Monday, 9 January 2012

Generation Terrorists

Just got Manic Street Preachers: National Treasures.  A collection of all the singles from the last 20 years.
Only one minor complaint/observation - it would have been nice to have the B-Sides as well (maybe in some form of super-duper-deluxe version).

Hang On?
20 Years?
Am I that old?

First became aware of the Manics in (probably) the spring of 1991.  Had read a fair bit about the band in the music press (I was a regular reader of NME, with a side order of Kerrang! and the monthly glossy digest of Vox and/or Select).

I got  the "Motown Junk" single and "New Art Riot" EP at a Record Fair in Oxford (£4 the pair, if my memory doesn't fail me (it does sometimes, but I'm pretty sure about this.  Also picked up a US Copy of "Ride A White Swan" by T.Rex on the Blue Thumb label)).
Soon after, I remember seeing a brief documentary about the band on BBC2, and then read and heard anything I could find about the band (this was pre-internet, so finding stuff was a full time occupation).
Myself and a mate saw them live at the After Dark in Reading on 10th August 1991 (I still have the ticket).  We were both of the opinion "if they're going to split up soon, we'd better hurry up and see them live - its going to be a 'Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall' moment" - it wasn't!

Before the albums release, the press was full of hype about the band and the record, much of the hype coming directly from the band:
  • A musical mix of Clash, Public Enemy, and Guns and Roses with lyrics by Karl Marx
  • Most important album by the most important band since the Sex Pistols
  • "We'll release one album and split up"
  • "This record will outsell everything that came before it and spark a revolution.  It'll be like 1977 again"
So with press statements like that and other statements being made in every available media publication (mostly in the NME, if I'm honest), the resulting album when released would either be a trail-blazing work of extreme genius or a complete limp lettuce.

And then on 10th February 1992 the album was released.
I took the day off work and bought the album at just gone 9:00am in HMV in Friar Street, Reading.
(These things are important, so you tend to remember stuff like this)

Got back home with expectations at a high.  Played the first track ("Slash 'n' Burn") - its good, but the production sounds a bit glossier than I was expecting.
The disappointment continued - the band sounded reined in by the production, like it was somehow aimed at the American market.  Did the record company see the potential buyers of this record as the hair sprayed, poodle rocking fans of Bon Jovi, Skid Row and other dangers to the ozone layer?
The album certainly seemed to be presented that way - with a slab of naive politics chucked in for good measure.
How can a band so full of mouth capitulate to the record company's demands?  or were they trying to bring down the system from within? (the answer to that one is patently "No")

The cliche "6th Form Poerty" has been thrown at bands before, and the Manics did get this too.  Listen to "Little Baby Nothing".  The lyrics really do sound like a student essay about feminism and pornography.
On it went with my disappointment increasing with every track.  The album was too long, too clean and seemed to be trying too hard to be an intellectual  manifesto married to rock & roll.
It was a competent rock album, but would have been vastly improved by being reduced to a single album (did we really need two versions of "Repeat"?)
So Generation Terrorists never fulfilled the hype that preceded it - to be honest I doubt it was ever likely to.

The Manics were moved to the "They exist, but I don't really want to hear them anymore" section of my brain, and their next two albums ('Gold Against The Soul' and 'The Holy Bible') completely passed me by.  As did 1996s 'Everything Must Go' - I heard the singles, but really wasn't bothered about buying it.

And then I heard "From Despair To Where" used in a TV show  - it was fantastic.  How did I miss this?
Within a week, the three previous albums were purchased and devoured, 'Generation Terrorists' was exhumed, dusted down and played again (it was still too long, but this time "I got it").  Each susequent release has again been purchased on the day of release (or as near as possible), and I continue to enjoy all things Manic ('Journal For Plague Lovers' wasn't that great, but hey! its a welcome addition to the Manics section of the CD shelves)

Are they the most important band of the past 20 years? Don't know, but they are certainly one of the best.

National Treasures is topped & tailed by the following tracks - and all the bits in between aren't that bad either.

Motown Junk

This Is The Day

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