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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.

 

The Issue with Reissues

 
By on Thursday, 8th March 2012 at 11:00 am
 

Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!
Re-evaluate the songs
Double-pack with a photograph
Extra track, and a tacky badge

“Best of!” “Most of!”
Satiate the need
Slip them into different sleeves!
Buy both, and feel deceived…

(excerpts from the Smiths – ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’, 1987)

Rather conveniently, the day after Blur performed on the 2012 BRIT Awards last week, we heard the news from the Guardian that producer Stephen Street is in the midst of remastering the Britpop giants’ entire back catalogue for the band’s intention to reissue all of the albums sometime in the future. Of course, reissuing and remastering is not a new idea at all in rock. Let’s take for example two of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll of all time. Jimmy Page famously went to task on overseeing the remastering Led Zeppelin’s master tapes in order to provide higher fidelity sound quality in the early years of the CD for the ‘Remasters’ release in 1990. The Beatles Anthology released in 1995-1996 were three CD sets that culled supposedly rare early recordings, outtakes and live versions of songs from the Fabs’ musical history. So what’s the issue with reissues?

As you’ve read in perfect clarity at the very top of this article two excerpts from Morrissey’s lyrics in the Smiths’ ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’, most times the purpose of reissues is crass commercialism. For myself, I know I’ve bought doubles of and/or different versions of albums or unusual and rare singles simply because being a fan, I wanted to have them in my collection. (This explains how I have UK, Australian, Japanese, and Taiwanese versions of albums I already own in US formats and why I am rapidly running out of storage space. Yeah…)

Surely, the only limit to your music shopping habits is your own wallet. I’ve drooled in private at Talking Heads’ ‘Brick’, all eight of the band’s studio albums remastered in Dual-Disc format and available at a price out of my budget, just like I’ve balked at the price for a leather bound, signed copy of George Harrison’s I Me Mine. Luckily, I have some willpower…and definitely some prudence.

But I’m not a completist by any means. So when reissues or remasters are announced, I rarely jump out of my seat, unless there’s something new and really great on the new versions. Do record companies really expect long-time fans of a band to fork over change on an album that already own and know by heart? And they think old skool types who still favours physical releases will buy these in droves? Are they anticipating young people to suddenly think to themselves, “ah yes. Blur. That band in the ‘90s that the bloke who fronts Gorillaz used to be in. I should buy these!”

While I concede that record companies are trying every way possible to combat illegal file-sharing by trying to put out releases like reissues that they think are going to move by the thousands, they appear to be barking up the wrong tree in most of these cases. There is no easy solution to this problem; illegal file-sharing will continue as long as there’s an Internet. But surely there has got to be other creative ways to promote an artist’s work than simply rereleasing something that’s already been out before.

Interestingly enough, Stephen Street also has a hand in the reissue of Morrissey’s first solo album, ‘Viva Hate’, which will be reissued on the 26 of March. Moz has chosen to delete ‘The Ordinary Boys’ and replace it with an outtake from that era, ‘Treat Me Like a Human Being’. Which has already been released as a B-side to ‘Glamorous Glue’ when that single was reissued by EMI last year. Follow all that? Street is not happy about the tracklisting change, but I’m not paying attention to that. I‘m a Morrissey fan and I own ‘Viva Hate’ on CD and vinyl. Will I be buying the reissued version of ‘Viva Hate’? Not likely.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uxP8h0SZRw[/youtube]

Header photo of Blur’s performance at the 2012 BRITs from Who’s Jack

 
 
 

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