Modern life is rubbish, claim Manic Street Preachers. Where have I heard that before? wonders Craig McLean.
They are the Guns N' Roses it's okay to like. The Sex Pistols it‘s okay to hate. The band whose second album comes sleeved in a typically ambiguous, typically graphic cover. Roses masquerade as a gas mask. Fresh air doubling as suffocating pollution. Gold Against The Soul. Manic Street Preachers are back just when you thought they'd self-destructed like they said they would when they first shot forth from South Wales. The rhetoric, the polemics, the sloganeering, the posturing and the posing have given way, stepped back while the rock'n' roll - the walk, not the talk - has leapt forward. The brightness has been turned down and the volume up. The gobshite has been re-figured and re-channelled into bone-raw, grey-bleak lyrics. The personal is political. the internal goes external. Manic Street Preachers have drunk in excess and choked on humble pie.
"We went back home and felt very humble." confesses bass player Nicky Wire, which, coming from this renowned provocateur, sounds just as outrageous as saying Michael Stipe should die of AIDS and all travellers are worthless. The Preachers had toured the world. had seven Top 40 singles and noised up the music biz. But then..."it's good to go back to any shitty little provincial town and you realise that your inﬂuence on the world was not that strong after all. That gives you more energy to get going again. keep your original ideas intact."
Inspiration and restlessness blazing, the Manics poured out their songs, their punk vigour lent focus by a year of media hubbub and global hoo-hah that was as desolate as it was rich. "All those nights in hotel rooms give you time to think...'are Nicky's final, wistful, vaguely pathetic words. They are presaged by adjectives like 'refined', 'articulate', 'world-weary'. He describes Gold Against The Soul as a "much more blunt, stark version of the last two years of our lives", one that he reckons, paradoxically, is ‘a much more black album" but one that's "much easier to digest".
Easy to digest, maybe, but still designed as shock therapy for the Streets' peers.
"The sloganeering on the ﬁrst album was natural to us when we were 20, 21. Writing those songs, it was very exciting. This time round, we wanted to make more of a critique of our generation and ourselves, and how we think our generation has been utterly pathetic in coping with modern life, letting everything fall into disrepair."
The generation's degenerating. but Manic Street Preachers have 'grown up'. This time round. their (con)fusing of punk nihilism and youthful action is topped by a hard rock ire that is all the keener for its dearth of ranting flim-flam. Gold Against The Soul has ‘no sell-out‘ cut through its title and its grooves; the inclusion of Primo Levi's poem 'Song Of Those Who Died In Vain' widens the Manics' treatise on collapsing Britain and their collapsing selves into the collapsing 'new world order'.
"We always wanted to be a catalyst for a musical generation," the highly personable Nicky says rather grandly, but justifiedly. "And I think what we set out ; to do has come about. in a sense. From bands like l Suede to Rage Against The Machine. I think that young people are accepting that there can be more glamour and social comment in music these days."
And if social comment means saying the unpalatable, so be it. Manic Street Preachers have loosened up the rock scene and loosed off a few verbal cannons in their time. The band. and Nicky notably, have mouthed so many sound-(and fury)bites that the ground is constantly shifting - what is on the edge one day is landlocked the next. 'Shocks' become the norm. Nicky sees no point in regret, won't retract his Stipe/travellers bombshells. "I don't think any normal person is particularly interested in New Age travellers, except for the fact that they probably hold them up when they go on holiday..."
"I think we awaken a lot of people's real feelings that they're afraid to admit."
Which is exactly the language that the cancerous Far Right use across Europe for their campaigns of discrimination and hate. Mercifully, Manic Street Preachers' potential for inciting action or reaction, positive or negative, is held in check by, on the one hand, the innate ridiculousness of any residual inflammatory posturing; and on the other by the sheer vicarious thrill of their precarious rock 'n' roll. Walking-the-wire entertainment never sounded so good. Nicky Wire knows this. "I like bands with a lot of fuck-ups, who flirt with disaster, it just shows that they're fallible. All humans are fallible, after all. And we're just a reflection of that