When the Manic Street Preachers left the Olympia stage in June last year, James Dean Bradfield uttering an elegiac oath about not letting the past diminish the present and the giant backdrop of Jenny Saville’s tormented child’s eyes staring back at us, it seemed clear that the sheer emotional weight of the Journal For Plague Lovers album had taken its toll on the band. So much so that some doubted we’d hear anything from them again. State was surprised then to hear rumblings of a new project early this year and even more so to receive the end product so soon. The terse wail of frustration has given way to the reflective, almost nostalgic but still angst-ridden afterglow of Postcards From A Young Man.
It’s a booming giant of an album that attempts to corral all the Manics loves into one triumphant aural Blitzkrieg. Chunks of George Harrison-type melody jostle up against JG Ballard quotes, while the pomp and ceremony of Queen is used to grind out a climactic, frustrated battle cry. Postcards is unapologetically radio-friendly but still retaining the Manics’ black humour and long-established ideals. It’s the Manics on a mission once again but this time, as Nicky Wire puts it with all the dramatic gusto of a well-seasoned spin doctor, it’s “one last shot at mass communication”.
Wire closes his eyes, hidden behind giant Liz Taylor shades, and winces, attempting to adjust his lanky frame into some kind of comfortable position. He reflects about the past year and a half and the effect it had on the band. “The fact that I didn’t write any lyrics at all for Journal obviously meant that I could stockpile a lot of words and quite a few tunes which made it onto the record. So it just felt like this album was the logical successor to Send Away The Tigers and Journal For Plague Lovers was a kind of fantastical backing band to the genius of Richey’s words.
“It almost felt like a complete side step doing Journal. Playing it was, you know, heavy! I think at the end of that tour we did feel we’ve done enough now and it just digs an emotional grave. Making it you felt like Richey’s back in the room, everything’s sym-metrical and wonderful, but playing it (live) made you realise he wasn’t there anymore.”
These draining difficulties focused the band to create something musically euphoric, rich and ultimately inclusive. In the spirit of this unifying experience it not only features Sean’s trumpet playing and Nicky’s singing but also a host of collaborators including Duff McKagan, Ian McCulloch, John Cale and a gospel choir. Was this musical jamboree intentional or organic?
“It was intentional,” affirms Wire. “The idea of (mass appeal), rather than appealing to a certain part of our fanbase like Journal did – you know, even back to Generation Terrorists all we ever talked about was reaching as many people as possible. We were always fascinated with the joy of the band and being in a band. There are musical touchstones on the album that are totally burned into us from our youth so it’s kind of a celebration of the band being a band: version two”.
Fans of the strange collaboration, the Manics have done their fair share of duets over the years. Most recently, they almost scored their third number one with the help of Nina Persson on ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’, and the guest roster on this album reads like a private wish list. James makes clear that though they had a private audience with the sometime heroes of their bedroom days, there was no niggling apprehension.
“There wasn’t really any, no. With, Duff we sent the tape to him in LA, he booked a studio, and we trusted him to do the right thing. When you’ve got one of the best rock bass-ists on your record you just know it’s going to be good. We picked the right song for him and he’s just cool. He said (adopts a dodgy surfer-dude accent) ‘Hey man, I’m gonna bring my bass along from Appetite For Destruction today’. He was just so L.A., but in a good way! Whereas with Ian McCulloch, my voice can be a bit histrionic at times, and it needs someone to pin down the truth in the song.”
When it’s suggested that James sounds like Nancy Sinatra to Ian’s Lee Hazelwood there’s ferocious head nodding from Nicky and a throaty laugh of acknowledgement from James. “Well maybe! Maybe Frank and Nancy, there’s an element of that, we did kind of say that. Anyway, I don’t think there was any nervousness; I think we were just made up when he said yes. When you get to the point when your utter idols are on your record it blanks away any cynicism you might have.”
With the mere mention of cynicism, something that the Manics are renowned for along with copious amounts of eyeliner, Nicky’s ears prick up. “We’ve dealt in a lot of cynicism over the years and we naturally left it behind on this album. The string players were local, the gospel choir was local, and it did feel like if we’re gonna go out, let’s just go out on our own terms. Let’s take all the responsibility ourselves.”