Manic Street Preachers
A Vintage Era

December 2014
Feature: Steve Bateman

"I never heard the melody, until I needed the song" once proposed Tom Waits with raspy, gravel-husked intonation. Which in terms of MSP's own creative impulses, is also echoed in Nicky Wire's recent admission: "We are always driven to make a particular type of record, which stems from our absolute obsession and desire for music and lyrics. We wouldn't do it if we still weren't totally convinced of the romantic notion of music transporting us into a better place as human beings. Music has made us much better people than we ever could have been." Even going as far as to aver (in reference to past glories) that he habitually worries about the pressures of maintaining the Manic Street Preachers' exacting high standards, constantly analysing and dissecting the band's every step.

His faith in their abilities, intentions and motives, must surely have been reassured and strengthened when their versatile eleventh and twelfth studio LPs, Rewind The Film and Futurology – both issued within the space of a year and offering up frissons of exhilaration tempered with shadows of the mind - were greeted with widespread critical adoration upon their release, earning monumental reviews across the board. Certification, if any was needed, that having outlived countless acts in an ever-changing music scene, that the Manics remain endlessly enthralling, that their stock keeps rising and how they're musical paragons sitting comfortably at rock's top table – a true band apart!

And for those of you who also take a keen interest in the technical side of the group's record making process, you may have noted from the sleeve credits, that the three-piece's long-term engineer and sometime producer, Loz Williams, was promoted to the 'Producer's Chair' on a full-time basis at MSP's Cardiff HQ, Faster Studios, for the recording of most of the songs on each album, with Alex Silva producing selected tracks at Berlin's Hansa Studios. Proving to be perfect unions, both Loz and Alex aided the band in laying down the inward, confessional, tranquil and acoustic folk-based nature of Rewind The Film, as well as the more forward-looking, optimistic, mercurial, post-punk and electronic elements of Futurology (which also has Germanic Krautrock leanings and key themes of motion, travel and progress). With the group even commenting in some interviews, how they listened to an acetate of unfinished versions of all the Rewind The Film and Futurology songs combined together, with the view of perhaps issuing a double LP, but eventually deciding that stylistically, a pair of separate companion-piece long players was ultimately the way to go – using any cutting-room floor leftovers as b-sides and Deluxe Edition bonus tracks.

With these records then – for many music critics and fans alike – they rank extremely highly amongst the Manic Street Preachers' greatest work and are viewed as some of their most audacious, inventive, fresh, vital and cohesive / complete albums to date. As they see the group trying out new styles of music, composing and collaborating, by experimenting with different instrumentation / studio methodology and featuring numerous thoughtfully-picked guest vocalists. And by doing so, each record in its own right, confounds expectations and is home to an embarrassment of riches – from the modern classics to the chutzpah agit-pop to the outré curveballs. Substantiating just how integral each member now is to the Manics' expertly-crafted sound and artistry, with James, Nicky and Sean all poring over every minute detail with forensic precision and long since combining the once separate 'musical wing' and 'lyrical wing' together.

Yet crucially, and befitting JDB's logic that "all good music comes from great lyrics", never losing sight of the importance of their emotionally concentrated, morally-rooted, empathetic, malcontent, excoriating and compassionate topical influences. Which, by feeding into lyrics that have clarity of thought and cri du coeur, disseminate information, are packed with references / aphorisms and can exhort listeners to assimilate new ideas and form new habits of perception. In turn, evincing righteous anger with inner-turmoil and asserting how the dissident, dejected and disaffected group, remain a fly-in-the-ointment and are "still the enemies of greed, conformity and corruption" as the NME succinctly put it. One of the publications in which every word from every song on their seething, antipathetic, accusatory, solemn, defiled, profane and misanthropic 'Monument To Misery', The Holy Bible (which MSP are commemorating the 20th Anniversary of with a limited edition box set reissue and a very special run of unique live shows), was printed as a double-page advertisement in 1994.

With the band mindfully continuing to chronicle the human condition and being a voice for the voiceless, by picking apart the fabric of civilisation through socio-political discourse, and in doing so, consistently targeting the guilty, the apathetic and the desensitised, by reinforcing the notion that 'Knowledge Is Power' all through the medium of song. But with the three-piece soon planning to take a break for a few years and hoping to write the original score / soundtrack for a Kieran Evans film during their time off (although a possible American THB Tour is on the cards as well as a Cardiff Castle and Midlands date in the New Year). 2013 to 2014 should rightly be remembered as a hugely productive period for James, Nicky and Sean. As in their restless search for reinvention / artistic growth and by successfully continuing to pursue their protean working practices for each successive LP, they had the space and freedom musically to do exactly what they wanted, and to once again, re-imagine their sound and successfully become "different versions" of themselves.

But for now, and following reports of triumphant rehearsals after their initial reservations about booking these gigs. With an album that shall confront both band and audience with its merciless revulsion, loathing, rancour, defiance, bile and ire, let's all look forward to their seminal masterwork, The Holy Bible, being played live in full for the very first time ever – what truly magical and memorable nights they are set to be! For MSP, this has undoubtedly been a vintage era.

"The lines are joined by finding one another."

- Aleksander Rodchenko