Released: Columbia Records, 10 February 1992
Peak UK Chart Position: #16 (Gold Certification)
By the time Manic Street Preachers’ debut LP was released in February 1992, its creators had already become among the most notorious bands in the UK. Their late 1991 shows had been confrontational sell-outs, they had made appearances on a number of TV shows, and they had been featured in publications from Smash Hits to the Sunday Times. Simultaneously engineering and believing their own hype, the band declared that Generation Terrorists would sell millions of copies, that they would headline a packed Wembley Stadium for a few nights, and then break up. True to that goal, the record was to be a mammoth 72-minute double-album opus comprising no less than 18 songs. Although major label Columbia had signed the band to an unfavourable and restrictive eight-album deal, they had sufficient faith in the project to not only support it, but to sink an incredible £500,000 into its production. This was an enormous investment into a band who would have been expected to remain on a small independent label, but only big label money could realise the Manics’ recklessly huge ideas. After an exhausting twenty-three weeks recording at Black Barn Studios in London helmed by producer Steve Brown (known for his work with Wham! and The Cure among others), Generation Terrorists was ready.
The result remains one of the most spectacularly over-ambitious debut albums ever made, a record rife with anachronism and contradiction, one which performed way under the band’s outrageous expectations but simultaneously launched a decades-long career. What NME‘s Amy Raphael proclaimed would be “the most awesome and scandalous rock record of 1992” turned out to be exactly that, despite – or because – of the fact that it was in large part a thing of the past. The band’s lyrics dredged up World War II and the Exxon Valdez disaster while referencing Beat poets and 19th-century philosophy, just as their music returned to glam-rock guitars and kitsch drum machines at exactly the moment American grunge blew them into history. Generation Terrorists was regressive and crude but also more genuine in its anger, despair and aggressive intelligence than anything that had been released for years. Although the band had supposedly intended for it to be an epitaph, this sprawling, inconsistent mess of an album became the jumping-off point for years’ worth of what ‘Little Baby Nothing’ termed “culture, alienation, boredom, and despair” but also hope, defiance, rage and many dozens more fascinating songs.
From a critical perspective, it could be said that Generation Terrorists is more important as a statement of intent than as a collection of songs. It is arguably the only Manics record which sounds truly dated, especially because of the machined drums and Steve Brown’s production techniques, which are often thought to have taken the aggressive edge from a number of previously-recorded songs. At well over an hour in length, the record is much like The Clash’s London Calling or Guns N’ Roses’ two Use Your Illusion albums in that is simply much too long to be anywhere near consistent. As Manics biographer Simon Price commented in his liner notes for the 20th anniversary reissue, “everyone […] agrees that it could do with losing half a dozen songs, but no-one will ever agree which ones”. This fact takes nothing away from either the immortal status of several of the album’s songs, or the exhausting, inspiring experience that is provoked by the full album.
Ultimately, the most important legacy of Generation Terrorists is the foundation it laid for the subsequent development of Manic Street Preachers. Far from breaking up as they had originally intended, the limited commercial success of the album encouraged the band to take advantage of their long-term recording contract and to look at how to continue to develop their musical and lyrical ideas. Due to this, GT now represents the first major steps of a band who went on to become one of the most important rock bands the country has produced; but the road would be a winding one, to say the least.
1) [A22] ‘Slash ‘N’ Burn’
2) [T23] ‘Natwest – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds’
3) [T24] ‘Born to End’
4) [A25] ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’
5) [A20] ‘You Love Us’
6) [A17] ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’
7) [A26] ‘Little Baby Nothing’
8) [T27] ‘Repeat (Stars and Stripes)’
9) [T28] ‘Tennessee’
10) [T29] ‘Another Invented Disease’
11) [A14] ‘Stay Beautiful’
12) [T30] ‘So Dead’
13) [A18] ‘Repeat (UK)’
14) [T31] ‘Spectators of Suicide’
15) [T32c] ‘Damn Dog’
16) [T33] ‘Crucifix Kiss’
17) [T34] ‘Methadone Pretty’
18) [T35] ‘ Condemned to Rock and Roll’