The Manics Return - Belfast Telegraph, 30th November 2007
They were the sound of the 1990s, but Manic Street Preachers fell below the radar in recent years. The good news is the Welsh trio are back with their best album in years. Words: Andy Welch
Considering they never really went away, it's odd to announce that the Manic Street Preachers are back.
SHARE GO TO After the Welsh trio released their seventh album, Lifeblood, late in 2004, the public saw a band seemingly coming to the end of their days - even their hardcore fans were disillusioned.
Their music had become formulaic, overly earnest and something an energetic, politically-charged group should never become - boring.
Thankfully, lifelong friends James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire saw the same things, and decided to stop the rot.
So when they released their latest record Send Away The Tigers in May this year, they kick-started a resurgence that saw their best reviews in a decade. They've also won an armful of awards and a legion of new, young fans.
Only the combined pop powers of Beyonce and Shakira could keep them from the top of the singles chart in April, but whether it hit No 1 or not, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, the Manics' duet with The Cardigans singer Nina Persson, is their best song in years and made music lovers sit up and take notice.
The end of this month sees them tour the UK and Ireland for the second time this year. Seems like a perfect way to cap off a triumphant 12 months?
"It is, really," says singer and guitarist James. "There has been some kind of revival this year - I guess we just got back to what we do, or know, best.
"I don't want to be overly dramatic about it, but it felt as if we'd settled with our ghosts somewhat," he continues. "And we've sold about 90,000 tickets for our gigs this year and done some festivals too. Things like that affect us more than they used to.
"We were a band of entitlement before, but now our gratitude is a lot more heartfelt when people come to see us and buy our records."
James is candid, forthright, earnest and sincere, like much of the group's output over the years. But he's not all doom and gloom, as might have been believed, and he cracks self-deprecating jokes every other minute. For example, when explaining why he wanted The Enemy to join them as support on their last tour, he gushes about the young Coventry band's music and attitude, before revealing the real reason he offered the invite.
"I loved the fact they're all so short. When you've got a Napoleon complex like mine, you need a few fellow shorties around to empathise with."
Each date on their forthcoming tour brings back special memories for James, of the days he, Nicky, Sean and Richey Edwards - tragically missing since 1995 - travelled around in an old van, playing dodgy venues all over the country.
"Inevitably, we've got rose-tinted spectacles now," he says. " The good old days weren't quite as good as we might remember and our memories are kind of low rent, to be honest. We'll come to a town and it might just be a chippy that we went to years ago that sparks us off reminiscing, or an Army And Navy store where we bought some clothes, but I like that."
Formed in the mid-1980s, the Manics were an out-and-out punk band. Their gigs would often descend into slanging matches between them and the crowd, while their lyrics often contained socialist sentiments, informed by their tough working-class upbringing in the South Wales mining town of Blackwood. They famously once dedicated an award to Arthur Scargill, and more recently played in Cuba at the personal invitation of Fidel Castro.
"We used to come across so many bands that we'd slagged off in interviews," says James, reflecting on the band's early gigs in tiny venues. "They'd always turn up as we were packing up our instruments and filling the van, and say, 'What did you say about us, you bunch of so and sos?'
"Richey was really good at facing down those types of things, even though he was never a person to be involved in a fight. He'd just give this blank-eyed stare like the other person didn't possess a single brain cell. He'd do that, then I'd front up to them with some stupid, misguided bravado.
"Touring was always a running battle back then, so thankfully it's nothing like that anymore. People would have seen us on the cover of the NME and then come to our gig just to give us abuse."
MSP released three albums as a four-piece, and after Richey's disappearance in 1995, it looked like they were going to call it a day. Instead, they came back with their career-defining album Everything Must Go in 1996, which contained the anthemic single A Design For Life.
They were immediately propelled into the mainstream - and inevitably the Britpop movement - but unlike many other bands from that time, the Manics managed to ride the scene's demise in the latter part of the decade and came out the other side intact.
Now, after a series of events echoing their mid-90s resurgence, they find themselves with a new set of fans. The irony is certainly not lost on James.
"On this last tour, there were a lot more young fans there, and it definitely reminded us of the reaction we had the first time around, and again after Everything Must Go.
"So many of the kids seem to have done their research too, you know? They know the words to everything, which is brilliant, and to see the audience engaging with everything we've done in the past, with a bit of trainspotter-type nerdiness, is really gratifying.
"I never tire of touring," he says. "More so now than ever, I feel as if it's a physical part of my life that I can't let go.
"It's great when we play an old song, say something from The Holy Bible, and its lyrics still have the ability to shock me. I realise how I was perhaps blase about the words when I was first given them by Richey a long, long time ago.
"But then it's also great to play a song like You Love Us, which shows the other side to our music. Sometimes, it's just great to be part of a big dumb rock band."