The election manicfesto
Returning from an extended hiatus, Manic Street Preachers are in stridently upbeat form. In a revealing interview, they reflect on their enduring cultural imprint and talk about long lost Manic Richey Edwards.
Peter Murphy, 08 May 2007
This being the general election issue, it’s apt that, with their eighth album Send Away The Tigers, the Manic Street Preachers are embarking on a vigorous re-election campaign.
Lets skip the Blair back-to-basics tropes and quips about reapplying for the job of greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world: James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore seem more concerned with reclaiming the essence of the original 1990s Manicfesto, the erudite and agitative spirit that made the band such a welcome anomaly when they emerged from the south Wales town of Blackwood in a mess of mascara, fake leopard print and skintight white jeans.
Fast forward in Citizen Kane newsreel style: that audacious debut double album Generation Terrorists; the heart of darkness travelogues and Bangkok shocks of The Holy Bible, the disappearance of Richey Edwards, the majestic comeback Everything Must Go, the Kubrick future shock of ‘If You Tolerate This…’, the Castro years, the stately and melancholic Lifeblood.
The Manics have pendulum swung between icy, solipsistic minimalism and spray-painted Marxist maximalism over the last 15 years, but from their earliest incarnation, they always possessed an immediately recognisable aesthetic, one so conspicuously, um, Manic, that when this writer saw Children Of Men last year, I immediately associated it with the band, even though there was no explicit musical reference.
“I do think we stand for something, and I can’t always articulate that or explain it,” says bassist Nicky Wire, “but there’s a certain identification with Manic Street Preachers, like you said, with certain things that crop up in culture. And this album was about reconnecting with those things. I don’t think we’d turned into a shit band or anything, but I’d read a lot about Pete Townsend with Quadrophenia, how he felt up to that point he’d totally bamboozled himself and his fans with Tommy and stuff. Even though he loved it, he kind’ve forgot exactly why The Who formed in the first place, and Quadrophenia is probably their quintessential mod album. And there was a lot of serendipity with this album, a lot of things really clicked.”
It’s early Monday morning in the Morrison hotel by the Liffey, and Nicky and James are gearing up for a day of press even as they digest the data on airplay and sales for the new single ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’, a rousing pocket symphony featuring The Cardigans’ Nina Persson.
“I usually drive James insane with my worries when I turn into Josh Lyman from The West Wing, worrying about mid-weeks and numbers,” Nicky says, a tall, extravagant-haired character with an open face and ready laugh. James, by contrast, is about a foot shorter, tan and fit, looking for all the world like a demobbed GI back from a Pacific tour of duty.
Send Away The Tigers (the title is a phrase the comedian Tony Hancock used whenever he hit the sauce) was recorded last year with Dave Eringa in Cardiff and Co. Westmeath. It’s loud, anthemic, viseral, sometimes weighty, sometimes playful, and at 10 songs (plus a bristling cover of Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’) in 38 minutes, it doesn’t muck about. ‘Imperial Bodybags’ is rockabilly by Chomsky, ‘Rendition’ a denunciation of military and media newspeak halfway between pomp and punk, ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ a tune Oswald might have written for his missus, ‘Autumnsong’ an Aerosmith-ish big ballad by way of Welsh valley airs.