The most controversial rock 'n' roll band in the UK, the Manic Street Preachers released their bitter, twisted and brilliant new album 'The Holy Bible' amid stories of suicide bids and sordid sex! Paul Rees roots out the truth!
The Manic Street Preachers arrived as androgynous Generation Terrorists. Pouting their way through all the hollow slogans they could dream up, the Manics said and did all the stupid things young Rock bands were always supposed to say and do.
They promised they'd quit after one record. Their guitarist Richey James, who looked pretty and couldn't play, carved '4 REAL' into his bony little arm with a razor blade.
"You Love Us", they shouted. And for a while they were right. Everybody wanted a piece of the Manics. Then it all went wrong.
The Manics didn't go away. They wiped off the cheap mascara and grew up on 'Gold Against The Soul'. They joined the empty pretty boy enemy by playing with Bon Jovi.
The very trash culture they fed off has started to pick them apart. The hack vultures are circling.
First it was revealed that Richey James had a hand job off a prostitute in Bangkok. Then it was rumoured that he had attempted suicide. Now Richey is receiving psychiatric treatment. He and the Manics are reportedly teetering on the verge of extinction.
Typically, the Manics have responded with a bitter, twisted, angry and self-pitying album called 'The Holy Bible'. A despairing and unforgiving catalogue of protest and misery, it's the first thing they've done that deserves to be called great.
But no matter how much raw pain and power the Manics have dredged up through 13 howling, open-wound songs, the shit-storm surrounding their ugly recent past and their uncertain future refuses to clear.
* * * * * * * * * *
"I can't believe how tabloid-esque the music press has been," groans Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield. "This week they said I was f**king leaving the band! The week before they were saying there was tension in the band. Then it was suicide.
"I don't mind a bit of sensationalism, but only if there's some truth there as well. There don't actually seem to be any ethics left in journalism."
But having played with the media since you started, you must have known that it was neither decent nor ethical. Surely you should have expected a backlash?
"No, I've never expected a journalist to be completely irresponsible," he snaps. "We've always been a moralistic band really, even though we have been quite manipulative.
"I think the press are breaking a basic code of decency by using the words 'suicide' and 'tension' at the mere sight of a bit of trauma within the band. For Richey, couldn't that make things much worse?
"We've suffered a lot at the hands of the press. We've been completely ridiculed, but we've never complained about the freedom of a journalist to rip the shit out of us in print if he wants to."
Others have complained. The head of the Manics' record company threatened to sue the journalist who accompanied the band to Bangkok if she wrote about Richey and the prostitute.
"He was paranoid about his corporate identity," snorts Bradfield. "He didn't want to get caught up in any of the seediness. F**king hell, no matter what a journalist says, we would never try and censor them. We always try and accept everything with good grace."
It is, of course, profoundly ridiculous that one wank from a prostitute can cause so much indignation in a country where seven million people devour Page Three over breakfast.
"It's really hard to believe that people would be shocked by it," Bradfield nods. "Because they've got a mate who would do exactly the same thing, or they'd do it themselves. It's just human nature."
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The Manics have always gone out of their way to shock. "Yeah, I think we probably have done," grins bassist Nicky Wire. "Me and Richey always think that we've gotta be more interesting onstage, cos we can't say a lot with our instruments. We're not Eric Clapton!
"I know that Richey would say that's why he's cut himself onstage - to feel justified in what he's doing. It's like when I wear a dress. It's sort of playing up to things.
"Basically, being in a band for me is not about making friends, it's more about making enemies. I don't know why that is, but it's always been the way I've felt. I like to keep my bitterness.
"See, if you make the effort to meet a lot of bands, then in all honesty most of them are all right. That's why I refuse to do that, because most bands still write shit music and lyrics! I want to be objective about it."
In December of 1992, Wire told the Kilburn National Ballroom that he hoped REM's Michael Stipe would "go the same way as Freddie Mercury". Even after the tabloid frenzy that has surrounded Richey James' deteriorating health, Wire refuses to think twice about the remark.
"I never wanna hold back from making those impulsive statements," he shrugs. "If we're not impulsive, and we don't realise that we're fallible, we may as well just be the sort of boring band that are in Q.
"I want to be ostracised by certain parts of the community, because I detest what they stand for. I don't detest REM or Michael Stipe, I was just trying to put across the point that there are so many diseases in the world. Everything gets misconstrued when you're onstage!"
The Michael Stipe aftermath?
"It wasn't a homophobic statement," adds Bradfield, "although I can understand people getting annoyed with it."
People were also more than a little annoyed when Bradfield recently appeared wearing a military-style balaclava on 'Top Of The Pops'. The record number of protest calls the programme received all whined on about pro-IRA propaganda.
Another strategically planned operation in the art of pissing people off?
"It was more of a subconscious thing, but I'm sure that's also true," Wire responds. "I asked James to put it on for a photo session, and when 'Top Of The Pops' came along it just seemed the right thing to do. We were supposed to be on there again the other week, but we were 'overlooked', shall we say."
"It wasn't meant as a pro-IRA statement," Bradfield continues. "A balaclava is synonymous with all urban terrorists movements, you know?
"The more I go out, the more I realise I've got to accommodate other people's beliefs to a scary degree. I just hardly agree with anybody else. I mean, even though me and Nick have known each other since the year dot, it's always entertaining for us to annoy each other in a good-natured way.
"They're just words. Other people don't seem to be as thick-skinned as us; they just get annoyed so easily."
* * * * * * * * * *
The four quiet, withdrawn, intelligent young men who have somehow managed to upset so many so often are actually highly unlikely to eat your babies or plant bombs in your garage.
Nicky Wire is happily married and likes gardening. Drummer Sean Moore is perfectly and comfortably anonymous. And Richey James is currently in more danger of hurting himself than anyone else.
Only Bradfield makes any attempt to indulge in the rock 'n' roll shagstyle.
"I like a good f**king drink, and now and then a little bit of a laugh with the girls!" he smiles. "Nick has got something to focus on in life, which I completely admire and perhaps I'm jealous of, but in the meantime I'm just going to enjoy myself.
"We've always been completely different as people. None of us have ever been replicants. That's why we were all friends in the first place, because we realised that we all had massive fault lines in our personalities and we made up for each other's sad inadequacies."
What are your sad little inadequacies?
"At the moment, a reactionary attitude towards relationships. I'm not a chauvinist, but I probably hide my insecurities about women by having too many one-night stands. I think that's pretty sad. I also get pissed too much..."
* * * * * * * * * *
Sad, inadequate, funny, foolish and completely free from rhyme or reason, only the Manic Street Preachers could call an album "The Holy Bible".
Wire wants to conquer America with it. Bradfield still has a burning desire to be "absolutely massive". But right now, there are more important things to consider.
Wire: "Keeping the band together! Keeping Richey alive!"
No one knows for sure just yet whether Richey will return or if the Manics will survive. If he does and they do, then what?
"I dunno. I just hope people realise we've made something quite original with this record," Wire considers. "A lot of people think originality has to be pretentious or avant garde, but it can also come from a band having its own sound. And this might be the first time we've defined our own sound. I'm quite happy about that, although I may not seem it."
"The moral outrage is fair enough, but I wouldn't like it to be the pivotal thing around which everything turns," Bradfield concludes. "I hope that it passes off into something a little bit more level-headed.
"I'd like people to feel ashamed for being so easily aroused. In the end, we're only a f**king poxy little Rock band!"
⋅ 'The Holy Bible' is currently at Number 1 in the Metal chart, and Number 6 in the UK national album chart. Manic Street Preachers tour the UK in October.
[Originally published: Kerrang!, September 1994]