This feature appeared in Rock Feedback.Com, July 2007
"I can't even begin to imagine what a Richey James lyric would be like now" confesses a rather startled singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield. "I think he would alienate everybody in the world! I do miss that element sometimes."
Twenty-one years into a career that has seen incredible highs (platinum album sales, stadium filling concert tours), controversy aplenty (provocative haberdashery, unashamedly leftist politics, stinging oratory in the UK rock press and radio) along with inconceivable lows (the self-mutilation and mysterious disappearance of founding guitarist/lyricist Richey James in 1995) Wales' mighty Manic Street Preachers are back to what they consider to be the "basics" on their eighth studio release Send Away The Tigers.
"Nick (Wire, bassist /lyricist) and Richey believed in a lot of the rhetoric they came up with" recalls Bradfield with a wisp of sentimentality. "I didn't buy into some of it. For example, they wanted to be the Sex Pistols - make one great album - burn brightly, then fade away. I always had my eye on 'plan B, which was longevity over legacy. After all, I was playing in a band I loved and I wanted to keep playing with the guys."
With drummer Sean Moore, the self -proclaimed "generation terrorists" now sound comfortable in their own skin, though by no means complacent. Writing sessions for Send Away The Tigers commenced in late 2005. With Dave Eringa once again behind the boards, recording sessions stretched from March to November 2006 in Cardiff and Ireland before the tapes were sent to Chris Lord-Alge to mix in all its sonic glory in California. Named after a common phrase used by comedian Tony Hancock whenever he started drinking, Tigers emerges as a complete statement as opposed to a collection of songs. This redeeming characteristic is not lost on Bradfield, who sees the long-player format as an endangered species.
"There can be something very symbolic about an album" notes Bradfield. "It can sum up a time and a place and a mood. It's a scary thought to realize that the album, which is the benchmark by which you judge a band, will soon disappear. It's like losing a novel and being left with only short stories. Whenever I've connected with people, the one way I managed to define a person was by their favorite album. That's why we have certain acts which we call 'one hit wonder' because they're just defined by one song. An album is integral to a band's identity, if they want an identity."
Tigers succeeds at recapturing the Manics' initial spark, according to Bradfield, thanks to his and Wire’s recent solo albums (The Great Western and I Killed The Zeitgeist respectively) which were nothing less than cathartic. "It's like a bit of self-help therapy," he laughs, "which is really kind of strange because I don't like getting into psycho-babble at all. But those records we made apart from the band did 'de-clutter' our minds. And it helped us become more focused on the past and allowed us to re-frame our future." The band had also re-examined the youthful idealism of their earlier masterstroke Generation Terrorists plus their two biggest inspirations, the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
Fittingly, another idol crops up on a hidden track: John Lennon. During the recording of his solo album Wire submerged himself in Lennon's fiery, self-confessional Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970). Rendering a forceful remake of one of the fallen ex-Beatle's most notorious social commentaries –“Working Class Hero” was a natural extension of the Manics' own history. "When we grew up in the 1980s we lived in a period of great turmoil in terms of domestic politics. Our domestic situation was black and white. There was Labour and Conservative. And in our eyes, back in the working class values of Wales, we saw this woman named Margaret Thatcher systematically destroying everything we stood for."
And of interpreting Lennon's initial vitriol for a new generation, Bradfield illuminates, "well, in a bittersweet ironic way we grew up in a glorious period where you defined yourself by what you were angry at. Now it's much more of an international stage in politics. That's harder to write about, say the war in Iraq or democracy verses democracy."
Yet Bradfield feels that the Manics can succeed where even their heroes have failed. "The two greatest albums from the Clash are the first one and London Calling. But when they wrote Sandinista! which I love incidentally, they tried to detail internationalist politics and they missed the target. It's much easier to write about what's going on your own doorstep than to write about things on the international stage."
On a more tempered note, we're warned not to miss Bradfield's duet with The Cardigans' sultry Nina Persson (pictured with the band above) on the album's first single “Your Love Alone” which Wire describes as "Keith Moon drums... Pete Townshend power chords... and sonically similar to Hole's ‘Celebrity Skin!"