Cop this... "The most important thing we can do is get massive and throw it all away. We only wanna make one album, one double album, 30 songs and that'll be our statement, then we'll split up. It's all we wanna do, it's what we've aimed for all our lives. There's no glory in being top of the indie charts, there's no glory in being Top 30. You've gotta be Number One. We just wanna be the most important reference point of the Nineties. That's all." That's all? Shit, what can you say about that? It's perfect, really. Four 21-year-olds from Gwent have reduced us to shocked, appalled silence. Who the fuck do they think they are? Well, actually they think they're the world's greatest rock'n'roll band, and during the next half-hour they'll do it again and again - shock and appal us. Their tongues lubricated by Beck's, they'll motor- mouth their way through the last 25 years of rock, slating, slagging and ridiculing everyone dead or alive.
At the same time, and with equally pathological vehemence, they'll set themselves impossible tasks, make absurd promises and burn bridges like there's no tomorrow. It's that old live fast, die young thing, right? Well, yeah, except with most rock'n'roll bands, the die young bit wasn't part of the plan. if it happened at all (and it should've happened more often), it was just a lucky accident, an unscheduled, immortalising twist in the plot. With Manic Street Preachers, it was always part of the game-plan.
Two years ago, James Dean Bradfield, their vocalist and lead guitarist, got together with his mate, Richey Edwards, their rhythm guitarist. And Richey got hold of Nicky Wire, their bassist, who introduced them to Sean Moore, their drummer. The four of them would go to James' house to rehearse. James' dad was an inspiration. He'd be lying unconscious in the next room, shagged out "after a long day's surviving". If he went out at all, it'd be to the pub with his mates. James' dad was a walking, talking, breathing example of what the boys never wanted to be. He wasn't alive. In the great rock'n'roll tradition, the boys wanted out. No, they wanted more, they wanted up, up and away. So they did a whole lot of sulphate and settled on a stunningly simple idea. They would become - no doubts - the Nineties' brightest stars.
For a little over a year, they'd blind us with their brilliance and then - bang, CATASTROPHE! - the stars would implode and all we'd be left with would be the sacred memory of brief but dazzling perfection. Documentary evidence of this megalomaniacal ambition came in a letter we received just over a year ago. In it, the boys bemoaned the lack of 'hero- in-tainted rock'n'roll", prayed for violence and alienation, mentioned revolution in Romania, claimed that all they knew was "destruction, sex and heroin" and ended with the only promise they were sure to keep - "drugs supplied". We decided to take them up on their offer but, in the great rock'n'roll tradition, they couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to answer our phone calls. Probably by then they'd also discovered we were both over 25. From the Street Preachers' point of view, we were not alive.
We forgot about them, they forgot about us.
Until last week when they released "Motown Junk" on the Heavenly label. To our ears, anyway, it's a curiously muted debut for a band committed to world domination. There's lots of rattled treble-high guitar and a positive surfeit of punky lyrics, delivered with only reasonably convincing defiance. In fact, the only indication it belongs to any year post-1978 is the Public Enemy sample that kicks it off ('REVOLUTION! REVOLUTION!') and the sort of hi-tech production that makes grit sound grittier and raw power sound, well, more raw and powerful.
It's not bad. It's just that, being over 25, we both had the benefit of seeing The Clash and, though Manic Street Preachers do The Clash rather well, we wonder if doing The Clash at all is strictly necessary.
They laugh, tell us they were nine years old in 1978, tell us The Clash are just history, just another reference point. And it's true. It shouldn't matter. Post-modernism says it doesn't matter. So we read them back their letter, hoping the past will embarrass them or at least faze them a bit. It doesn't.
Nicky, who typed it in the first place, remains unabashed. "We just think that if you're gonna be a really massive band, you're bound to get really fucked up. All the best bands get really fucked up. And all the bands we were getting fed at the time were really happy with their careers, they just wanted to be around forever. 'All the bands that were making a big issue out of drugs didn't interest us. We were only interested if they got fucked up and died. But they didn't, and you knew they just weren't going to. We're not saying there's anything glamorous in getting fucked up, we're not saying there's anything glamorous in being dead, but there's nothing glamorous in having a 20- year career in rock either. That's even more sick." What a whirlwind of contradictions. So do they take drugs or not? No, that's not really the question. Do they love drugs? Taking's not enough. You have to truly love something for it to fuck you up.
