Album Review: Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists 20th anniversary reissue

By on Wednesday, 7th November 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Words by guest reviewer Sara Oswald

Nineteen years ago, I had my first brush with the band that would transform my teen years. As a precocious (and voracious) music listener, I attended my first record fair at the age of 13. Picking up an issue of Q magazine with U2 circa the Zoo TV tour on the cover, I mindlessly flipped through the pages until I found something that caught my attention: a full-page advertisement, splashed entirely with a garishly pink joke of flesh tone. The only information given were the words ‘Manic Street Preachers’ written along the top in a typeface reminiscent of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion’ album, and a floral tattoo with the banner declaring, “Generation Terrorists”.

At the time, I had no idea that this single-page advert would send me down a path fraught with near-daily trips to the post office so that I could mail letters to fellow fans of the Manics, most often with addresses found in the back of zines with names such as “Last Exit” and “Assassinated Beauty”. So much money was spent on import copies of British music weeklies that my newsstand came to know me by first name, with my packages of weeks-old NME and Melody Maker wrapped up and waiting for me to pick up. And of course, the growing stacks of CDs, cassettes, and limited edition records, all starting with this one ad for an album that isn’t even considered the best release by the band or most of their fans.

Yet ‘Generation Terrorists’ remains the definitive blueprint that Manic Street Preachers would follow throughout their history. For all its awkward, self-conscious punk-glam riffing, there remains a spirit of brazen intelligence that continues to define the band. This is the album you play when you want to confuse your musically pretentious friends. Even lesser songs like ‘Condemned to Rock ‘n Roll’, which could be mistaken for an L.A. Guns cast-off, have lyrics like “The past is so beautiful/ The future like a corpse in snow”. This is not Bon Jovi, nor is it Nirvana. ‘Generation Terrorists’ may be one of the most overstuffed debuts by any group in the last 50 years (originally 18 tracks, now 19 tracks with the reissue), but consider that this album was meant to be the only release by Manic Street Preachers. This is what an album sounds like when a band believes they only have one chance to declare everything that means anything to them.

So what does this album have to say, then? The inconsistencies between the music and lyrics are not a mistake. The politics of songs like ‘NatWest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ are comfortably delivered in a rock anthem with a surprisingly catchy chorus. ‘Little Baby Nothing’ starts off as a conventional glam metal ballad and surprises with a fairly conventional pop duet between James Dean Bradfield and porn legend Traci Lords, only this is not a love song, but an examination of gender politics and the sexual exploitation of women. This is also the sixth single taken from ‘Generation Terrorists’. The subject matter of these songs are Crass territory, and certainly not ‘normal’ for any major label band, especially in the cultural wasteland of the early 1990s. By wrapping ideology in a publicly acceptable musical package, ‘Generation Terrorists’ duped more listeners into contemplating avant-garde political topics better than any college protest.

But all this political philosophy doesn’t mean that ‘Generation Terrorists’ isn’t fun. This may be an overly ambitious, sometimes crudely crafted album but it still inspires some raging sing-alongs. The definitive Manic Street Preachers manifesto ‘You Love Us’ is a derisive face-slap to the establishment:

We won’t die of devotion
Understand we can never belong
Throw some acid into your face
Pollute your mineral water with a strychnine taste

This song ends with a ridiculously over-the-top guitar solo that inspires even the most staid listener to smile. Whether the smile is sarcastic or approving does not matter; you just listened to a song that blatantly tells you that your approval is not important, and that this band will do as they please.

Unfortunately, ‘Generation Terrorists’ is a debut that would not be released by any major label today. This album was an anomaly when first released in 1992, and 20 years on, it appears that ‘popular’ music has become somehow more homogenised than ever. As a fan now in her early thirties rather than early teens, I find myself pulling out other Manics albums to listen to before this one. However, I am thankful that ‘Generation Terrorists’ continues to remain popular enough to receive a 20th anniversary re-issue. ‘Generation Terrorists’ is the sort of album that can ideologically change someone’s life. Or you can just listen to it straight through and find yourself playing air guitar. Whatever you get out of this album is up to you. Just remember the proclamation of ‘Stay Beautiful’: “Now you say you know how we feel / But don’t fall in love ‘cause we hate you still.”

8/10

The 20th anniversary reissue of ‘Generation Terrorists’ by Manic Street Preachers, with bonus track ‘Suicide is Painless’, is out now on Sony. Formats available include a one CD anniversary edition, a 2 CDs and DVD version of legacy edition, a limited edition collector’s edition with 3 CDs, a DVD, book and 10″ vinyl, a 12″ 180 g double vinyl gatefold LP and of course, the ever modern download version.

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