All these years later, the Manics’ debut remains a remarkable work.
John Aizlewood 2012
Hailing from the former mining town of Blackwood, Manic Street Preachers were always outsiders, but they arrived fully formed in everything but their music. At least two of them, bassist Nicky Wire and lyricist/conscience Richey Edwards, were politically turbo-charged and they had a look which was part New York Dolls, part Cardiff city centre drag act, part The Clash.
The music was the dog being wagged by the tail and as some of the demos on this reissued, repackaged remembrance show, it was angry but literate situationist punk in search of a benevolent producer.
Those demos remind us that sometimes “more” can mean “less”, but the deluxe version DVD’s mix of videos, BBC performances and a 76-minute documentary is engrossing. Somehow – and the documentary confirms that nobody actually seems to know how – this splurge of a proposition found itself signed to an eight-album, major-label deal.
As we now know, Manic Street Preachers were not just for show. They recruited Steve Brown to produce, as much for his work with Wham! as on The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary and in what still seems like breathtaking hubris, the upstarts demanded that Generation Terrorists be a 71-minute double album. Matching them in giddy recklessness, Columbia acceded.
All these years later, it’s a remarkable work albeit one that’s undeniably flawed and in need of an editor as much as a producer. But its anger (Nat West-Barclay-Midlands-Lloyds railed against bankers decades before fashion caught up), its self-belief (You Love Us, indeed) and its sense of impish fun (porn star Traci Lords co-sang Little Baby Nothing like a Shangri-La) make it an gloriously exhilarating listen two decades on.
And then there was the six minutes of perfection that was Motorcycle Emptiness. The first appearance of the seductive, compassionate, elegiac Manics which dominated their great albums, Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, Motorcycle Emptiness tempered the swagger with rue, singer James Dean Bradfield crooned rather than shouted and his guitar solo was celestially heartbreaking.
Motorcycle Emptiness towers over Generation Terrorists, but without it, the album would still have triumphed.