With Generation Terrorists, the Manic Street Preachers brought to life one of the most conscientious albums of the past few decades, full with declarations of musical, political and aesthetic intent.
Twenty-five years ago today, on February 10th 1992, the Manic Street Preachers released their debut album; their fame preceded them and the hype surrounding it was huge. A few songs, in form of EPs, had started to uncover it to the world. Both critics and media had already been brought to their knees and the anticipation for its full release couldn’t be more promising in terms of both sales and quality; ‘Motown Junk’ had been a single with some level of commercial success and the Manics were expected to follow that path, boasting they’d sell sixteen million copies “from Bangkok to Senegal”.
Its rock sound, combining touches of melodic punk, energising and seductive guitars, coupled with politically relevant lyrics, absolutely nailed it. It was exactly what the public demanded of them and they knew just how to deliver the 80s generation what it needed – and so emerged Generation Terrorists (Columbia Records, 1992).
Just over seventy minutes across eighteen songs, produced by Steve Brown and recorded in Black Barn Studios, gave life to an album whose working title was Culture, Alienation, Boredom And Despair. Perhaps too direct a message, they chose to hide it behind the ambiguity of Generation Terrorists, directed at the corrupt political class and the way in which it called the youth to revolt against it. However, the record was perhaps too long for its own good with an excess of minutes and songs; a real shame, as it could’ve been an almost perfect album with only maybe twelve or thirteen songs – for example, six singles were released for this album, all of them with good radio potential. Each track has its own quote, such as the early 20th century radical Italian art movement’s Manifesto of Futurism’s “Regard all art critics as useless and dangerous” in ‘You Love Us’, setting a trend for future albums as well as concert setlists.
The constant attacks on capitalism and the way in which people headed towards that very way of life were the bases for the openly declared socialist Welsh band’s critical content. Songs like the indestructible concert favourite ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, describing this system’s most superficial face, and the visionary ‘Natwest – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds’, a perfect prediction of today’s economic situation, are two clear examples of this. It’d be impossible not to mention ‘Little Baby Nothing’, a duet with controversial former porn actress Traci Lords, covering the sexual exploitation of women, albeit feeling a tad orchestrated, since there was probably a Sony executive watching over them.
Ferocious lyrics such as those demanding justice for the third world in ‘Slash’N’Burn’ were written by creative tandem Nicky Wire (bassist and current lyricist) and Richey Edwards, the Manics’ most iconic duo, lyrical poets and responsible for the band’s androgynous image and the glam label they carried for years. From then to this day, Richey’s presence in the band was as essential as his absence following his disappearance in 1995. We owe him for the intense messages included in ‘Born to end’, ‘You Love Us’ and ‘Stay Beautiful’, or those dedicated to drugs, in ‘So Dead’, ‘Spectators Of Suicide’ and ‘Methadone Pretty’.
His words came to life through the lips of James Dean Bradfield, permanent frontman and lead vocalist of Manics, who gives the lyrics an even more suggestive character. Similarly, drummer Sean Moore, who together with Bradfield composed the music of every song in the album, produces a neat balance between urgency and stoicism. With this combination, the Manics managed to, over the years, lead the alternative rock scene, removing and adding different tones at their own will along the many albums that would follow.
All in all, this didn’t turn out to be the best rock album in the world, as the Manics had impertinently preached before its release. It doesn’t even come close to 1994’s mythical The Holy Bible. But what they did do with Generation Terrorists was to bring to life an album that contained more youthful rage and socio-politico-economical awareness than anything else kicking around at the time. It was pure self-expression and the desire to make themselves heard.
Perhaps their greatest achievement was to show they were “4REAL”, with their ability to play with Marxist and liberal clichés and turn them into marvellous, furious but elegant songs. It’s an album that, twenty-five years later, no one should ignore; humankind is all too cyclical, and they sure as hell already told us that.