"It's not a question of loving drugs," explains Nicky. "it's just that, in the provinces, it's part of everybody's life. We take speed or whatever we can get our hands in, but it's just because if you're lying on your bed doing nothing you need something to stop you doing that." Jimmy Dean speaks. What an unbelievable name. Unbelievable, but true.
"We don't wanna fuck up our brains. We've gotta do gigs and then drive 200 miles back to Wales every night. We do it all ourselves, we haven't got anyone to load our gear or anything. There's too much to think about. We take all our glamour and energy out onstage. That's why it's important for us not to look like every other band does today." Hey, that is true, Manic Street Preachers don't look like any other band around today. They just look like an awful lot of bands that were around yesterday. There's Nicky and Richey in their Paul Simonon/Mick Jones DIY tops - you know, aggressive leftist slogans stencilled on brightly coloured shirts, photos of cultural icons (Marilyn, Marx) pinned to chest and sleeves. There's also a couple of rather neat adaptations of the lzzy Stradiin hairdo, in itself a rather neat adaptation of the Keith Richards hairdo. There's the tight, white strides, again stencilled, again Clash circa '78. There's a Small Faces bob, modelled by Sean. And, on a more contemporary note, there's Jimrny's modsquaddie short back and sides and modsquaddie roundneck top - de rigueur for the man most likely to succeed. The Manics look, in fact, like a pleasing composite of those 25 years of rock'n'roll haute couture.
So what's the big idea? So many big ideas. "We've tried to take from Pete Townshend onwards," says Nicky, "just tried to take from the most glamorous." "Also," adds Richey, "in the last couple of years, we've just got pissed off with seeing so much ugliness about. Everybody knows life is ugly, but it seems to me that all the bands around today want to do is reflect it." Whooah there, hold up! Here's a band who'd have us believe that "We (Are All) Her Majesty's Prisoners". That's the B-side to their single, for fuck's sake. Hardly the rosiest view of Blighty we've heard in the last 25 years. Ugly, in fact. 'That's definitely true," says Richey. "We do reflect ugliness but. . ." And Nicky sums it up in two words: 'Public Enemy.' And we suppose that's a very good point. Urban guerrillas are indisputably more glamorous than the lumpen proletariat they're fighting to liberate. Urban guerrillas wield Sten-guns in Knightsbridge, plant A-bornbs in Wardour Street, welcome all to the Terrordome. Urban guerrillas are sexy and chic, or at least they are compared to a proletariat content to sit on their arses sniffing glue, drinking lager and hoping at best for thrills 'n' pills and bellyaches.
The way Manic Street Preachers see it, pop today is a straight choice between Del Boy and Che Guevara. Now Britain today may well be populated by Dels and Arfurs, aspiring cheats and bad liars. The Mondays, Northside and Flowered Up have probaliy got it right.
But, as a friend of ours 15 ever-keen to remind us, pop has little if anything to do with getting it right, telling the truth. It's about grand delusions, utopias and dystopias. Reality can go fuck itself, it's always been good at that anyway. Che Guevara takes it. Hands down.
"Public Enemy look brilliant," continues Nicky. "They sound brilliant-they sing about brilliant things."
"Bands like Northside," says Richey, looking disgusted, "the way they look is useless. They say they reflect their own culture and background, but that's goring. Where we come from, people come home rrom work in their dirty, filthy overalls and they just Wanna dress up. Also, Northside and the rest are so traditionally male. You know, "Ere 1 am, I'm a man, 1ey up, lad, drink Boddingtons.' Every day is a total Dain, it's so boring, so degrading. How are we supposed to look up to that kind of thing?"
"See," says Jimmy, "we know what rock'n'roll could be. That's why so many people are repulsed by is, because we're a modern interpretation of rock 'n'roll. They think we wanna be The Clash or the stones, but we don't. We see their good points but that's it. We really are the most modern, glamorous, rock'n'roll band today."
