The 'Generation Terrorists' become Metal Apologists? Are The Manics yesterday’s men? Anthony Noguera asks Richey James to justify himself.
Richey James giggles shyly. He does that. "We were doing the video for 'Despair To Where', and we had all these mad albino Alsatians running around in it. There's a film about Brunel, called 'Exterminating Angel', and there's all these sheep in it. Originally we wanted to use sheep but," he pauses for maximum ironic effect, "where we come from sheep aren't a good reference point really. So we changed it to Alsatians." Weird. "Yes, but the scariest thing was when I saw an albino person for the first time. It was very disconcerting-like 'The Man Who Fell To Earth." CRASH!! A politically unsound statement falls to earth with a deafening crunch. Can only be the Manics, really, can't it?
The most contrary band in the world: back with an album the world dare them never to make. For the year.: surrounding the release of the deeply l hawed but occasionally magically imbued 'Generation Terrorists', the band interspersed energetic rock-out tomfoolery with more press than the combined efforts of every other bottom-of-the-first division Indie outfits put together. They squabbled with each other, the press, other bands. They were rebellious and often daft, but always really quite exciting. Interviews with the foursome read more like playground squabbles with the Brady Bunch than the thought-out philosophising of rational adults. Which was okay with the Manics, actually.
"We were like that because we've known each other for so long," smiles the man, who, this month, was immortalised in comic book form in the Judge Dredd vehicle, 2000AD. As 'Clarence', from 'The Crazy Sked Moaners', Richey slices '4 Real (sic)' into his forehead with a laser, paralleling the infamous arm slashing episode last year.
We can argue about anything," he continues, "especially really little things So that's why our interviews always come out like that."
It's easy to bait The Manics because they'll always bite. They know exactly what the quote hungry music, press are after and are more than happy to give them what they want.
Recently, Richey has been quoted as likening himself to a Riot Grrrl, and the band as a whole have been roundly reckoned to be 'intelligent Heavy Metal'. Hmmm. This was the band that once said that a feature in the Heavy Metal weekly, Kerrang!, was more exciting than an NME front cover.
"I think that the whole Indie scene is dying on its feet," Richey confirms, just a few minutes into the interview. Batton down the hatches! Splice the mainsail Indie Rock in critical condition shock!
"There are very few bands around whose lives you'd like to lead."
It's about now that you wonder if polemic comes as second nature to Richey, but he explains that forthrightness and honesty are not to be confused with arrogance.
"The first couple of interviews we did with the Inkies," he maintains, "were just us talking naturally, like we do when we're on our own. And then later when we'd read the features it'd be like 'fucking hell! I didn't know we spoke like that!'"
In the same way the band like to explain away the countless social faux-pas made in the course of being in a rock band. But at least they're not Guns 'N' Roses. For that at least, we should be thankful.
I don't think that there's any point regretting anything," says Richey later, when it's put to him that the infamous comments Nicky Wire made about Michael Stipe were a in case of one too many feet in the gob at any one time.
But more importantly, have they sold their souls for the corporate dollar? After the scandal, the hype, the press manipulation and the sell-out accusations, can anybody actually believe in The Manic Street Preachers anymore?
"Yeah, I think so. Even right from the start we've had people really passionately believe in us and we knew straight from the off that we'd probably make another record. That having been said, a lot of Japanese people really took all the one LP business very seriously. They had had this hari kiri, Mishima kind of character, who believes in making your one moment of greatness and then, 'suicide central', here we come! People in Britain understood us much better."
What they really want, I think, and above everything, is to mean something to people’s lives. That, and garner some respect. Whatever their ‘Blank Generation’ posturing might suggest, I don’t think for a second James Dean Bradfied sweats that much for nothing. But what about the scams Richey? The lies?
“We’re fine about it. We realised early on that we could be as hypocritical as the press because no journalist is as pious as God. The reason that we said it was because we thought that after all those gigs with no people at them that we'd never get to play another London gig, let alone make a record. The only thing that kept us going was the thought that if we kept at it, sometime, somebody, would like us and we'd make a fucking great record and the whole planet would buy it and then we could fuck off and no-one would hear from us again. But at the same time we needed to believe we could be the biggest thing in the world. We are hypocrites, I think that most people are. I think that most people under thirty are so fucking cynical it's unbelievable."
