A land fit for heroes

The Manics new album finds them singing wistfully of womanhood and Wales. Rock, it seems, is coming home.

MANIC STREET PREACHERS

This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours

Epic

The fifth Manics album was produced in France and Wales by Mike Hedges and Dave Eringa. The album sleeve features the band on the beach at Portmeirion, Gwynedd, North Wales. This was also the setting for '60s drama series The Prisoner.

Around the time of 'Everything Must Go', the Manics were big on Le Corbusier’s maxim, "A house is a machine for living in"' In the meantime, it seems house and home have become even more than that. With 'This Is My Truth...' they appear to have turned inward to kitchen, hearth and the spaces that surround them. if there's any theme to the Manics' fifth album, it's home, homeland and Hoovering. A large part of this band's initial impulse was to dissolve their provincial origins in a cocktail of tattooed, mascara-splattered, big-riffed rock'n'roll archetypes. Their spiritual home was LA before Llanelli. 'This is My Truth...' is a return to the place that created them. less glam rock, more Glamorgan. less Keith Richards, more Richard Burton. A pointer is the choice of an RS Thomas poem for the sleeve. Not only is this Cardiff-born clergyman- poet a Welsh nationalist, but the selected work under- lines the current mindset of sole remaining Manics lyricist Nicky Wire. The poem's called Reflections and the opening line takes in the way internal dramas find their theatre in daily life: "The furies are at home / in the mirror; it is their address. 'The poem is also adapted into the lyrics of the album's third song, 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'.

Nicky Wire's own fascination with the Welsh nation state comes through most clearly on 'Ready For Drowning' - a gorgeous highwire act between melancholia and a call to arms that forms the album's linchpin. The lyric is a labyrinthine thing that takes in Richey's disappearance, the alcohol-fuelled demise of such Welsh figures as Dylan Thomas, plus the flooding of Welsh townships to create reservoirs to water the perfidious English. It amounts to a vast, stately meditation on the Manics' homeland - and one that bears testimony to the impact RS Thomas has had on the album. It seems a fair bet the song has some connection with Thomas' own lament for the dilution of the Welsh nation in his poem Drowning. Such homefire-friendly qualities also move through 'Tsunami' and 'My little Empire'. 'Tsunami' touches on the strange private world of the Welsh siblings known as The Silent Twins and ties it to spiralling sitar-esque instrumentation. 'Empire' is Nicky's Hoover fetish inflated into a looming existential abstraction and set to cello and guitars, somewhere between Nirvana Unplugged and Metallica in their occasional reflective moments. Add to this the socialist idealism of the 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Next' single and the way the album takes its title from Aneurin Bevan, brilliant Welsh labour Party orator and founder of the National Health Service, and you have a record that salutes the Manics' origins and belief system with a considered, subtle passion. The irony is that while 'This is My Truth...' radiates a kind of enlightened parochialism, Nicky is the band's only current Welsh resident. James has his London flat and Sean lives outside Bristol. Hardly hanging offences, but you could argue that this geographic separation mirrors the way this album finds the Manics with the least unified sense of purpose since 'Gold Against The Soul'. Certainly it's an album that lacks the consistency of 'Everything Must Go' - and that despite the way the first six songs hum with refined anthemicism. Alongside 'Ready For Drowning', 'The Everlasting' can sit alongside anything in their history. Which is appropriate, because it's about their history - a lovely hymnal gaze back to that time "in the beginning / when we were winning / when our smiles were genuine.' At moments like this, it's all you can do to ponder the weave of fate that produces a truly great band like this. Certainly James has never sung better, his voice embodying a sound now poised exquisitely between elemental force and bottomless poignancy. it's in the shadow of this that the second half of the album seems relatively slight. 'Tender And Tired', 'Be Natural' and 'Nobody loved You' are all rote latterday Manics, slightly less effective half-cousins to, say, 'The Girl Who Wanted To Be God'. 'Black Dog' ties Winston Churchill's private language for depression to an odd backdrop - a summery near relative to the one-time B-side 'Dead Passive'. it's with the closing 'SYMM' (standing for "South Yorkshire -Mass Murderer), however, that things run aground. Inspired by the Hillsborough disaster, it's clearly a lyric that Nicky hasn't approached casually. So much so that the song collapses under the weight of its subject: 'The ending for this song / well I haven't really thought of one / there's nothing 1 could ever say / that could really take the pain away.' Hardly Wire at his most eloquent, an effect accentuated by the oblique, insubstantial, jazzy tone of the music. 'Born A Girl'- Nicky's paean to the feminine set to organ and skeletal electric guitar - suggests 'This is My Truth...' could hardly be labelled the Manics' land Of My Fathers. But even without the traditional joys of patriarchy, this is terrain to get lost in. They may strike a new detached tone on this album of 'insecurity, self-destruction and serenity', but the Manics are still the most compelling group in the land. 4/5

ROY WILKINSON

Q&A

"I STILL CAN’T CONTROL THE RAGE"

Nicky Wire on his motivation and why Paraguay should have won the World Cup

Five albums down the line, is this still what you want to do most?

"Sometimes my 29-year-old body is not meant to be doing this, but I still can’t control the rage I was born with. So, 90 per cent of the time it is still what I really want to do."

George Orwell’s Homage To Catatonia clearly had an effect on ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’. What other writers had an influence on the album?

"The poetry of RS Thomas has just had a massive effect on the lyrics, as has the life and times of Howard Hughes."

"Sport is war without the shooting," George Orwell. An accurate view?

"For me sport should be war minus the shooting. Without competitiveness sport is worthless. Every time Linford Christie went on the track he went to beat the opposition to a pulp. That’s why he is one of my heroes. It was a sweet victory when he beat John McVicar in his libel case."

Did you enjoy the World Cup?

"I was the worst World Cup I can remember. No stars, no mystery, no outstanding team. I loved Suker of Croatia for his arrogance and I had a laugh at Paul Scholes for his diving. My favourite team for spirit and skill in adversity was Paraguay."

The first five songs on the album are pretty anthemic. Then the record becomes a lot more introspective. Was that a conscious design?

"The only real design for the record was to create a sense of beauty and purity. People always say some of our songs have an anthemic quality but to us it’s just about having a chorus. The general theme to the album is insecurity, self-destruction, serenity and also the idea that my normality is extremely scary to most people. As Ghandi said, "If you are in a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.’"

You mention Patagonia in ‘Ready For Drowning’ – presumably a reference to the Welsh emigration t that country that occurred in the 19th Century…

"To me, Patagonia was simply a symbol of the Welsh psyche. Most people who emigrated went to so-called paradises but the Welsh people chose a place where it was really hard to survive."

TV dramatist Jimmy McGovern is mentioned on ‘SYMM’. Are you any nearer to writing a television script yourself?

"Jimmy McGovern was a massive influence on ‘SYMM’, particularly the Cracker episode with Robert Carlyle. The line "It’s still unfashionable to believe in principles" is a reference to McGovern’s ability to be principled as well as dramatically intense. As for my own ambitions, my brother Patrick is taking over that role. His first play goes into production next March."