Congratulations and high-fives to the Manic Street Preachers on reaching the 20th anniversary of their debut album. A milestone!

The online memoirs have been coming thick and fast. There is a seemingly inexhaustible well of platitudes out there for an album which is unanimously viewed as ‘brilliant’ yet ‘rubbish’. The consensus, as I see it, is that the Manics’ political and classical rhetoric and manifesto wins the clenched fist of endorsement – while clenched teeth own up to a disappointing record with shocking production values, over-ambition and over-reliance on filler. Oh, but ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is a good tune. So that’s alright then.

Much is also made of the band’s ‘Welshness’, although their (literal) flag-waving would come a few years down the line, once the floodgates had been opened by the likes of Catatonia and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. It’s quite important to note, I think, that the Manics spent this period keeping their heads down until the ‘Cool Cymru’ (ugh)Generation Revisionists : Manic Street Preachers path was clear.

In Newport, at the time of ‘Generation Terrorists’, a truly excellent explosion of noise was on the verge of formation. Although the likes of 60ft Dolls, Flyscreen, Novocaine and Dub War wouldn’t emerge for another year or so, the ‘idea’, the ‘notion’ of them, was already condensing in the cloud of steam that hung permanently over the rank bogs at TJs.

Specifically, TJs in 1991 had become a hotbed of hardcore punk DIY sensibility. The worthiest bands in the world all came to play in this club – an incredible education, when you think about it. Butthole Surfers, Membranes, Brainiac, Down By Law, The Offspring, Spermbirds, Jesus Lizard… and dozens more. All bands with something very important and urgent to say – and a very firm and precise way of saying it.

South East Wales had grown itself a backbone. The Anglo-Welsh youth of Newport, finding themselves unable to sit comfortably with the imperial Welsh language music scene or the foppish student stuff coming out of nearby Cardiff, would no longer suffer fools. So when Manic Street Preachers took to the TJs stage for the first and only time dressed all in white like Generation X and sounding like a.n.other Valleys glam band (see: Tygertailz), they were swiftly dismissed as unimportant.

As was the ‘Generation Terrorists’ album, when it came out. The people of Newport wished them well, in much the same way as Feeder were wished well. We’re all doing what we can to get by. But it didn’t mean we had to like them.

We did try – but the music was weak and the rhetoric wouldn’t cut much mustard with us. We had the genuine bloodied-nosed white knuckle ride of 60ft Dolls to put a rocket up our arses and a fire in our bellies. We were hardly going to listen to an A-Level politics student quoting Goythe.

We liked Richey, he was our friend. He came to lots of gigs in Newport. But he couldn’t half spout some daft nonsense sometimes. The ‘4 REAL’ business was interpreted quite correctly at the time as a very sad and depressing gesture. Not a defiance or triumph; just an upsetting thing for a poorly person to do. Poor Richey.

It’s great that the Manics’ debut album is being celebrated today, and quite right too – those were good times and lots of fantastic records were being made. But let’s have a little perspective: the record was not a good one, the band were not great and their clothes, hair and polemic was a bit of an empty joke. Don’t believe the hype – they did not galvanise any kind of Welsh music scene, even (as has been suggested) as a reaction to what they were doing. That’s just silly.

They were a bit of fun, that’s all – the serious stuff, the proper artfulness of the early 1990s, would come from a town a little south of Blackwood.

Andy Barding

11 COMMENTS

  1. I haven’t listened to this in over a decade, but I can only honestly attest to really remembering:

    1. “Slash ‘n’ Burn”  
    2. “Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds”  
    3. “Born to End”  
    4. “Motorcycle Emptiness”  
    5. “You Love Us”  
    6. “Love’s Sweet Exile”  
    7. “Little Baby Nothing”  
    11. “Stay Beautiful”  
    13. “Repeat UK”

    Of those I only really care for tracks 1, 4, 5, 6,

    I got bored after that. If I’m honest, I’d hybridise Generation Terrorists with Gold Against The Soul and cut away the dead wood, of which there’s over an album’s worth. Or better still, just play ‘Motown Junk’ on repeat for 60 minutes. Their particular approach to the musical aspect of Rock N’ Roll isn’t going to win over any new admirers, but documentary footage of the burgeoning Manics still fizzes, based on knowledge of where the four of them were going to end-up in terms of the fetid perfection of ‘The Holy Bible’. Despite the pomp and artifice, I’m always excited anew by the sight of the old Manics knowing Richey was that pearl of earnestness that gave everything they did a grain of truth.

    I only recently got over my cynicism toward Journal For Plague Lovers, which manages the seemingly impossible task of being a better album than Generation Terrorists with only secondhand-Edwards. Richey just buoys the whole thing up, and gives them a renewed sense of purpose (I haven’t bothered to listen to a Manics album since the turgid ‘This Is My Truth…’). Even at its most upbeat it gives them that dichotomy that made ‘Yes’ so compelling: Seemingly upbeat rock riffs, laced with super-intelligent, caustic lyrics.

  2. Ah, 20 years, eh? This would be the same Manics who, in a letter to Melody Maker in 1990, wrote…

    “”The most important thing we can do is get massive and throw it all away. We only wanna make one album, one double album, 30 songs and that’ll be our statement, then we’ll split up. It’s all we wanna do, it’s what we’ve aimed for all our lives. There’s no glory in being top of the indie charts, there’s no glory in being Top 30. You’ve gotta be Number One. We just wanna be the most important reference point of the Nineties. That’s all.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved them ever since being dragged along to Norwich Waterfront by a mate in what must have been 1990/91 and being blown away by them. I still remember them arriving on stage with “We’re the Manic Street Preachers and we don’t do encores.” And they were right, they didn’t.

    I just like the irony of that Melody Maker line, 20 years on.

  3. 20 years ago? Wow how old does that make me feel. I’m with Chester on choosing the tracks he likes from it, those were the track that stood out for me too. It was ‘Loves Sweet Exile’ that prompted me to go out and purchase the album. I felt the Manics were bringing good ole fashion Rock n’ Roll glamour to the masses.It didn’t disappoint me, there were more great tracks than bad ones and that was in an era where so many albums in the mid 80’s and early 90’s it was screamingly obvious what the singles were or going to be and the rest were often album fillers. The self harm problem Richey had was worrying and I feel it encouraged young impressionable girls who had depression to imitate, sad really. Equally I wasn’t impressed with Gold Against The Soul, i felt let down and wrote them off. They could have indeed made one great album instead of releasing the first two.

    Whn the Holy Bible came out I didn’t take much notice at first until a friend said check it out. I did and holy shit it was fucking amazing, to this day it’s the best thing they ever did. I love to pop that on when I’m having a crank out (I mean playing my music loud). Over the years I’ve got hold of all their albums but Holy Bible still remains top of the heap for me, closely followed by ‘Know Your Enemy’ and Lifeblood. I can’t get my head around Journal For Plague Lovers, I tried about 3 times and gave up, I don’t like it!

    Does anyone really celebrate a 20 year anniversary of an album though, I mean what do ya do? invite a few friends around pop it on the sound system eat cheese and drink wine and talk about it, or simply pop it on your ipod and dance around your lounge like a spaz because someones just reminded you of the album and it’s age and has inadvertently made you feel like an old fucker. “They don’t make music like they did in our day now do they dear?”

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