The Manic Street Preachers muse on their art's place in society, writes Craig Mathieson
James Dean Bradfield, the frontman for the veteran Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, likes to quote the example of his father, who, as a young man in 1960s Britain, had an interest in working with wood. A government scheme got him an apprenticeship, which led to career opportunities. Each day he would come home from work proud of what he had built.
"The working man sometimes just wants to transfer the cerebral to the kinetic: they want to make things," says Bradfield, moving between the theoretical and the practical in one sentence, just as the band's songs have long done.
Britain, Bradfield laments, has let numerous industries close and he thinks whole generations have lost the opportunity to know the satisfaction his father did.
The exception to that change may well be the Manic Street Preachers, who have made 10 studio albums since their debut long player - the firebrand's handbook, Generation Terrorists- was released in 1992. Working-class socialists who favoured social critique and rock'n'roll's sonic excesses, the Preachers have ended up being the second-longest-serving act, behind Sade, currently on the books of Sony Music in Britain.
By the time they began work on their most recent album, September's Postcards from a Young Man, they were well aware of how long they had endured. Few groups complete 10 albums, let alone while retaining commercial success.
"There is something present when you get to your 10th album - you don't know whether to celebrate or reinvent yourself," admits Bradfield. "We had this plan that we were going to be the Sex Pistols and make the perfect album and sell millions of copies and split up, but deep down, I always wanted to be the Clash; I wanted to have a career and see what we sounded like after five albums or 10 albums."
The trio - Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore and bassist Nicky Wire - sound like anything but an institution on their new record, which debuted at No. 3 in Britain. The band wanted to make an expansive, radio-friendly album that acknowledged their diverse musical tastes; "celebratory and escapist" is the vocalist's description.
At the same time, they wanted to put aside last year's Journal for Plague Lovers, on which they provided arrangements for lyrics left by iconic guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared in 1995 and was legally declared presumed deceased at his family's request in 2008.
"By the end of it, we were drained. It's intense and disciplined serving someone else's lyrics when the author isn't there any more," Bradfield says. "You're trying to please someone whose opinion you can't get and the whole situation as well was very sad. You just want to do something different afterwards."
Having long been believers in trying to access the mainstream because it gives ideas the widest possible outlet, the Manic Street Preachers were also intent on gaining radio airplay in their homeland and having a top 40 single, something, according to Bradfield, that rarely occurs outside Coldplay or Snow Patrol and that contributes to public anomie.
"In Britain, we've been through two wars and a deep recession and no musicians write about it. Music has been downgraded on the cultural playlist," Bradfield declares. "Once it was OK to download music for free, it began to matter less. I grew up believing that [the Sex Pistols'] God Save the Queen meant as much as Picasso's Guernica - that's what music taught me. Making it free took that cultural worth away."