Review Summary: Consciously and undeniably amazing. And bloated as fuck.
It's not at all unfair to say the Manic Street Preachers were a bunch of complete histrionic attention whores upon their emergence back in '91. Doused in a plethora of blood, lipstick and DIY hairspray, the Welsh quartet were a soap opera before they even had a full-length record out, surrounding themselves with slogans, vicious criticisms of other bands and claims their own debut would shift 16 million copies - and that's before we even consider that infamous, flesh-carving "4 Real" stunt. It was the type of stuff press and public usually have a field day over, but contrary to the script this group possessed a wealth of substance to support their antics. Falling somewhere in between the punk-fuelled excess of The Clash and the sonic excess of Guns 'N Roses, their music was ballsy, energetic and genuinely exciting; a fresh-faced melding of grit and glamour far removed in the midst of the Seattle grunge explosion. Their individual credentials weren't bad either. In James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore they held a duo of wholly competent musicians, while the spirit of the band was conveyed by Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards, who for all their eccentrics were in fact a highly intelligent and literate pairing.
By far their biggest strength, however, lay in the songs they wrote, many of which threatened to make Generation Terrorists
a truly classic entrance. Characterised predominantly by Bradfield's guitar prowess and Edwards' deep, razor-sharp lyrical intellect (practically his only contribution, but a potent one nonetheless), they alone were enough to wipe aside any issues of authenticity, and in some cases emitted a thrill which extended far beyond the initial "woah!" factor. That much was obvious from the opening bars of "Slash 'N' Burn," which although not especially innovative contained the kind of irresistible strut most bands never generate the confidence to pull off. The same was true of early single "You Love Us," while closing gambit "Condemned To Rock 'N' Roll" presented an all-out riff-fest any of their '80s heroes would be envious of. "Love's Sweet Exile" and "Little Baby Nothing" meanwhile added a healthy dose of diversity and ambition to proceedings, the latter displaying noticeably poppier tendencies atop a vibrant guest vocal from notorious former porn star Traci Lords.
All of these numbers, however, paled in comparison to this record's crowing moment. At just over six minutes, "Motorcycle Emptiness" was the longest cut on offer, yet was also the one which seemed to pass by fastest. It's star is undoubtedly Bradfield, whose delivery of Edwards' magnificent, heartfelt lyrics was bettered only his soaring and utterly indispensable riff - one he recently declared to be his "Slash moment." It's no exaggeration to call it an all-time great, and although the best song here by a country mile it acted as a trump card even the most avid detractors couldn't deny. An attitude, an image, a pool of great songs and a timeless classic for the ages; here, it seemed, was a new band who literally had it all.
Sadly, there was one missing ingredient - one so crucial it relegated the album from a potential game-changer to a mere side note in early '90s rock. In short, the four-piece lacked any sense of quality control whatsoever, a weakness starkly reflected in a hideously bloated 18 song (!!) tracklist. This would only be a minor complaint if all the material was killer, but that quite frankly wasn't the case, with the second half in particular dragging worse than a turtle's stomach. Was there any need, for instance, to include a second version of "Repeat?" The original, with its industrial bite and echoing cry of "REPEAT AFTER ME: *** QUEEN AND COUNTRY!
" was an absolute corker, so why dull the effect with a pointless reprisal? Similarly the likes of "Spectators Of Suicide" and "Crucifix Kiss" represented little more than unnecessary filler, betraying rather than complimenting the overwhelming excellence which populated earlier passages.
There were a handful of other faults. Production-wise the LP was rather over-polished, whilst the thriving grunge movement ensured its glam influences sounded dated upon release, never mind now, 20 years later. That last point more than anything probably explains why it fell so short of the group's own ludicrous sales projection, but despite bombing in that sense Generation Terrorists
nevertheless winded up leaving a considerable impression. Even with the excess baggage, it made clear the Manic Street Preachers were an outfit blessed with an abundance of talent, and one which could could make a profound mark once subject to refinement. With that in mind, failure to keep their word regarding a swift breakup came as welcome - if not entirely unexpected - news, and what's more allowed this most divisive of bands a shot at proving their doubters wrong once and for all...