Review Summary: Under Neon Loneliness, CHAPTER 1: “There’s Nothing I Wanna See… There’s Nowhere I Wanna Go...”PART ONE
: Everything Holy
1992 was a monumental year for rock and roll music. Coming off of the figurehead of grunge Nirvana’s sophomore masterpiece Nevermind
in ’91, the world was looking down the barrel of a confronting future that would be reticent towards excess and more in love with danger and angst than it ever was. Originally confined simply to the dark corners of the freak’s quarters where the Sex Pistols thrived and Led Zeppelin forlorn their pitiful and enigmatic existence, the underdogs had risen to the surface leaving only the dirtiest of the top to survive- albeit in admirable fashion, as Metallica and Guns N’ Roses continued their glorious excess into the ‘90s with minor releases and commercial vanguard respectively. ‘Glamour’, for want of a better term, was out. The Manic Street Preachers didn’t get the message.
Not least because they were mascara wearing, hedonistic riff men packed with Gibson Les Paul’s and Marshall Amplifiers that slid smoothly to ‘11’, the Manic Street Preachers were arguably prone to the most attention in the British press in the early ‘90s bar none. Claiming among others that they would sell 20 million albums, eclipse the Sex Pistols and Guns N’ Roses in sales figures and influence but also convert common place Occident thinking to be geared towards Marxist ideals, the Manic Street Preachers were understandably laughed at as being nothing more than ‘New Wave of New Wave’. For a brief period of time, indie/hard rock hybrids ala ‘Motown Junk’, ‘We Here Majesty’s Prisoners’, ‘New Art Riot’ and ‘UK Channel Boredom’ were garnering only startled reception by the NME
and other minor press zines, with reception rarely being anything more than a shrug of neutrality. For a duo of histrionic glam punks named Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire to come out of the gate claiming irony in lines such as “I laughed/when Lennon got shot” and not be understandably laughed at was the silliest idea of all. But in a rather gruesome act of punk defiance, Edward’s carving ‘4REAL’ into his arm in the face of Steve Lamacq’s condescending rhetoric would see the bands status move to that of overhype. Forget Nirvana, forget the Black Album
and *** Oasis, blur and Suede; what are the Manic’s going to do next?
Such was the question the NME
were asking the world for a year in anticipation of the then tentatively titled Culture, Alienation, Boredom & Despair LP
due to drop in 1992. Would they really headline Wembley because of it? When it eventually arrived, hype had calmed down and fizzled into the peaked interest of few. Selling an abysmal amount of copies that would see the band “*** up by (sic) our own foolish standards” in James Dean Bradfield’s words, Generation Terrorists was a cluster*** of bad taste, misplaced guitar machismo and filler that would stretch between abominations in the vein of funk metal and Weatherall-inspired dancefloor storms. Surely a mix up on which Steve Brown they wanted (they ended up with the one who produced Wham! of all bands) was enough of a bleak warning?
And yet through all of that mismatched glory and deeply embarrassing moments of questioning boundaries, the Manic Street Preachers debut is still, in this writers opinion at least, the bands best work. Regardless of the fact it remains swamped in flaws and obvious mixing issues that even the 20th Anniversary edition could not eviscerate, it captured a piece of time that unfortunately was never given the exposure it so sorely deserved, simply because it did not fit the caveat of a scene or genre. No plaid flannels, no jeans and songs about the tea lady, no fads for you lads. The shame is that as a result not just America but the World missed out on a band who bravely darted between the music of Guns N’ Roses and Joy Division and the writings of Nietzsche and Camus in one of the best methods of pop culture subversion ever committed to tape.
Everything about it leaks intelligence just as it does the youthful ambition it ruefully garners discontent for. Opener ‘Slash N Burn’ is 4 minutes of macho metal led by a joyously electric riff. Bradfield takes perfect command of Wire and Edwards’ words, bringing descending anger in the eponymous chorus just as much as the bitter call in the breakdown of “Madonna drinks coke and so/you can too!”. Similar songs exhibit anger as a method of political angst with the same enviable power. The foreshadowing nature of ‘Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ seems almost facetious in retrospect set to the tune of a cracking radio metal tune, with other tracks fearing similar undermining- ‘Crucifix Kiss’ and ‘Methadone Pretty’ being the most primal tracks to go under the knife and be affected by Steve Browns’ mod cons of electric drum clicks and double tracked vox tracks. Regardless the tracks here are admirable attempts at bringing serious criticisms of Heroin Chic and Catholicism into play with a brilliantly hooky and riff based heavy metal approach. Shame it was just a few years too late on that count.
The most noticeable aspect of Generation Terrorists
is by far and away its adjustment of style that far eclipses the bands original indie ethos. Tracks like ‘Tennessee’ and ‘Spectators of Suicide’ under Brown’s commands drop much of what propelled their original force. Gone are the scrappy indie punk punches of guitar that bled freely out of the tinny recordings- now they are polished studio dinosaurs that lumber with OTT fat and combustible glam fury. Noticeably, ‘You Love Us’ is rerecorded minus the ‘Lust for Life’ outro and atmospheric opener, and gone is the distinctly indie production that stifled it to some degree. In its place is a wickedly polished hard rocker with clearer and succinct singing on the part of Bradfield and a rockist ending that owes more than a little debt to ‘Paradise City’. Harbouring the blistering ’*** you’ once hiding in its lyrics, the song now is reminiscent of a titanic stadium anthem less a total anathema, in its place a reach out to the dedicated followers. It’s gloriously overdone and in your face, and like a James Cameron movie it impresses in seismic doses of profound superficial beauty and awe.
However the two most outstanding moments that define the record come in the beautiful soundscapes of its centrepiece ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and the riff smothered guitar orgy of its closing track ‘Condemned to Rock N Roll’. In ‘…Emptiness’, Bradfield gets his chance to shine with multiple iconic riffs that swiftly descend and sore between major and minor keys, birthing divine dichotomy between the tracks musically upward looking feel and its starkly bleak criticisms of being a consumer. For ‘Condemned…’, Bradfield lets loose in all his Slash-inspired glory, only occasionally looking up to voice some fairly banal lyrical waxing. Gasping for a tune, the track takes a no prisoners approach that is both suffocating and richly rewarding in equal measures- only appreciators of the rock and roll guitar will get it, but anybody who does appreciate that will understand ‘Condemned…’ guaranteed. In its final moments, collapsing after its 70+ minute running time, Bradfield sullen whispers defeated ‘There’s nothing I wanna see/there’s nowhere I wanna go…’, admitting that in their Terrorists
journey they may not have accomplished what they wanted but they have purged all that they are and left it on exhibition. Dwindling on poor sales and minor critical acclaim (never mind a perfect score by the NME
), it seems an apt note to end the record on.
Of course it’s always pointless to dawdle on the aspects of why it was in fact a colossal failure- later efforts Everything Must Go
and The Holy Bible
rectified wrongs to some degree- but it seems so integral to the context of the Manic Street Preachers in general. To the relief of James Dean Bradfield, the Manic’s would go on to an illustrious and fluctuating career that would see even bigger and better failures eclipse that of their Sony debut. And as chief lyricist Richey Edwards would soon descend into mental illness and the band would languish in a tour for what is universally regarded as one of their poorest efforts, 1993s’ Gold Against the Soul
, it was not until their third effort The Holy Bible
that the band would again reach such levels of profound intelligence set to heavy handed guitar music.
NEXT: “A Memory Fades to a Pale Landscape…”