Manic Street Preachers
Generation Terrorists (reissue)
, December 20th, 2012 09:00
For the purposes of this review let's assume you already know Generation Terrorists. Let's assume you're well aware of it's obnoxious bombast, it's widdley widdley Guns N' Rosesisms, furious riffage and cowbells. Let's assume you're more than familiar with the wonderful, melancholic rock of 'Motorcycle Emptiness', you know when to point at the band during live versions of 'You Love Us', and where to shout “fuck off” in 'Stay Beautiful'. You know it's imperfections, where it overreaches, where it shoots for the stars and falls on its face, and where it explodes with utter triumph. Let's assume you know the story, you know about the claim to release a 16 million selling double album and split up, you know that didn't happen, and you know what happened next. You know that within four years this would be one of the biggest bands in Britain, you know how much they changed and sacrificed to achieve that, and you know why they matter as much or more than any other British band of the last few decades. If you don't know any of this, then this reissue isn't the place to start - Generation Terrorists has been out for 20 years, and you can track the original version down for a less than a fiver. There's one on ebay now for 50p. Go and listen and come back when you're done. This reissues isn't for you. Not yet.
Despite Nicky Wire's claim to the contrary last year, a 20th Anniversary edition of Generation Terrorists was inevitable - hell we deserved it. Alongside 1994's The Holy Bible and 1996's Everything Must Go (both of which received anniversary reissues last decade) this a key piece of the Manics puzzle - the origins of all their ambition, not to mention at least five of their most treasured songs are all here.
Quite how illuminating this is depends a little on which version you've got your hands on. The 'Limited Collectors Edition' is easily the most comprehensive, including a disc of b-sides and scrappy early demos as well as the more professional demos disc presented on the 'Legacy Edition' and a DVD documentary, but it's also basically unavailable now. The appeal of super-deluxe bells-and-whistles versions is clear, especially amongst Manics fans for whom Marx's “commodity fetishism” has always been appropriately applicable, but it's a shame that most will be denied that third disc (the 'Collectors Edition' sold out in pre-orders alone), because it's easily the most fascinating part of the whole thing, with very early and very different takes on classics like 'Motorcycle Emptiness', and boom-box recordings of a teenage garage-band Manics called things like 'Spent All Summer' and 'Behave Yourself Baby'. Across the two demo discs and the excellent DVD Documentary 'Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair' you can trace the journey of 'Motorcycle Emptiness', cut n' shutting two demos ('Go Buzz Baby Go' and 'Behave Yourself Baby') with a riff James Dean Bradfield came up with in a dream and a drum beat courtesy of producer Steve Brown. You can hear 'Loves Sweet Exile' transform from a bratty Clash-esq punker titled, rather brilliantly, 'Faceless Sense Of Void' to the sub-heavy metal single with “a solo faster than Stevie Vai”.
One thing that is clear from the demos on both versions is that Steve Brown buffed a lot of the corners from the band, and it was often to their detriment. Demos of 'Natwest Barclays Midlands Lloyds' and 'Repeat', especially, maintain much of the spite and spark of the bands early singles noticeably missing from the final product, and you can hear the difference production choices had on the album., such as using programmed rather than live drums. But then the Manics wanted to make something slick and commercial, that was the point of Generation Terrorists, so it's perhaps unfair to chastise Steve Brown for sticking to his remit. His appearance on the DVD documentary show a man clearly still very proud of this record and when he comes into his own (the band all agree 'Motorcycle Emptiness' would never have worked without him) his selection for the producers chair is more than justified.
The Manics have always been expert archivists, curators of their own legacy and carriers of their own torch, and the Generation Terrorists package has clearly been put together with utmost care, though it's a shame the 'Legacy Edition' misses some of the tricks. Even that version has enough interest, especially on the DVD and demos, to make it pretty unmissablle for fans of the original record - It's fascinating to look at the band in the context of the early 90's but with the benefit of hindsight. Fascinating, and sad, especially when faced with the unutterably beautiful Richey Edwards interviewed for Rapido or Snub on the DVD. His notes, words and the force of his personality are all over this release, though his version of events, as Nicky Wire notes, will always be the gap in the story. We still have a band called Manic Street Preachers, a very good one in fact, but as the archive footage on the DVD shows, as the furious demos display, we don't have this Manic Street Preachers anymore, and for that reminder alone this box set is nigh-on essential. At the Quietus we don't score albums with a number, and that's for the best because music is always is always more than a grade, but to quote Barbara Ellen's 1992 review of Generation Terrorists in the NME, it's 10/10 “and stuff the marking system”.