They rock, they roll, they rant, they rave...and they're from Wales! The Manic Street Preachers are here to save you says Howard Johnson...
They happily admit to getting handjobs in Bangkok clip joints, yet write lyrics which deal with New Libertarianism. They make pronouncements from the stage saying they hope REM's Michael Stip egoes the same way as Freddie Mercury, yet they play Anti Nazi League benefit gigs. They smash film cameramen around the head with guitars at their concerts, yet come across as reserved, polite and often painfully shy when you meet them in the flesh. They even featured famous porn actress Traci Lords laying down backing vocals on their single, Little Baby Nothing - yet that particular song rails against the objectification of women.
You've probably heard The Manic Street Preachers on your radio and pretty good they sound too. What you don't know is that guitarist Richey James freely admits that he doesn't play too well an is more a member of the hand more for his looks and general mental behaviour. He is the man who took a Stanley knife to his forearm and carved the words '4 Real' into his flesh as proof for a sceptical NME journalist that his band's aims were true. It's not an isolated incident either. On the hand's recent visit to Bangkok - they are huge in Thailand, for some reason - Richey again took a blade to his flesh and created some more body art. Why?
"The problem is that I never raise my voice and never shout, no matter how frustrated I am," he explains. neither raising his voice or shouting. "I'm too polite and I find that I can't express what I feel when I'm pissed off. I have all these frustrations and it's the only thing I can do that will make me feel better."
Fair enough, but does it hurt?
"Yeah. it hurts alright. But I've got a very high pain threshold!"
Are you drunk when you do it?
"Not at all. When I did it in Bangkok all I'd drunk was a couple of vodkas and a beer. I drink to forget things, so when I'm drunk I'm not depressed about anything. Alcohol is sedation, pain isn't."
Despite the fact that vocalist James Dean Bradfield has been christened a 'New Lad' for his ferocious dedication to drinking, it was actually Richey who dabbled with those ladies of the night in Thailand. "There's no point in going to Bangkok and pretending that Patpong (the capital's red-light district) doesn't exist - and I hate those traditional Western attitudes to the sex industry there. We went out of town to a television show and the conditions that people were living in were appalling. Most Westerners wouldn't last five minutes in a corrugated iron hut with no sanitation. If you go to Bangkok. the girls who work the bars have a flat. I know all about exploitation, but this is a matter of human choice."
And the blow-job...
"It was a hand-job, actually." corrects Richey. "Well, I'd never been with a prostitute before. I've never been in love and I've never had a girlfriend, so I wasn't being unfaithful to a memory. It was something I wanted to experience to see whether it would make me happy."
And did it?
"Not really. I couldn't really expend any emotion on it. It just helped to pass a few hours. The saddest thing for me was that there were blokes at the bar who were saying to their mates, 'I can tell she really fancies me' whenever a girl started dancing near them. They were trying to justify what they were going to do."
James takes a different view to his experiences of the nightlife. "It was a very voyeuristic thing," he claims. "What surprised me most was that I didn't get a stiffy once. I'm very easily turned on and I really thought that I would. I mean, The Graduate still does it for me!"
Still, it's not all exotic locations for the wild Welshmen, though. The band have just finished recording a new album, The Holy Bible, in a small studio in Wales. "We didn't want any of that pampering crap when we made this record," claims Richey. "We could have gone for a big name producer and swanned around the Bahamas, but that's not what we're about. We recorded the album in a small studio - it was like the days before we had a record deal"
James agrees. "The last album was just bland," he says bluntly of Gold Against The Soul. "We lost the power to speak in tongues on that record and it became just another British Rock Album. This time we've got that edge to it and it makes a world of difference. I don't even know if it will be a commercial success or not, but I'm really glad we've made a record that's got this much to it."
There's one song in particular, PCP, which regales against the politically correct. Containing the line: 'When I was young, PC meant police constable', it spits venom against the kind of people who would try and stop you from reading magazines like Club. "We don't really spend much time reading magazines like Club, so we don't really have much an opinion about them," says Richey. "A lot of people obviously read it though."
The Manic Street Preachers have no time for the rules of convention and that's what makes them so exciting. They make their own rules and fuck you if you don't get the picture. "I'm really against putting those Parental Guidance stickers on this album," insists Richey. "That just seems like the trendy thing to do to make people think you're outrageous. It's ridiculous. We'd rather say something like, 'Contains language that you use every day and shouldn't be surprised that we do too'. That would tell it like it is. We're not in the business of shocking people just for the sake of it. What you see is what you get and if people happen to be offended by that, then that's their problem!"
Which is exactly as it should be. If you thought that rock music had died on its arse, then it's about time to revise your opinion. Get some passion in your soul and get manic with the Preachers..