futurology is the sound of a band primed and ready to do battle. A collection of what he considers to be “art rock, post-‘80s nu-pop”, it is (yes, really) the most sonically daring album of their career. Following hot on the heels of Rewind The Film, it was recorded during the same 2013 sessions in Hansa Studios, Berlin. Where the former was meditative and stately, Futurology is a completely different, more ferocious animal. Wire puts the stark contrast in tone down to “the schizophrenic nature of being in your forties”.
On par quality-wise with 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers, its forward-thinking attitude has encouraged “their best since Everything Must Go!” critical proclamations.
“We’ve had 12 albums in 20 years. You’re never gonna make a fucking masterpiece every album, but you try and keep some sense of quality control. But with this one, we could tell as soon as we’d given promo CDs out and played it to people early that we’d made the right moves. I think with Rewind The Film, much as I’m so happy we made it, it’s such a sad album that it was really difficult to play live. It’s not our natural space to be tender and intimate with each other.”
You were holding back the scissor kicks?
Maturity. Though maybe not on this campaign...
“I’ve never smoked, I’ve never taken any drugs really, apart from painkillers. But when I’m on stage I’m totally transformed. I don’t know where it comes from. I look at some pictures of me when I’m four foot in the air with my legs apart thinking: ‘If I tried to do that at home, I’d never get up.’ I’d be in a heap on the floor calling my wife. ‘Call a fucking ambulance’! And yet, I put a pair of white jeans on, get on stage, and it takes me to a different place altogether. I’m really glad it does. I think that’s what shown throughout all bad times and good times.”