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Spotlight: Manic Street Preachers - 'Generation Terrorists' - Clash Music, 10th February 2022

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Spotlight: Manic Street Preachers - 'Generation Terrorists'
Publication: Clash Music
Date: Thursday 10th January 2022
Writer: Robin Murray

The band's debut album is a love letter to rock 'n' roll...

Above all else, Manic Street Preachers are students of rock ‘n’ roll.

As a band, they spent their teens poring over the weekly music inkies, spending long hours in the small Welsh town of Blackwood dreaming about someday appearing in those same hallowed pages. With Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards dreaming up daily manifestos, guitarist James Dean Bradfield began channelling his inner Slash, while drummer – and cousin – Sean Moore picked up the sticks behind the drums.

If the band’s origins still have a coy innocence about them, then that’s perhaps because then and now Manic Street Preachers have a certain fannish quality, an exuberance for music lore expressed in deft onstage covers of ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and interviews peppered with references to Simple Minds deep cuts.

Nowhere is this fannish quality more perfectly expressed on record than the band’s debut album ‘Generation Terrorists’. Famously pieced together amid boasts that the album would sell 16 million copies globally and precipitate their immediate split, the album eventually went Gold and instead prompted a 30 year career, one marked by triumph, and the loss of Richey Edwards in 1995.

But ‘Generation Terrorists’ is the starting point. A lavish double album in era when such artefacts were about as welcome as Thatcher at a Militant committee meeting, it’s a homage to West Coast rock that revels in the absurdities of its own ambitions, somehow transcending its limitations to become a glitter-tainted masterpiece that is equal parts charity shop thrift and Red Carpet aspiration.

Musically, ‘Generation Terrorists’ offers sleaze rock transformed into musique concrete. Recorded across a 23 week period with producer Steve Brown at the helm, every part was tracked, giving the record a studied, almost alien quality. The drums are programmed, giving arena rock revellers such as opener ‘Slash ‘n’ Burn’ and ‘Born To End’ a kind of wild exactness.

All wild guitar and soaring vocal, ‘Generation Terrorists’ is a masterclass in the beautiful bombast of James Dean Bradfield. ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ is far more harmonic, far more melodic than those LA dungeon aspirations would credit, while ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ – arguably the album’s most iconic and longest-standing moment – remains a stunning feast of rock performance, worthy of comparing alongside the core texts that first inspired the band.

Yet it’s the words, and the context, that truly lift ‘Generation Terrorists’ in a plain of its own. A devoutly political rock record, Manic Street Preachers’ debut album is a singular text, one that tackles the inequities of the banking system, the AIDs crisis, and – in the call and response rigour of ‘Repeat’ – their distaste for the royal family. Indeed, there’s a surreal moment on revisiting ‘NatWest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ when you realise that the Manics – who promised to burn brightly and then immediately fade away - have actually outlasted some of those historic banking associations.

Virtually every song on here contains lyrics worthy of being tattoo’d across your breast. ‘Stay Beautiful’ is a stunning, terrific blast of chutzpah, while ‘You Love Us’ remains a defining statement of defiance from a group who remain British rock’s awkward squad, musicians unafraid to ask difficult questions.

As music, ‘Generation Terrorists’ is far from perfect. It’s overly long, at times weighed down by its own ambitions; the production dates the record in a way that doesn’t benefit some songs, and while it acts as a James Dean Bradfield masterclass it’s perhaps notable that Nicky and Richey seemingly spent the bulk of those recording sessions playing the studio’s Mega Drive.

And yet… ‘Generation Terrorists’ has a quality that no other album in the band’s catalogue has. There’s a huge sense of risk and daring at play here, with Manic Street Preachers in their innocence making decisions no other band could have – from recruiting the Bomb Squad for that ‘Repeat’ remix or getting Traci Lords to channel her inner Belinda Carlisle on ‘Little Baby Nothing’ this is a project defined by glorious over-reach resulting in a tantalising blast of magic.

When the band first formed rehearsals were dominated by conversation. What kind of music do we want to make? What kind of things should we say, and achieve? Steeped in niche indie lore, Manic Street Preachers instead opted for something widescreen, aiming to connect with a huge mass of people, using rock music at its most commercial as a means to inject society with daring, often complex ideas. But while some groups would wrap this in self-conscious in-jokes, the sheer, utter, jaw-dropping sincerity of ‘Generation Terrorists’ raises the band’s aims to a higher level. As ever, Manic Street Preachers’ own words frame this better than anyone else: “We are not your sinners / Our voices are for real…”

A beginning, and not an end point, ‘Generation Terrorists’ is a document of alienation, expressed in the musical language of unashamed rock fans. To assess its impact, just go to a Manic Street Preachers show, and find the leopard-skin clad, make-up strewn fans who wear their worship tighter than their ultra-skinny jeans. ’Generation Terrorists’ was built for them.

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