To some, the Manic Street Preachers are the new Sex Pistols, the new Guns N’ Roses, the new Nirvana, the British Guns N’ Roses, the British Nirvana, etc., etc.
You get the idea.
Whoever they are – and they will insist, no doubt, that they are merely the Manic Street Preachers – there always remains the danger that this week’s new wild boys could turn into New Punks On The Block.
One of the horrors of old age (35.96 years) is that you keep telling yourself, “That’s been done before.” Of course, my parents tried to say this, but lacked the conviction of actually knowing what had gone before. In fact, they were hoping that nothing like (insert horror of your particular generation here) had ever happened and merely thought that if I thought something wasn’t original I would lose interest in it.
In reality, of course, if what had gone before was so horrendous as to unsettle my parents, then I certainly wanted some of it as part of my antisocial weaponry. As a result, my parents were convinced in the ’70s that I was: 1) worshipping the Devil (Black Sabbath); 2) taking acid trips to Katmandu (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd); and 3) killing off prominent members of the establishment (the Clash and Sex Pistols).
Little did they know that I was secretly conforming to their social values – well, I was closer than they thought – and that, far from worshipping the Devil, we were actually fairly good mates.
The Manic Street Preachers, like most bands, are doubtless not interested in comparisons to what’s gone before. Straight musical comparisons of the type “The Beatles are better than the Stones” or “The Jam is better than the Who” rarely do more than irritate musicians. Still, the past is an important point of reference and, as music is an evolutionary art, it has significance.
The band’s ironic allusion to the past in “Condemned to Rock ‘n’ Roll” makes the point that we’re talking about an indefinite now rather than a series of generational crises:
“The past is so beautiful
The future like a corpse in snow
I think it’s all the f—ing same
It’s a life sentence babe.”
The Preachers have been shot out of the same gun that produced the angry sounds and sneers of bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols. (On Fuji TV’s “Beat U.K.” recently, lead singer/guitarist James Dean (groan) Bradfield tried to impress the viewers with a couple of “f— you’s” while bassist Nicky Wire did his best Sid Vicious impersonation and came across as being genuinely thick.)
Perhaps significantly, they too have risen to the fore in a deep economic recession. The bleak prospects facing the young and unemployed of Britain have given rise to a new breed of angry young musicians and, just as important, a new breed of angry young fans.
As punk was a welcome antidote to the disco dross of the ’70s, so the new breed of the ’90s is welcome relief from the neo-hippy dirges of the Manchester scene.
That the Manic Street Preachers arc the most exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years is hardly surprising. They are virtually the only exciting band to come out of Britain in recent years.
The band’s Japanese debut at Club Citta on May 11-13 was sold out weeks ago and could easily have stretched beyond a week. After Nirvana’s Japanese tour earlier this year, it was the most eagerly awaited rock event of 1992. But unlike Nirvana, the Preachers went some way to delivering live what they promised on their debut album, “Generation Terrorists.”
The main difference was balance. The songs on the album, while leaving no doubt we are dealing with anger, were presented with a slightly sugar-coated production job. Live, the energy level hits the high end of the scale as 1,000 sweaty Japanese punks and rockers bounce up and down to the Preachers’ very direct brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
Where Nirvana is slightly flakey and occasionally laid back in delivering the message and the music, the Preachers slam it into your face. The guitars of Bradfield and the slightly – okay, let’s be honest, very – redundant Richey James grind along like a rivet gun, laying down a foundation for Bradfield’s excellent and, unlike Johnny Rotten’s or Joe Strummer’s, controlled vocals.
If you can’t tell how angry Bradfield is just by looking at him (believe me, you can), you can take a peek at the lyrics that accompany the CD.
“Madonna drinks Coke and so you do too
Tastes real good not like a sweet poison should
Too much comfort to get decadent
Politics here’s death and God is safer sex” (“Slash and Burn”).
Dumb flag scum
Repeat after me
F— Queen and country
Repeat after me
Imitation demi gods
Repeat after me
Dumb flag scum” (“Repeat (U.K.)”).
The Japanese fans may understand the album title, but probably don’t make much headway with the semi-literate lyrics. The important thing is the gist of the message gets across. With the concert being held in the all-standing human crush heat of Club Citta, there is an intensity there that is usually lacking at theater venues.
Added to which, the Preachers’ penchant for choral-style hooks allows the Japanese audience to actively participate and get closer to the band and the music. A few adventurous fans climb over the shoulders of the mob down front and threaten to get on stage, but always back out at the last minute, much to the disappointment of the fans and the band, who are hoping that the barrier between the two will break down. But this is Japan, so it won’t.
Still, as events in the metropolis go, it made its mark. The band has the same universal appeal as Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana, and, like the Seattle rockers, it has just taken the first big step. Fame and money are on their way. Providing Bradfield keeps his muse (with five more years of a Conservative government, this should be no problem), the future looks bright. Next time round, the Manic Street Preachers could be playing the Budokan.
Except there may not be a next time round if the band members are to be believed. They have said they will break up rather than outlive their usefulness. They don’t want to end up as memorial pieces.
A wise move. Otherwise we could be looking at a fate worse than death: the new Sham 69.