Twenty-five years, fifteen top ten singles, ten albums and, tragically, one guitarist down, Manic Street Preachers are still going strong. In an age of X-factor one hit wonders and a post-internet industry slump, this is no mean feat. Having just released their singles collection, aptly named National Treasures, they have cemented their status as one of Wales’ most successful and loved rock bands.
Originally a quartet with glam rock influences, songs such as ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ exuded a raw, androgynous quality, accompanied by videos full of evocative (read: naked) imagery and generally angsty vibes. Early records explored dark and devoted love, with lyrics such as “You love us like a holocaust”, and bassist Nicky Wire dragging as Marilyn Monroe. Whilst over time – and, it seems likely, as a result of Richey Edwards’ disappearance – their image softened into more ‘mainstream’ indie rock terrain, the band’s openly left-wing politics have remained a constant force driving their music.
If you tolerate this your children will be next is a tribute to Welsh volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, taking inspiration from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as well as those punk revolutionaries, The Clash (additionally holding the rather prestigious Guinness World Record for number one single with the longest title). They were also the first Western band to play in Cuba for over twenty years, in a 2001 concert for which tickets cost 17p and Fidel Castro gave them a standing ovation. You can’t get much more anti-commercial than that, but with countless awards and millions made in album sales, the Manics straddle the line between being a global success story and a bunch of hometown heroes.
Nicky Wire’s new project, Death of a Polaroid: A Manics Family Album, is further proof that the band have passions beyond the music. Whilst Wire scoffs at being labelled an artist – “I’m not a photographer. I’m a Polaroid freak…Nothing moves me more” – it’s an effective way of looking through the band’s past, of seeing how far they’ve come and perhaps, as a self-assessment, asking themselves what on earth they might do next. After a quarter of a century, this question is more than valid; not because the group is going stale, but because they’ve achieved far more than they set out to do – “One album, then we split”, according to Bradfield. In the wake of Edwards’ troubles with alcohol, anorexia and depression, and his subsequent disappearance, the Manic Street Preachers could have so easily decided to pack it in, refused to go on without their childhood friend in tow. Instead, they released Everything Must Go just over a year later, which has stood the test of time as an iconic Britpop album, chock-full of classic anthem and epic guitar sounds, with five songs co-written by Edwards before he was gone for good.
With a one-off show scheduled in December at the o2 arena, at which they say they will play all thirty-eight of their singles – and allegedly nothing planned for after that, – could this be the last of the Manics? If so, thanks for the journey guys, it’s been a real pleasure.