Does Gold Against The Soul snipe from the outside and plot from within?
Down in the South Wales' valleys of the late energy levels were severely drained - canary lamps dimmed, shovels downed, the pits seemed the best of days. For the high-spirited few, a vision of burning guitars outshone the soggy slagheap. Enter the charred but charged-up Manic Street Preachers - Richey James (vocals/ guitars), James Bradfield (lead guitar), Nicky Wire (bass) and Sean Moore (drums) - four guys who'd swapped lollipops together at infant school before graduating to redundancy in their late teens. Old Stones' albums educated them in the basic chords; that o’l thing called "attitude" came with natural abundance, early Guns N' Roses and Public Enemy cited as soul mates. The route from boredom to around the world took a little more than 80 days.
In his Bayswater Road hotel suite, Richey, now a rapidly maturing 24, reflects on the early Manics motives: "For the first 18 years of our lives we were living in an environment where there's nothing to do. We'd just go around each other's houses, talk, read and play and that's it, like 24 hours the same every fuckin' day. Locally, to be in a band you basically had to do R&B covers and play the pub circuit. So for a year we just thought about coming to London with enough money to stay, do all the crap gigs and find an audience."
"This was at the height of The Mondays and The Stone Roses – Manchester was massive . We just wanted to get a contract as quid as possible and make a record that was so important that the whole world wanted to listen to it. It wasn't a question of arrogance; just that if we didn't have that self-belief we'd have gone the same way as every other provincial band. Play London once and never come back What's the point in playing to two or three people?"
Crawling from the indie undergrowth wasn't on the agenda; their mascara-rimmed eyes were fixed unerringly on the wider panorama. Two singles were released on Heavenly, before a major duly stumped up. Signing to Columbia in the summer of ‘91, the Manics’ first major statement of firebrand assault and punk-metal intent, the double-edged Generation Terrorists made some fashion-conscious enemies but spawned six Top 40 singles, including the epic 'Motorcycle Emptiness’. Not part of any 'scene, they kicked up a racket wound up the sensitive few, and then buggered off home.
"If we'd moved to London we'd have been living in a false perspective. The majority of the population can't go and see bands every night; they can't go and see the film they want every night. Up here people seem to put a lot of work into things we never thought about when we were growing up, like to be seen wearing Calvin Klein underwear, to be seen doing the right thing. I'd never even heard of bottled water before I came to London, back home you've really got to search your Evian! The most important thing about this band has always been the lyrics and the music. We want to concentrate on that the best we can."
Seated comfortably in front of me with the aforementioned bottle of water, rumours of Richey on the rock 'n' roll razzle seems scotched; past singles with porn queens just twinkle eyed wheeze. They snipe from die outside and plot from within.
"You know, he continues, "I'm always surprised by bands who just complain about their record company. When we go into our record company we say: ‘We want to start recording now, this is who we wanna use, were gonna do these songs, we want this to be a single and we want the video to be like this,' and they’re all really happy 'cos they're as lazy as the next person. If you take charge then they don't mind; you've got to be prepared to be responsible. I mean, it shows how much control we've got for Sony to let a 20-year-old unknown kid, Dave Eringa, produce a band of our sort of standing.
The Manics' second LP, Gold Against The Soul, was written and recorded over a couple of months at the turn of the year. Richey and Nicky conjured up the words, cousins James and Sean punched in the music. 'From Despair To Nowhere, complete with isolationist lyric, rootsy attack, juicy lead lick is followed by 'La Tristesse Durera', a gem of pop metal and surely a massive hit single. 'Life Becoming A Landslide' is simmering anthem to lost youth, Drug Drug Druggy', a riff roaring swipe at "dope culture". It's rock through the ages - parts of Stones, Clash, Guns' given the full Preaches' treatment. Rough cut gear dressed with upfront melodic accessories.
"Generation Terrorists was more our points of view, stuff that was three or four years old. Some of it sounded a bit AOR. But this album was done quickly and is more immediate,”. Richey opines. "We listen to music all day long whether it's Led Zeppelin Tom Waits, Marvin Gaye, Pearl Jam - we don't care. Hopefully, as we're not in any obvious niche, we can develop our style and do anything we want."
Next step beyond the valleys, another global tour, including a stop-off in Japan, one of the Manics’ favourite haunts."There's no level of cynicism there, they don't walk around saying 'Big deal, seen it all before. People don't necessarily respect you, but they listen. It’s very teenage led. There's no other country in the world where you get that; it's all gone, dead. The Western '50s and '60s thing that music was gonna change the world; no fucker believes that. You're not gonna get people roaming down the streets and burning down the banks. Maybe it can change the odd individual life but that's about as far as it goes; certainly none of us ever thought any different."