The New Testament

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It could be said that the Manic Street Preachers are a disparate bunch: with 'The Holy Bible' about to be released, Richey is in hospital, Sean is "not available", James is late and Nicky is in deep conversation with Chris Marlowe in a West London Hotel. Whatever they are, they're certainly not predictable...

It may be in West London, but the tiny hotel room feels like a Florida swamp. It's hot, it's sticky, and Nicky Wire has only a box of Ribena and a small bottle of Evian in his survival kit. Since he's not only the bassist in the famously controversial Manic Street Preachers but also trying to explain a new album called 'The Holy Bible', however, the weather could be the least of Nicky's concerns.

Toying with the juice's little straw, Nicky agrees the album title is provocative but entreats, "I don't know why we did it."

Maybe because it's fun to bait people?

"It's not really fun any more," Nicky answers, "that's why I don't know why we did it. This controversial tag thing - we don't particularly enjoy it any more. But something, like the vicious mole of nature that was in Hamlet to destroy everything, is in us. I can't say the album is anti-religion at all. It's just a rewriting of how we think everything's gone wrong, I suppose."

What the Manics observed around them seems to have inspired thoughts about freedom and power, particularly illustrated by the events of World War II.

"Last year we went to the death camps when we were touring Germany," Nicky recalls pensively. "We actually went to Dachau and Belsen, and then we went to the Hiroshima War Museum as well. 'Mausoleum' and 'Intense Humming Of Evil' were directly inspired by that, just saying what we saw and what we felt. It's amazing how quiet it is. 'Intense Humming Of Evil' - that's what it sounds like, because there's no actual noise at Belsen. There's no noise. Not even a grasshopper."

Less obvious issues also deal with those themes, however. Take the song 'PCP', for example, which addresses the concept of political correctness: "People should be allowed freedom," Nicky believes. "The thing that offends us about PC is that it doesn't really take into account the weak or the feeble; it's basically restrictive."

But surely the PC brigade say they exist in order to protect those who can't protect themselves?

"Yes, but so do fascists and communists, and they never do. They're all pretty much the same thing. A lot of people have got sort of warped minds about liberalism. They think liberalism means you can't say certain words - you can't describe a black person as a nigger or you can't describe a gay person as a faggot. I think it's interesting that Niggers With Attitude refer to themselves as niggers, that they'd have to be described as that because they'd been oppressed, you know? Enslaved for like 150 years, they got a definition. And to get rid of a word like that is quite dangerous, I think. It's Orwellian."

Nicky stops nervously mauling the long-empty Ribena box at the mention of Lenny Bruce, the '50s comedian with similar attitudes towards language.

"Exactly!" he exclaims. "The Dustin Hoffman film of the Lenny Bruce story was a big inspiration on that song. When he gets up and does that speech about 'every spic in here, every nigger...' it's just fantastic, because that's what gives a word its power and its violence - when you suppress it."

'4st. 7lbs.' also deals with personal freedom in an oblique way: "That's just a different way of looking at anorexia," Nicky says, folding out the little wings of his Ribena box and flattening it. A psychiatrist would have a field day with this displacement activity. It doesn't seem likely that anyone being this charming, witty and articulate could also be so nervous, but being in the Manics could probably make you go out and price flak jackets.

"I think some people see it as the ultimate form of vanity," he continues. "They don't find much sympathy towards people because all they're doing is starving themselves, whereas a lot of people in various countries can't even get food. But sometimes I think anorexia is people trying to take complete control of their bodies, so that there's no influence of society or state or consumerism."

Nicky then deadpans, "Plus we have to have a song about disease on every album. On the first album it was Aids, the last album was about Tourette's Syndrome, and this one is anorexia. I think Richey's suffered from them all."

No wonder this band gets misunderstood. There really should be some type of punctuation mark to indicate humour and irony if the Manics are going to be written about accurately. "That's completely true," Nicky laughs. "It is needed."

Getting back to the record, America is an easy target for anything to do with freedom. 'IfWhiteAmericaWasToTellTheTruth...' is not that obvious, however.

"I'm very confused about America," Nicky admits. "Sometimes I really feel like embracing it, but then sometimes I feel like throwing it back. Like Haiti at the moment. Sometimes I think they should invade and put Aristide back in power because he was democratically elected, but then I think it will end up like Vietnam. So that's what we're trying to express in that song.

"I know people are going to think 'Yank-bashing' straightaway," Nicky continues, " but I don't want it to be construed as that. I'm not part of this thing that thinks British music is the best and we should all stay in Britain and wave the Union Jack and then things will be great. It's just that people do bow down to American culture. Sometimes I think I've got to make myself like basketball and stuff like that, but I just can't."

The Manics' exploration of freedom and power takes some predictably unpredictable directions.

