"When you look at most bands, by the time they get to their tenth album, people may still come to the shows but everyone knows that the albums have been rubbish for years," says Manic Street Preachers' mouthpiece Nicky Wire. "Well, that's not good enough for us. From the moment we started, we wanted the biggest number of people to hear what we had to say. We want to hear these records on the radio. Everyone is talking about the death of the rock business. I don't know. But if it is, this is a last shot at mass communication."
Postcards From A Young Man is the Manic Street Preachers' tenth album. It was recorded in their own studio in Cardiff with long time producer Dave Eringa. It is, as Nicky states, a defiantly, unapologetically bold, forthright and communicative set of songs. Whisper it quietly, it may even be their best album yet.
Here Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield reveal the stories behind the 12 tracks that make Postcards such a beguiling and thrilling listen
1. (IT'S NOT WAR) JUST THE END OF LOVE
Shamelessly passionate and melodic with a thrust and elegance and soaring chorus that recalls Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.
JAMES: "I wanted it to have a hint of longing. And I wanted it to have that feeling that Gary McAllister had in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final for Liverpool. I may be 40. But I can still skin you. I love the Kings Of Leon records but they just stand there, Macca moved all over the place when we supported him. We want to buzz and fizz over. We want to invigorate."
NICKY: "At our best, rage and melancholia becomes uplifting. Your Love Alone Is Not Enough is a line from a suicide note. But we turn it into a worldwide hit. Only we can do that."
2. POSTCARDS FROM A YOUNG MAN
A beautiful, string-laden lilting hymn to the passing of time. The song's coda is almost Queen, if Queen had read Nietzsche of course!
JAMES: "I've sometimes had to keep quiet about my love of Queen but this is me letting it show. We've never been angry in a macho way. Yes, we're from the Valleys. We love our sport and our trade unionism. But we've al-ways had another side. Nicky and Richey always loved their make-up and their Kylie. Nick used to have this pink sign in his bedroom that said 'Love' and a funny, fluffy duvet. We're at our best when we're 50 per cent dumb and 50 per cent lofty pretension."
NICKY: "I've kept all the postcards that Sean and James sent me when I was at uni. We were prolific communicators. Every time you got the post there'd be a bundle in there with a collage or a poster. It's about nostalgia and youth. And it's a great Manicsy title."
3. SOME KIND OF NOTHINGNESS
An epic duet with long time hero - Echo and The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch.
JAMES: "My first gig was Echo And The Bunnymen at the Bristol Colston Hall with Richey. What I always loved about Mac was that he was very much of his background, very working-class, very brusque, but he also transcended that. He was mysterious, and flippant and cattier than Dorothy Parker."
NICKY: "Given that it was James, Richey and Sean's first gig, I think there's something resplendent about the fact that he's there singing on our tenth album. It's about loss and the importance of grief. And I think the vocal we got out of Mac is extraordinary. I filmed him doing it and you can tell he's digging something out of his soul. Mind you, he spent the previous three hours doing impressions!"
4. THE DESCENT (PAGES 1 & 2)
A song with the easy acoustic pop rock grace of George Harrison or Hunky Dory era Bowie or Mott circa All The Young Dudes.
NICKY: "Touring is pure enjoyment now. It's hard work but I really feel that sense of the dignity of labour. It's mental refreshment, it's broadening your horizons. It's a proper touring song, done in an hour in Vancouver. James had this tune on the tour bus, I had a poem. Ten minutes work, it all dovetailed beautifully and the track was done."
JAMES: "I've always been very dubious about jamming. Not much good ever comes of it. But this worked. It's a nod to my first love, ELO."
Perhaps the spikiest, artiest thing on the album, includes a contribution from legendary Welsh musician and former Velvet Underground member John Cale.
NICKY: "We knew that was one for JC. We tried to marry that Bowie glam feel with a Neu! Beat. And there's some of the ideas in there from the book The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee, which is a kind of update of the Situationist International for these times."
JAMES: "I wrote the tune in the studio with Sean and it was Nick's idea to give it that driving Krautrock motorik beat."
6. GOLDEN PLATITUDES
Dreamy, almost MOR strings and piano give way as the mood darkens and the clouds gather. The lyric is an angry denunciation of a political elite that betrayed the class that nurtured and created them.