Hmm. Manic Street Preachers do know what rock'n'roll could be. Maybe they just don't know what it ought to be. Reading the music papers, it'd be reasonable to assume that people are sick of the stratosphere. Maybe after 25 years of kissing the sky, people want a decent dose of anti-glamour, anti- charisma, a bit of godforsaken reality.
lt'd certainly help to explain why the Mondays are on the cover of every music paper every other week.
"But it's bollocks," says Richey. "The music papers are supposedly a barometer of culture, they're the ones holding up these bands and telling us it's a good thing. But it's Iron Maiden and Queen that've gone in at Number One in consecutive weeks, and that makes a total mockery of what you're saying. The Stone Roses didn't go in at Number One with 'One Love'. Everyone said they were going to, but they didn't because people didn't give a toss.'
"The Mondays are slightly different," says Nicky. "What I've got against them is that they're too old and they're stuck in a working-class cul-de-sac. They don't offer any hope. Happy Mondays may have excessive habits, but people do the same thing on a smaller scale every day. Also they haven't sold a million records, they've been trying to break America for a year. Basically, they're just an indie band. If something better had come after all that nihilism it would've been worth it, but what has come after? The Charlatans, and they're even fucking worse."
But what about pop for pop's sake ~ a decent tune and something to dance to? Nicky shakes his head and closes his eyes in long-suffering exasperation.
'But this perfect pop, this 12-string Byrds jangle with a dance beat, is not perfect, because ordinary people hate it. It doesn't sell any records. Prirnal Screarn go in at Number 24 and then drop out the next week. It just proves how worthless they are.
"There's so much self-indulgence, there's even supergroups like in the Seventies. Bands like Electronic are just fat, bloated, hideous bastards who deserve shooting. It's a massive rich-boy wank.
"That picture of Johnny Marr trying to do a windmill on his Gibson when he's one-foot-tall and weighs 50 stones, it's pathetic. It's as bad as ELP."
So let's just recap. The Mondays are an ageing, boorish, boring indie band who can't sell a record. The Charlatans and Primal Scream are pathetic. Johnny Marr's a fat, rich, pompous dawrf. Electronic are a rich-boy wank, Northside are useless yobs and the Stud Borhters are a couple of jaded, reactionary old farts. Is nothing sacred? Isn't there anyone out there who's doing it right other than Public Enemy and, course, the Manics? "Guns N'Roses," sighs Nicky. 'Public Enemy and Guns N' Roses.'
Guns N'fucking Roses? Where the bloody hell do they fit in?
"Because they're a massive, dramatic, glamorous band who appeal to loads of people. Guns N'Roses have sold 16 million albums and The Stone Roses haven't even sold one million. Bands shouldn't be held up as important if they haven't sold records."
Rick Astley's sold 10 million records, Tom Jones 35 million. Cliff Richard, God knows how many he's sold. Does that make any of those people good?
"It makes them better pop than The fucking Charlatans, " retorts Nicky with admirable consistency. We don't think he means it, we just think he's being admirably consistent. Also, while we're at it, we haven't actually seen people failing over themselves to get hold of a copy of 'Motown Junk'. Manic Street Preachers have one single out on a very small (if extremely hip.) indie label and they're still playing places like The Joiners Arms in Southampton - exactly the sort of pisspoor shitholes they laugh at other bands for playing.
"Exactly," says Nicky, still on the consistency trip.
So the Manics are failures. "We are complete failures," says Richey."We hate being where we are." "if we're still at this point a year from now, we'll stop," says Sean. "We'll split." "The point,' says James fucking Dean, "is one album, one double album that goes to Number One worldwide. It has to be that way. One album, then we split. If it doesn't work, we split anyway. Either way, after one album, we're finished."
Insane, isn't it? The Manic Street Preachers shoot straight from the hip, straight from the lip, straight from the heart. This is total emotion, passion distilled. Lofty, snobbish, offensive, infuriating. In fact, all that rock'n'roll should be. Now, if they made a record to back it up, that really would be something. Then we could all fuck off and die.