Truth hits everybody. Sylvie Simmons takes the testimony.
It's all business now, isn't it? We're a business. The Manic Street Preachers is a brand name, just like Pepsi."
Nicky Wire speed fixing on another vast cup of coffee at an oversized table in one of those expensive conference rooms with the identical giant potted plant that all multinational companies - the Manics' record company included - have. The round, unflinching eyes in Nicky's open, white face with the sweatshirt hooded up remind me so much of South Park's Kenny I worry
for his well-being.
Life's a strange old business. A couple of handfuls of years back some mates and two cousins from what would been a small Gwent mining community if the Government hadn't closed the mines, meet at a school footie match and form a band. They pool their pocket money and buy eye make-up. Later they pool their dole money and make a single. The music press declares, "They will be the most important rock band in the world." To avoid this fate the Manics release a Manifesto in which they declare back that they'll destroy the monarchy and the House Lords, make one album which will sell 20 million and then they'll break up.
"We didn't fulfil one of them." smiles Nicky. But five albums into their one-album career, they have become e pretty damn important rock band - via a strange and twisting path that's taken them from political glam-punks to multi-platinum, arena-rockstars via what Nicky calls "The Agatha Christie disappearance-murder mystery."
You know what happened. On 1 February 1995 Richey James Edwards walked out of a Bayswater hotel leaving behind a packet of Prozac, a pile of books and a note that said "I love you" and was never seen again. The troubled guitarist's vanishing act took on mythological proportions. "I can understand it," says Nicky, "because when I was young - its a sad thing to say - I found the thought of Ian Curtis or Brian Jones intensely exciting. But in reality it was such an un-rock 'n' roll thing to do; he was driving a crappy Vauxhall Cavalier in the pissin-down rain - it's hardly driving a Cadillac around Los Angeles or something..." He gives a sad half-smile. "But it's no worse or better than anybody else's tragedy."
Tragedy tends to change people in one of two ways: it makes them bitter or stronger. With the Manics it was the latter. Nicky, James Dean Bradfield, and Seen Moore closed ranks, decamped with producer Mike Hedges to a small village in France and recorded Everything Must Go as a trio. A powerful, exultant album, light years away from its savage, fractured predecessor, The Holy Bible, it shot to Number One, gathered numerous awards and gave them one hell of a tough act to follow.
"That was the most euphoric album we'll ever make: just the relief that we were still functioning - as people, not just as a group - and doing something we really loved. I don't think we really felt that happy at the time, but there is a heroic quality about it and I don't think we could ever do an album like that again. Plus we wouldn't want to. people ask if there was any pressure making this album because the of the success of the last one, but really all it was trying to do was say something different. People always seem to want bands to stay the same, but all my favourites are the ones that changed all the time - the Beatles, the Stones. The bands I cant stand are ones like Rancid and Green Day who play the same fucking song over and over and think they're being purist punks when they're just being stupid.
"One thing we wanted to do was make this album legs uplifting - not depressing or miserable, just less heroic." And this they've generally done on This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, with its mid-tempo ballads and toned-down strings, although there's still plenty of soaring choruses and epic arena moments. At times its almost pomp rock, with James' voice sounding remarkably Freddie Mercury-esque.
"I'd say more Fleetwood Mac's Rumours than Queen," counters Nicky, "though I can see the smoothness and grandeur. People have accused us of having some AOR thing since Motorcycle Emptiness, so it's always been lurking under the surface. The two words we used most when we were making the record were 'beauty' and 'purity'. There are a lot of pure sounds and a real purity and simplicity to the lyrics."
This time, for the first time (Everything Must Go incorporated some lyrics Richey left behind), all the words are Nicky's. "It was so hard coming up with lyrics for all the 20 songs we recorded originally - almost like writing a novel, I still check in my head and think, Would Richey like this? Sometimes I know he wouldn't and sometimes know he would. My writing style is so much more straightforward and literal - Richey's lyrics were so intellectualised. I didn't understand some of them myself. I used to come up with a title and chorus and he'd come up with a verse; we'd say pretentious things to each other like 'We want to put Rumblefish to music end make it sound like the Jesus And Mary Chain'."
"I write alone now, usually after ten at night or when it's raining or dark. I get a lot of my inspiration from the telly and I'm not ashamed to admit it - the track 'Tsunami' was completely inspired by a documentary on two twins who ended up in Broadmoor just because they wouldn't speak to anyone. Probably my biggest hobby is sitting at home watching the telly. I get more out of that or walking the dog than going out for a meal. I never go to gigs. I'm not interested in watching sweaty blokes onstage." Nicky's life is a spectacularly un-rockstar one. James may have decamped to London and Sean halfway, to Bristol, but Nicky still lives in a £35,000 house in Wales. He hasn't even bought a fancy car; he cant drive.
"Its hard mixing money and socialism, but to be honest all I do is the same things, but more - I buy more records, buy more books, still class myself as working class. I don't think you can buy or change class - up or down, Damon (Albarn) tried a long time ago to become working class but he never could, and now he's stopped trying it's a better band I think ."
In the new album's title (taken from a speech by Welsh NHS founder Aneurin Bevan) the Manics have managed to distill everything (sports excepted) that's dear to them: Welshness, Old Labour (hence, one assumes, the lack of invites for champers at Number 10); the Truth ("We always make an effort to speak the truth, if there was more truth in the world it would be a better place.); the personal; and a refreshing ego-free regard for whet others think ("If it was just called This Is My Truth it would be a bit arrogant. We've always been a very egalitarian band")
There are, as always, "issue" songs - the Spanish civil war, the flooding of a Welsh village - but for the first time almost as many personal ones. "Its about half and half. A song like "SYMM (South Yorkshire Mass Murder, their take on the Hillsborough disaster) is about an issue and about feeling awkward writing a song about It 'My Little Empire' and Born A Girl' are probably two of the most personal songs I've ever written." There's one song about Richey, 'Nobody Loved You'. "It was the last song we did. We purposely tried not to write anything because we didn't want to trade on his celebrity - then if we didn't, people would say we'd forgotten him."
They haven't. It's onstage they miss him most. "There's still a huge gap. I don't think you feel a presence, I think you miss a presence, you're always looking around for him. That's why I like playing bigger arenas, because you can lose yourself. If you're in a small club and facing the audience and they want to hear one of your old songs and you know Richey's not there..."
If Richey were to turn up again, would they take him back? "I'd let him back in my house and have a cup of tea and watch a bit of telly. I'd still love to write another lyric with him. I'd love to talk about lyrics that I've done which he's never seen - or he might have seen, I don't know. But it's impossible to say concerning the group. Unless he's had a miracle cure and became a Nietzchean strongman, I can't imagine him wanting to go through all that again."