Twenty years after its release, why Manic Street Preachers’ debut album is still brilliant
20It’s A Failure
It didn’t sell sixteen million copies. They didn’t split up. They only just killed Slowdive. ‘Generation Terrorists’ wasn’t the one-off cultural extinction event The Manics had hoped it’d be. No, it’s more special than that. It’s ours.
This was an album drenched in Ritchie and Nicky’s cut-n-paste lyrical agitation, and James did a hell of a job of fitting sentences along the lines of “Nagasaki royal alienation consumer deathmask strychnine holocaust HATE” into the restrictive confines of a melodic rock chorus.
Nicky and Ritchie wearing nothing but guitars and crucifixes, canoodling and biting on each others’ rigid Jesuses. James topless and chest-painted with a target. Men in lipstick kissing the camera. They might as well have called the song ‘You’re A Bit Gay. Deal With It’.
As an album opener ‘Slash And Burn’, with its Slash riffs, bullhorn beats and incitements to “kill for kicks”, is amongst rock’s greatest. And least prison-friendly.
A double album, in old money, used to be made up of two large plastic discs, with two ‘sides’ to each. So determined were The Manics to fill all four of their allotted ‘sides’ that the last one was mostly live tracks, old pub punk cover versions and left-over hair rock numbers. Yet The Manics blasted them all out as if blissfully unaware they’d spunked away all their best tunes in the first hour.
“Repeat after me, ‘fuck Queen and country!’” they yelped on the electro-rage Bomb Squad remix ‘Repeat (Stars And Stripes)’, and suddenly we realised why our dads had gotten so excited about The Sex Pistols.
14The Working Titles
‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ was originally ‘Faceless Sense Of Void’. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ was once ‘Go, Buzz Baby, Go’. The album itself was going to be called ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom And Despair’. For fun, can someone re-name all of Adele’s songs on iTunes with old Manics working titles and watch popular culture explode?
And how the Government WANTS you to take them and will even SUPPLY them to make money for WARS, RIGHT?!? Um, according to the Iran-Contra scandal, right actually, ‘Another Invented Disease’.
For a band pumped full of radical ire, political rhetoric and reactionary bile, they still couldn’t bring themselves to be rude to their listeners. Hence James’ guitar squeal ‘bleeping’ the swear in ‘Stay Beautiful’: “Why don’t you just… weeeyw-weeeeayw!”
11The Hair Metal Bits
For all the Manics’ UK indie cool at the time, ‘Generation Terrorists’ was essentially an album that wanted to be Motley Crue’s ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ but was just too damn clever and good.
‘Motown Junk’? What ‘Motown Junk’?
Check out the ack-ack-ack hi-octane piston pummel driving ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ out of the speakers, across the room and straight through the wall and tell me the little Welsh munchkin couldn’t out-drum Grohl.
8The Porn Connection
Long before THAT Skepta video, The Manics hired in porn star Traci Lords to appear on ‘Little Baby Nothing’. That she was singing a damning condemnation of her industry and audience might not have helped her video sales much, but she did go on to become a proper film/TV actress and singer, so there’s hope for Paris Rocksxxx yet.
An iconic slice of suicide pretty commitment and condemnation – their third choice after a picture of Pisschrist, an image of Jesus submerged in blood and urine, and a sleeve made of sandpaper designed to destroy the record.
Still arguably their crowning achievement, Ritchie’s poetic emotion collided with James’ explosive guitar virtuosity and we all burned up in the fireball.
“Useless generations! Dumb flag scum!” “Used! Used! Used by men!” “Rain down, alienation!” “Condemned to rock’n’roll!” Blimey, it was like an AGM for agit-pop Tourettes sufferers round here.
I.e. ‘Repeat (UK)’, the rock-out original.
Oh, in the heady winter of 1991, how we would have laughed at anyone who’d told us we’d soon be singing enthusiastically along to a chorus that was basically just a list of banks. And an astute premonition of future economic collapse, it turns out. “Black horse apocalypse” indeed.
“You! Love! Us!” they insisted. And how hard we would have kicked them had the sentiment not been incontrovertible.
A double-album debut released with the firm intent of selling sixteen million albums, killing Slowdive and then splitting up. That, Egyptian Hip-Hop, is how you do it.