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Why Generation Terrorists Was The Most Important Debut Of The 1990s - Drowned In Sound, 5th November 2012

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Title: Why Generation Terrorists Was The Most Important Debut Of The 1990s
Publication: Drowned In Sound
Date: Monday 5th November 2012

Today, the Manic Street Preachers release the 20th anniversary edition of their debut long player 'Generation Terrorists'. To mark the occasion, DiS has christened today "Manics Monday"...

"When we jump on stage it is not rock 'n' roll cliche but the geometry of contempt"

Just one of many quotable comments from an early interview with the Manic Street Preachers in the summer of 1990. For many, yours truly included, that would be their first dalliance with the band's ideology. Sure, some of us may have been fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending where you stand on their earliest recordings) to hear the New Art Riot EP upon release via the burgeoning fanzine network omnipresent up and down the land. Most, however, will have tried their damnedest to seek out something, anything by this loudmouthed bunch of politicised upstarts from the Welsh backwaters. Looking back, it was undoubtedly this band more than any other that influenced me to become the type of devoted, "road crew" fanatic who'd think nothing of spending weeks at a time following a band on tour. Sleeping in car parks, bus stations, random acquaintances floors or (if I got lucky) the odd female's bed on the way. Selling fanzines, helping mates on the merchandise stand, you name it we did it. Not that it was just confined to one band back then. The Wonder Stuff, The Sandkings, Thousand Yard Stare, The Telescopes too, but none could match the lasting impact of the Manic Street Preachers. Every single interview was prosaic gold. Every utterance digested and debated with friends and associates. Contradictory or otherwise, the Manics - in particular the band's two lyricists Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire - talked a better game than any other artists of my generation.

That's not to say every word was met with unanimous agreement. "We will always hate Slowdive more than we hate Adolf Hitler," declared Edwards in 1991, much to the disdain of this particular disciple to the Thames Valley sound also sharing the airwaves at the time. Indeed many of their first provincial shows outside of their hometown were met with as many hecklers looking to antagonise the band in any and every way possible as they were devotees to this newly discovered, if somewhat retro-sounding four-piece. I guess that's one of the reasons they seemed such an attractive proposition in the first place. The glamorous image as well as the polemic verbals set them apart from everyone else on the planet. Let's face it, it wasn't every day you'd expect to see four blokes adorned in heavy eye make-up, leopard skin blouses and spray painted t-shirts walking through Mansfield market place. While the music world was undergoing arguably its most eclectic sea change to date. Leftfield guitars and underground dance music cross pollinating, the US alternative scene becoming more influential by the minute, even U2 incorporating a more club-infused direction into their stadium rock, it's perhaps ironic that the most forward thinking visionaries of them all started off resembling a Clash tribute band. Indeed, one of my gig going colleagues of the day was heard to simply remark "Dodgy punk band!" when asked his opinion after our first Manics live experience (Monday 18th February 1991; Nottingham Trent Polytechnic; ticket price - 10p).

Of course that is only a minor aside. With each and every lyric scattered with literary references alongside heavily political dialogue, they were the complete antithesis of bands like Happy Mondays and Flowered Up (one-time support act and former label mates, fact fans). Not that the Manics were anti-hedonism, for all their posturing ("Everybody's taking drugs because it makes governing easier" said Wire once upon a time). Many a time they'd be out and about after a show getting wasted, pulling girls, and generally behaving like you'd expect a young band out on the road for the first time to act. Regular faces would crop up as the band's tour schedule increased with every subsequent release. Jacqui Blake and Carrie Askew, later to become better known as bubblegum punkpop duo Shampoo, would appear - mainly on the southern legs of the circuit - selling or exchanging their fanzine, 'Last Exit' for one of ours. By the time 'Stay Beautiful' gatecrashed the Top 40 singles chart in the summer of 1991 it was easy to spot a Manics fan anywhere. And by then, our numbers were increasing. On the bus, down the local pub, in Tescos, at church, everywhere. Whereas C86 initiated the first wave of fanzine culture it tended to be a very elitist, and at times exclusive scene. With the Manic Street Preachers however it was altogether different. These were adolescents from one of Britain's many disaffected shitholes preaching to adolescents from the rest of Britain's disaffected shitholes up and down the land. And boy did they mean business...

"We're going to write one album, sell 16 million copies, and then split up" declared Nicky Wire months before the release of their debut, Generation Terrorists. Indeed the recording process was fairly arduous and drawn out for a band of such simplistic (at the time) musical ideals. Stretching over five months in total, the latter half of 1991 seeing the band flit between a fortuitous live schedule and gradually constructing each part of what was originally intended to be their defining opus in between times. That it wasn't matters little. At the time, against a sea of bands rigidly sticking to the formulas of their peers or the fashions of the day, it served its purpose as a vitriolic kick up the backside to a UK music scene slowly in need of re-energising. The Manchester-spawned baggy scene was already burning its final embers, many of the Creation bands so despised by Wire and co. were branching out into new territories, while even the cutting edge sounds of the dance underground had blanded out into Ritzy and Palais world, delivering the likes of 2 Unlimited for our sins. Let's not forget also that year, Bryan Adams would dominate the charts and radio playlists that year, his 'Everything I Do' 45 squatting in the number one spot for sixteen weeks. Even today's sacred cows Radiohead were little more than a support band back then that could regularly be seen opening for the likes of Kingmaker and The Sultans Of Ping in any town or city you'd care to mention. No, the Manic Street Preachers can hold their heads high in delivering easily the most important debut of the decade. But what about Definitely Maybe I hear you say? Sure, that was vital in its own way too, but its legacy bore the likes of Northern Uproar, Heavy Stereo, Cast and far far worse throughout the next decade. Of course the Manics' detractors may point to this in response. Except we'd rather remember them for paving the way so fellow androgynous bands like Suede could make their mark. Although by no means perfect in any way shape or form, as a statement of intent it decreed that anything was possible if you care enough to make it happen. That their defining moment came two records and two-and-a-half years later is an irrespective aside. Without releasing the adolescent pent-up tension of Generation Terrorists there would have been no Holy Bible, and their live shows back then were from another planet entirely, even if the recorded versions of some of the staples from those sets didn't do them justice (Hey 'Love's Sweet Exile' nee 'Faceless Sense Of Void', we're looking at you).

In hindsight, maybe quantity got the vote where quality should have triumphed. Perhaps 'Motown Junk' and 'New Art Riot' would have been more appropriate inclusions than the Bomb Squad's remix of 'Repeat' or elongated closer 'Condemned To Rock'n'Roll'. Some of the production certainly feels overblown, their attempt at recreating Appetite For Destruction concentrating more on that record's overall sheen than the songs themselves. However, listening back to Generation Terrorists today it's a record that hasn't really dated simply because it sounded so out of time in the first place. And yet for me, it holds so many memories, all of them good ones for a band I've subsequently seen a whopping seventy-eight times. Of course the passing of time and tragic events that followed have cemented the band's legendary status as one of the most iconic of its generation. Here's to the next decade of culture, alienation, boredom and despair.