Lyrics left by troubled rocker Richey Edwards appear on an intriguing new album, writes James Wigney
It has been more than 14 years since Manic Street Preachers guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards vanished.
On February 1, 1995 the troubled, but gifted, songwriter, who had a history of self-mutilation and alcohol abuse, checked out of a London hotel, never to be seen again. His car was found two weeks later near the Severn Bridge, a notorious suicide spot, in his native Wales.
Band mates James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore continued without him, having their biggest successes with the albums Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, but kept a percentage of royalties aside should Edwards return.
In November last year, Edwards' family finally had him declared presumed dead, but his lyrics live on with the release of the Manics' new album, Journal For Plague Lovers. Shortly before he disappeared, Edwards gave his band mates notebooks of scrawlings, clippings and lyrics for 28 songs, which form the basis of the new album.
After holding on to the lyrics for more than a decade, during which time they released five albums, Bradfield and Wire eventually decided Edwards had given them the lyrics for a reason and they had a duty to make them heard.
"We realised that over the years there was a sense of responsibility looming over us of why would he leave us these lyrics shortly before he disappeared?" says Bradfield from his studio in Cardiff.
"It's well documented that his disappearance was well planned - it wasn't a spontaneous act - so over the years we just thought it was our responsibility to do something with them. They were written in the form of lyrics so it was pretty obvious he wanted something done with them."
Bradfield admits the move may not be the most sensible career-wise, but the early reviews from the notoriously harsh and fickle British music press have been glowing.
"That's really gratifying for Richey and I'm not trying to sound too earnest or modest, but it is really satisfying for him to have those reviews in and to have him recognised as a great lyricist again is really satisfying," Bradfield says.
"The lyrics are mainly concerned with someone who is doubting everything - humanity, his existence, values in general - so if you take that to the record company and say that this album is about doubt and there is no single on it, you can see them thinking, `Hmm, in the middle of our biggest economic downturn of all time you give us this?' "
The Manics built their reputation as an angry and political band who banded together as "angry working class kids in the valleys of south Wales". Bradfield, who conquered his own demons in a bottle, says he and his band mates managed to channel their rage into their music before it took them down.
"When you are younger you have anger that turns into some kind of nihilism and where you go from that point is very important," Bradfield says.
"I think we tried to turn that into something more constructive, but Richey kind of veered to the other side of the road. Now that nihilism has been subsumed into something a bit more positive for us. The other boys have had kids and we are all married - and instead of me being drunk four nights a week I make sure I go and see the rugby every weekend. I am a bit more grown up."
Bradfield also admits to a weakness for perfect pop. The Manics did a stomping version of Rihanna's Umbrella last year and Bradfield also co-wrote two songs on Kylie Minogue's underrated and underachieving 1997 album, Impossible Princess.
"When Shocked came out in Britain it was just an amazing record and was a guilty pleasure," Bradfield says. "It would come on the radio and you would end up singing it thinking, `What am I doing here?' She (Minogue) was always some kind of icon for us and I don't know why. It helped that one side of her family was from Wales too.
"It was always a great memory for me and very surreal moment when she came to my house in Shepherd's Bush to write a song - I still can't quite believe it happened."