NICKY: "I've said it's The Beatles on steroids. But it's more Free As A Bird than Hey Jude, more Jeff Lynne than George Martin. It's about the abandonment of the true working class by their own party, the nadir for me being when New Labour offered everyone a free laptop. That idea that free WiFi and a Costa Coffee can lift the working class out of their poverty. So insulting."
7. HAZELTON AVENUE
A stridently gorgeous, big-hearted song bolstered by James' soaring guitar and windswept cellos, it snares instantly and holds for the duration of a song about the almost guilty bliss of abandoning oneself to the moment, in this case a free afternoon in a fashionable district of Toronto.
JAMES: "Nick and Sean had gone home from the studio one night and I came up with the riff. It's a song about a consumerist heaven, a song wondering whether that's such a bad life. I just liked the image of Nick, alone, just enjoying himself utterly. Which for Nick would be looking at stationery for five hours!"
8. I THINK I'VE FOUND IT
A Faces feel of woozy good vibes and an almost filmic sense of reverie.
NICKY: "Written by James with a hangover after a stag do in Tenby. It's a very James song, lovely and lilting, very Ocean Spray."
JAMES: "When I was a kid, I'd written a fan letter to Mike Scott after staying up all one summer night listening to The Waterboys. I burned the edges so it would look ancient. I never got a reply but years later I was on a plane and I saw he was sitting just up from me so, haltingly, I went up and introduced myself. And he said: 'I got your letter'. He'd obviously read it and kept it and the name must have stuck. It really freaked me out. So there's something of that feel in here, of enjoying the arbitrary nature of life."
9. A BILLION BALCONIES FACING THE SUN
Guns And Roses' Duff McKagan guests on a track that moves with the easy FM rock shuffle of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way.
NICKY: "It's saying we're busier than we have ever been but deep down, we know everything we do is useless. And the internet is a world where you can be as vile as you like about people and there is no consequence, no comeback."
JAMES: "The notion of a sense of community through technology makes no sense. Most of what goes on the internet seems to me to be cowardly peacocking. I know I sound like a grumpy old man when I say that I've never turned on a computer in my life and never sent an e-mail but what do I need it for? I got my shops, my bookies, my pubs. I talk to my newsagent for 20 minutes every day about cricket. I've learned about records in record shops and cuts of meat at the butchers. So you have a device where you can look at a picture of my front door on Google Earth. What does that give you?"
10. ALL WE MAKE IS ENTERTAINMENT
The decline and neglect of British industry set to a hyper-perfect, uber-Manics kind of super-rock.
NICKY: "The ultimate irony of our times is that our nationalised industry is the banks. Hilarious. Terrible. We make the best chocolate in the world - forget the Belgians - and we let Cadbury's be bought out by Kraft, makers of congealed, tasteless American rubbish."
JAMES: "I wanted the music to have the slight feel of a super-slick, hopeless game show. Like a great, happy empty-headed behemoth. We played a festival in Bergen and everywhere there was stuff that had been made in Bergen. We make nothing. All we make is entertainment, and we can't even do that anymore."
11. THE FUTURE HAS ALWAYS BEEN HERE FOREVER
Sung by Nicky, a nimble rock number with a hint of Marc Bolan. Includes a plaintive trumpet duet from Sean Moore.
NICKY: "He's such a lovely trumpet player and we wanted some of it on 'cos it sounds great - he'd been listening to Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela. It's The June Brides played by the Rolling Stones. And I think I'm singing better than I have done before."
JAMES: "I've always liked a bit of whimsy as well as the macho stuff. I like The Clash's Rudi Can't Fail. It's that kind of song, kind of light on its feet."
12. DON'T BE EVIL
A rousing finale. The Manics in full ragged rock glory, juxtaposed with a title taken from Google's corporate mission statement.
JAMES: "It's another about the emptiness of technology. I mean, so you have a way of seeing my front door. Great. What exactly does that give you?"
NICKY: "It's hard to write about this stuff without sounding like a boring old man. But you have to cast a critical eye on things, be it technology or your own class. I don't want citizen journalism or blogs, I want to read people who know what they're talking about. I want people to be qualified. It allows you to be as disgusting as you want with no comeback...It's taken away people's conscience. If there were a thought police, I'd be a lifer!"