War's Over; Why the Manics Have Mellowed for New Album - Liverpool Daily Post, 24th September 2010
The Manic Street Preachers release their 10th album, Postcards From A Young Man, on Monday, September 20 and begin a UK tour on September 29. Nicky Wire explains how the band has mellowed with age, but use their anger more constructively than they once did.
By Andy Welch 'I don't believe in absolutes anymore. I'm quite prepared to admit I was wrong'.
That's the opening line from the title track of the Manic Street Preachers's new album, Postcards From A Young Man.
If you've followed the career of the Welsh firebrands, you'll realise what a monumental statement that lyric is.
"Don't worry," says the band's bass player and lyricist Nicky Wire. "We still hate everyone, but it's not all out war anymore. It's tempered."
When the Manics emerged amid a flurry of guitar riffs and combative statements in 1991, the music press wasn't quite sure what they'd stumbled upon.
Four skinny white lads from a small Welsh town who combined lyrics of leftist politics, philosophy and high culture with a glam-punk soundtrack, while wearing feather boas, eyeliners and nail varnish.
They definitely weren't your average guitar band.
Upon reading their incendiary interviews in the music weeklies, it was difficult not to either be swept along with it all, or actively hate everything about them. The Manics were a band who forced an opinion.
Surely after all these years of staying true to their punk manifesto, the Manics haven't gone soft when we need them most?
"You can't be angry forever," says Wire. "But I think we channel the anger in more constructive ways these days."
"The air of nostalgia on this record is defined by our personalities being the same as they always were. The nihilism and the vanity of rock 'n' roll - which I think is important to all great music - is still deeply embedded in us, but now there's the faint sense of wisdom that age has brought us, too."
"I'd love to believe in the absolutes, but they don't exist anymore."
The Manics came of age in an era where selling out was the worst possible thing a band could do. Now, we have John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, once the embodiment of youthful revolt, advertising butter, and that notion seems, at best, out of date, or at worst, completely non-existent.
"I knew it was over when I saw Jack White, an indie icon, doing a Coca Cola advert... That just wouldn't be allowed when we were starting out. In the early Nineties you would have been crucified and it'd be career over."
"Now the holy grail for a band is to get the iPod advert. Endorsing the capitalist construct is now a badge of honour. For us, it used to be getting on the cover of NME and getting on Top Of The Pops."
"Faithless are selling cars for Fiat and bands are selling their records through Tesco. I understand the realities; there aren't many ways of making money unless you do adverts. I'm glad I saw the good times, because luckily we've never had to go down that route."
As you might expect from someone who's been making provocative statements for more than 20 years, Wire is a hugely skilled interviewee, virtually fluent in 'big quotes'.
Ask him to describe new album Postcards From A Young Man and, quick as a flash, he says, "It's like Van Halen singing Motown, Queen singing songs by Abba."
The bold statements, coupled with his oversized shades (we're indoors) and the outlandish jacket he's sporting, are the hallmarks of a good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll star.
While music fans perhaps shouldn't have to look to three forty-somethings for their socio-political commentary, there's an air of, 'Well no one else is saying it, so we have to' to the Manics's music.
"We should have been replaced," says Wire, in agreement.
"But there's such a dearth of guitar bands saying something, anything. There's a sense of reality in some urban music, but guitar music? It's truly pathetic.
"I think they're more interested in getting a bargain at Topshop than they are writing about the greatest economic recession we've ever suffered."
The economy features heavily in Postcards, the Manics's tenth album. It might sound mundane to some, but many of the lyrics were sparked by the takeover of British chocolate institution Cadbury's, earlier this year.
"The song All We Make Is Entertainment is about this, and the idea that all the things we've been good at in this country, we're willing to sell off - the car industry, steel, coal, water, gas and electric... The saddest irony of all is that the only nationalised industry is the banks, all under a Labour government. It's surreal. And people talk about bands selling out!"
"This is what I mean about the absolutes. They're dead. We've been told so many times over the last 20 or 30 years since Thatcherism that you can't subsidise industry. But the people saying that, as soon as their industry goes bad, they're coming crying for subsidies and they get it."
"It disgusts me and fills me with rage. Labour just thought free Wi-Fi and a Costa coffee could save the world."
Describing Postcards, Nicky said the album was the band's "last shot at mass communication".
He stresses he didn't mean this would be their last album, rather that the early Noughties were unkind, and they're currently riding on a second wave of relevance since 2007's resurgent Send Away The Tigers.
"We've thrown everything at this record, and made something genuinely commercial," he offers.
"We're well aware it could connect with people or be a complete disaster. There are no in-betweens."
"It's Not War (Just The End Of Love) is our biggest radio hit in years, and there's a good feeling around, but I just don't know what that means anymore."
"Ask me this in 1999 and I'd have said 'We'll sell a million records'. Now, we could sell 50,000."
"We survived Madchester, Britpop, whatever. We've drifted away and made our own niche, much like the best bands do. Of course we'll make more music, indulgent, 70-track albums probably, but we'll always be around."
"We could trade on our past and make quite a good living doing it, but we've still got this inexpressible urge to communicate, and get our point across."
"I think we've really done it this time. We may never be this good again."
Manic Street Preachers - Extra time Postcards From A Young Man features a number of special guests. Here's what Nicky Wire had to say about them...
- Duff McKagan - A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun "We had Duff McKagan from Guns N' Roses, who was always my bass-playing hero. To work with him was incredible."
- John Cale - Auto Intoxication "If there's one man that made Welsh music sexy and cool it was him, being in the Velvet Underground. He's the one person we've worked with that I can say is a musical genius."
- Ian McCulloch - Some Kind Of Nothingness "To think James, Sean [Moore] and Richey [Edwards] were watching Echo And The Bunnymen on the Ocean Rain tour in 1984, then almost 27 years later Ian's in our studio singing Some Kind Of Nothingness. It's mind-blowing. He gave a lot of himself to the song, and said it reminded him of To Sir With Love."