Manic Street Preachers have turned the guitars down, but not the bile. A slimline James Dean Bradfield tells a pleasantly plump Stuart Clark why John F. Kennedy, Billy Connolly and Jesus Christ Superstar are in league with Satan. Or words to that effect.
They’re not avant-garde experimentalists hellbent on deconstructing modern music, sure, but for a major label act Manic Street Preachers have never been afraid to take risks.
From situationist punk sloganeering and songs about anorexia to Guns N’ Roses-style rawk and Phil Spector Wall of Sound rebuilding, they’ve covered a lot of ground on their first six albums. Now it’s the turn of number seven, Lifeblood, to confound, delight and infuriate in equal measures.
“I’d say you’ve got the percentages about right,” James Dean Bradfield laughs good-naturedly. Reports that married life have made the Manics singer a less prickly person appear to be correct.
“You can fuck right off with your ‘less prickly’,” he deadpans. “More so than getting married what’s calmed me down is knocking the daily eight pints of beer on the head. And the gallons of cola I was having with my whisky! There was no dark night of the soul, just the realisation that I didn’t want to be drinking to that extent any more. There was also a vanity thing in that I hated being a big fat bastard!”
Trailed by the Tricky Dicky rehabilitating ‘The Love Of Richard Nixon - “People forget China and your war on cancer too” - Lifeblood also exhibits an uncharacteristic sense of restraint.
“We’ve allowed things to become stilted in the past by using the music as too much of a vehicle and imposing silly little rules on ourselves,” Bradfield resumes. “Three or four songs into the writing I realised that the guitar parts I’d come up with were going to sound better on the piano. I said to the other guys, ‘Let’s not be afraid to let our emotions carry us along. If it’s feeling good, do it!”
The Generation Terrorists and Know Your Enemy-style manifestos may have been ditched, but that doesn’t mean the Manics have gone completely soft in their middle age.
“One of the points of the single is how history demonises and saints people. Put down side by side Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy bear a lot of comparisons. JFK was responsible for a disgraceful piece of American imperialism with the Bay of Pigs and their subsequent assassination attempts on Castro. Then there was his using of the teamsters and the mafia to buy votes in an election that everybody recognises now as being fixed. I know there’s a certain section of Irish society which ranks him second only to The Pope in terms of saintliness, but the man was a fucking crook.”
Expect Opus Dei to declare a fatwah on the Manic Street Preachers any day now. In the same way that The Smiths couldn’t have made The Queen Is Dead without Stephen Street, Lifeblood depends on producer Tony Visconti for much of its musical clarity.
“The first time I did my, ‘Fuck, Jesus, no, sort it out Tony!’ routine he looked at me with this beatific smile and said: ‘ I realise it’s all a storm in a teacup with you, but don’t worry, the darkness will soon go away.’ The fucker had the measure of me the moment I opened my mouth, which pleased Nicky and Sean no end!”
Did they manage to drag any Bowie or T. Rex stories out of him?
“Tony needed no encouraging. He was clanging names all over the place! One of his favourite lines was, ‘The reason I understand you Welsh is that I was married for such a long time to Mary Hopkins!’ He’s over here at the moment working on the reissue of the T. Rex film, Born To Boogie, so we’re going to meet up tonight for a pint. I’m a bit worried because, to be honest, I thought the original movie was shit.”
Having wasted 35 pence of my pocket money on it back in 1971, I can confirm that Marc Bolan’s cinematic foray was indeed a big, steaming pile of Atomic Kitten. Has Bradfield ever been tempted to engage in extracurricular activities?
“I got an invitation from the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, a sort of Welsh Opera House, which said: ‘We’d like you to come to our opening and sing a song from Jesus Christ Superstar. If this isn’t enough of an incentive, I must inform you that there will be notable members of the royal family present.’ Never in the history of public relations has somebody done their research so badly. ‘Yes, I’d love to come and, by the way, can I bring my Kalashnikov with me as my +1?’”
At least they didn’t want him to duet with Charlotte Church.
“Now, that’s something I would’ve cleared my diary for,” he yuks lecherously. “We could have got a ‘Little Baby Nothing’ vibe going for those notable members of the royal family. No, I genuinely think Charlotte’s cool.”
Somebody who most definitely isn’t cool in James’ eyes is Billy Connolly.
“No, he’s a complete cunt.”
Good quote but one that possibly needs a bit of justification.
“Quite apart from his ‘I hope they hurry up and kill Ken Bigley’ line, he appeared alongside Kelly Holmes on Parkinson and said, ‘The problem I have with the Olympics is that athletes give drugs a bad name.’ He couldn’t bear the fact that somebody else was getting the adulation of the crowd. I’ve a problem with anybody who’s so obsessed with ingratiating themselves to royalty. ‘You’re mates with Prince Charles? So fucking what!’”
As an elder statesman, what does James make of the current state of rock and/or roll?
“Mark E. Smith said that, didn’t he?”
I was actually paraphrasing Springfield’s top man of god, The Reverend Tim Lovejoy, but very possibly.
“It’s easy to be pessimistic, but already in 2004 I’ve bought three albums I love - The Secret Machines, The Killers and Mark Lanegan. When I was young I’d be scratching around for two amazing records a year so, I think it’s a bit of a golden age.”