"'Yes', for example: we had just read this article about prostitutes in Nottingham and it was written around that," Nicky explains. "Prostitutes are derided by society as a very low form of human life, but most people do the same thing every day of their lives - they just don't do it in a sexual way. But in all honesty, the lyrics are about being in a band and prostituting yourself every day. It completely is. There's one line in there, 'There's not a part of my body that has not been used.' We feel like that really, being in a band - there's not much left with any purity."

Somebody buy this man some worry beads for Christmas. Nicky has now finished the Evian and is beginning to gently mangle the plastic bottle. Without looking up, he volunteers, "I wish we could be like Pearl Jam and say, 'Fuck it, we're not doing anything. No videos; maybe a Rolling Stone interview once a year.' But on one hand I don't think we should, because I think we should explain ourselves, and on the other hand we've got to anyway because we haven't sold 20 million albums like Pearl Jam."

Being willing to explain yourself is useful if you continually write lyrics which name-drop numerous cultural and political personages. It doesn't matter to Nicky that most listeners won't know who these icons are. "If you're a fan, maybe you'll go and buy a book," he suggests. "You'll see Pinter or Plath mentioned in there, and you might go and buy something because you didn't know who they were. Every song's got some sort of cultural 20th century reference point in it. If you've got a 15-year-old schoolkid, you can't expect them to know."

Nicky then concedes, "I have problems with some of them when they're Richey's! He's more educated than I am. And some of them, I must admit, are obscure. Like there's a line on '...WhiteAmerica...', 'Zapruder, the first to masturbate'? I didn't have a clue about that. Zapruder was the person who filmed the Kennedy's assassination. I don't think many British people would realise that."

It seems frightfully inconsiderate of Richey to be in hospital and leave his band-mates to explain all this. Nicky laughs, "I know! I'll have to get definitions from the boy!"

Since they accept that they're not going to be understood, it's difficult to figure out just what the Manics would like to achieve with 'The Holy Bible'. Nicky isn't sure himself.

"I just don't know," he says. "But it's the nearest thing we've ever done to some sort of artistic statement. We've nicked loads of samples and we've just made the record that we wanted to, which doesn't cater to anybody except ourselves. I suppose I just want people to take it seriously, but that sound so pretentious!"

The casual listener could also all too easily misinterpret the Manics' new camouflage look and the many Germanic references on this album.

"That would really annoy me," Nicky snaps. "Because fascists in general are the thickest people you could meet. They are really dull, dogmatic, boring cunts. Besides what they stand for, which is obviously just crap anyway."

The barked German military commands, some of the subjects and the clothes are surely asking for controversy, however. Nicky demurs but then allows, "I know what you're saying. But like I said, it's this mole of nature inside us which perhaps craves for it. I just don't know."

Musically speaking, 'The Holy Bible' is more poetic, self-confident and raw than their previous two albums yet still recognisably the Manic Street Preachers. Nicky says this was the intention.

"People always strive for originality, and it usually ends up being avant-garde and unreachable to ordinary people," he believes. "But I think originality also comes through a band's sound. Like the Clash. That's what we've always wanted to be - original in that no one else sounds like us, and we sound like no one else."

No band is born out of a vacuum, however, and Nicky happily acknowledges the influence of early PIL, Gang Of Four, Simple Minds, the Clash and especially Wire. "The chorus of 'Yes' is just like Wire's 'Outdoor Miner', " he points out. "James and Sean absolutely loved Wire when they were young."

Finally putting the Evian remains down next to the trashed Ribena box, Nicky laughs, "When I was young I used to like Whitesnake. How I got from that to here I just don't know."


And Where's Richey?

At the time of going to press, Richey James was in hospital suffering from what his spokesperson officially labelled "nervous exhaustion". The Manics are carrying on as a trio until their guitarist is sufficiently recovered. Nicky hesitantly explains, "He's pretty ill, really. It's just he isn't very well in body or mind. There's no use trying to deny it. His drugs/drink intake, self-mutilation, etc., it's just reached a peak. His problems have been well documented. I don't want to do any gigs without him. I hate it! But... I'd rather him get better, if you know what I mean."

Nicky struggles for the right words to convey his emotions, finally saying, "I'm pretty much the same sort of person as Richey, but basically I could never go the extra mile; I just couldn't suffer the pain. I do admire him in a certain way. I think he almost feels he needs to prove himself, in a historical sense. It's kind of an artistic thing."

Yukio Mishima, the controversial Japanese author who committed suicide as a premeditated, clearly defined artistic statement, is mentioned by way of elucidation. "He's very much in Richey's mode in terms of mutilation and depression," Nicky believes. "Strength and beauty through hate."

Almost paradoxically, Nicky then states, "You know, it's not pretty; it is quite serious. I do think that it's a disease. It's just not him, it's lots of people you see any day. I mean, a lot of people out there... A lot of our fans write to us in blood." He looks up, to ensure that he's being understood, then adds, "Yet most of the press are just going to see it as a 'Manics trying to hype album. There's nothing wrong with him really. Silly bugger - tell him to cheer up' type of thing. I wish we could!"

[Originally published: Metal Hammer, September 1994]

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