Donnacha DeLong spoke to James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers about their increasing popularity, critical disdain and the problems they face in the future.
Three years ago, the Manic Street Preachers sang "Everything must go". Well, everything has gone. In the fast-moving world of music, Richey Manic is a distant memory, with only a few tabloid articles about impossible transcontinental sightings to remind us. He's gone from the music as well, their recent album, "This is my truth tell me yours", is their first not to feature any of Richey's compositions. To his former band-mate, James Dean Bradfield, Richey's disappearance has become a private chapter in the Manics' history.
After Richey disappeared, the album, "Everything must go", was largely overshadowed by the media attention they received. There was almost an air of commiseration about the coverage they received. That's gone as well and their new material has been judged very harshly.
"I remember seeing the first sneaky little review of 'If you tolerate this...' in Melody Maker. It said we've obviously gone for the stadium sound. It's hardly one of the biggest sounding records in the world; it wasn't inviting people to clap their hands or anything. If that's how irrational the reviews to that single were gonna be, I've gotta expect much worse."
In an all too common twist of fate, critical disdain was replaced by public acclaim. This same single provided them with their first number one hit. Aside from the professional critics, though, the most vocal detractors of "This is my truth..." were the band's long-time fans, those with the feather boas and crushed eyeliner.
"It's a massive misconception that we're fed up with the obsessive Manic Bible-ite fans. Around the time of 'the Holy Bible', the intensity of some of the fans' reactions was really good. We thrived off it. The only time I get pissed off is when they keep writing letters saying why they don't like us anymore. I can understand if you don't like us, it's fine if you wanna go and like Placebo, but just go and buy the records and stop writing letters."
The increase in their popularity has brought with it a lot of changes. The band had to get used to playing much bigger venues and thousands of new fans. It took a British tour over Christmas to accustom themselves to the larger crowds.
"We were real nervous before playing to 10,000 people every night. But, if we didn't do those gigs, we'd be criticised for being too insular, too aloof."
Halfway through the tour they developed a bit of confidence and realised that they could play to large audiences consistently and still get their message across. Outside of their popularity in the UK and, of course, the obligatory "big in Japan" status, the Manics have also taken off in Scandinavia, where their music fits in well with the cold and rather gloomy weather.
"We're household names in Finland, we did one gig there and it was like 6,000 people."
One place they haven't made it yet, despite years of trying, is in the US. While they often give the impression of being very cynical about the music biz and success, breaking the States was a dream of theirs, especially when they started.
"All the bands that we loved were just massive. That was part of our being young, wanting to do what they did. There are certain things about selling records in America; that's where you suddenly become universal. I think we're gonna do a bit of touring there in the summer, but it doesn't fill me with any hope."
They realise that they have no-one else to blame for this failure, which goes right back to when they first started. James points out that, after appearing on the covers of Melody Maker and NME as another "best new band in the world", they were more interested in jumping around and trying to look cool than playing their instruments.
The band has taken note of the criticisms that were made and feel very much under pressure to produce new material for a new album. But, at the moment, they are still concentrating on touring and have no idea what direction their music will take.
"We feel a bit nebulous about song-writing at the moment, haven't got a blue about what we're gonna do or what shape it's gonna take."
However, they might not make it that far. A new bone of contention has materialised between James and Nicky Wire, centring on... vacuum cleaners?
"I think Dixons are rubbish, I'm more of a bag man myself. It's part of his household symmetry, his ascetic homestead."
After everything they've been through, it would be a supreme irony if they finally split up over an argument about Hoovers. However, it's unlikely to happen. Despite a few solo gigs in his hometown, in front of a nerve-wracking collection of aunties, uncles, old teachers and classmates, James doesn't think a solo career is waiting around the corner.
"I'm a Preacher man, I only ever think about what the band's doing. I always think about myself in conjunction with Nicky and Sean."