It's kind of hard to argue with someone who admits to changing their views every five minutes.
However Richey may appear in the cold light of the printed word, in the flesh he's remarkably affable. Even when he casually drops a statement like, "Right through the twentieth century the semi-educated populace will always fall for a dictator, because he promises to take care of all their needs", into the conversation, you find yourself smiling sympathetically. Not once does he give off a whiff of rock star arrogance. Tres sympathetique, as the French would have it. For ones so apparently devoid of get-up-and-go, the Manic Street Preachers are strangely passionate about their music.
So can your music influence people, Richey? "We're not naive enough to believe that music can have kids rampaging through the streets," he laughs, taking another pot shot at the last vestiges of rebellion in popular music. There's not many bands around who can say you'd like to live a life like they do. That's why Rage Against The Machine are so popular, 'Killing in The Name Of' doesn't say anything directly against anything.
It's like "Mr So And So, Fuck You I Won't Do What You Tell Me" It's a very ambiguous statement, because you don't know why you're pissed off, or at who, you just know that you are and everybody understands it."
It's all a bit predictable for me, I'm afraid. "I know, but the kids love it. White rock is much more indirect than something like Ice-T. You know straight away who he's pissed off at."
Gold Against The Soul', far from being the return to roots Punk Rock shocker that early rumours seemed to suggest, is actually a greater step into radio friendly Metal than ever before for the band. Yes, it is easy on the ear, but it's never less than totally enjoyable. It's a record made by a band finally comfortable with who they are, and happy with the music they make. "Yes," Richey agrees, "but some people are going to judge us on it being the second album we shouldn't have made."
True, but there's always going to be conscientious sticks in the mud around. The lyrics are more natural this time around, less sloganeering and more meaning.
There's a song on 'Gold Against The Soul' called 'La Tristessa Durera' that makes up for any amount of steroid fed tabloid press-mongering that the Manics may have indulged over the last two years. It's a song that has 'Unafraid To Be A Pop Classic' emblazoned on it's shirt in mile high letters.
"There's a line in there that goes, 'Stubbing cigarettes out on my arm, trying to find something of value", which is an important line in that song. There are a lot of people who do things like that when they're young. Trying to find a natural feeling. Like when you're young the feeling of falling in love doesn't make much sense, it all seems like you're expected to be too mature. Everything becomes disappointing. Some people can get over their frustration, by fighting, or by sport, and I'm not a sporty person. And I'm not the kind of person who can get lagered up in the pub on a Friday night and then start a big fight. That whole male bonding thing... I'm never going to be like that."
And 'Roses In The Hospital'? What is the line about pulling out your fingernails about?
"The title is about trying to find something of beauty in a really horrible environment. Taking somebody a bunch of flowers in a hospital is a fucking waste of time. It's about a loss of innocence. When you're eight, nine, ten, you're very innocent when it comes to pleasure. When you get older you start wanting things like watches, cars, record players, and drink, those things that are meant to be the joys of adulthood. When you get access to those sort of pleasures I don't think that it necessarily brings you any more personal happiness."
What's the best thing about being in the Manic Street Preachers? "We enjoy being around each other, which we chose to do very early on. If we weren't in a band we would probably still hang around together." Do you enjoy being the Manic Street Preachers?
"Yeah, probably. I don't think that we could imagine being in any other band, because they seem to have so many personal hang-ups about really stupid things."
And what about being called a Rock band? It's not big and it's not clever these days, you know?
"Even Nirvana have a hang up about Rock fans. It's like 'oh, no, there's Rock fans into our album!'. Well, you made a fucking Rock album didn't you?! What d'you expect?!"
And how do you think that people are going to react to 'Gold Against The Soul', your Rock record?
"Dodgy second album? No, ha ha! We were never even judged on a musical level on the first album. There's always the fact that we might be seen as not very exciting anymore-yesterday's men. But, you know, we've made a much better record and people can judge us on whatever terms they see fit, because we're not that precious about it. If they want to judge us in the fact that we have made a second album or whatever, then that's okay. We're not like that, we're a real Rock band."