Released on: Generation Terrorists (Album #1) Columbia Records, 10 February 1992
Also on: Slash ‘N’ Burn (Single #7) Columbia Records, 16 March 1992
Peak UK Chart Position: #20
Band Ranking: #31
A surging slab of dinosaur, backwards-looking glam rock complete with ’80s-style machined drums, a marvellously kitsch drum break and lyrics that virtually overflowed with political invective, ‘Slash ‘N’ Burn’ was exactly the kind of song the Manics needed to open the sprawling double album they believed would be lapped up by the very capitalist system it was designed to undermine. Although subsequently released as a followup single in March ’92 – backed with one new song, [B36] ‘Ain’t Going Down’ – the track remains arguably one of the most representative and definitive album openers of the band’s career.
It also serves as a perfect introduction to the fully-formed Generation Terrorists sound that the band had been building to, on and off, over the course of the previous year. Dated-sounding even at the time, vulgar, overblown and yet completely impassioned and violently real, the song is more effective as a statement than as a song. Although it recedes back into distant memory by the time the album finally lumbers to a close, this opener performs its function admirably – signposting what is to come and telling listeners: get on board or back off.
The lyrics are intriguing and appear to focus mainly on two themes: first, the exploitation of poor countries by Western ones, the US in particular and second, the hollow consumerism made possible by that exploitation which serves only “created needs”. The central conceit is that the West causes destruction in the developing world to bolster its own growth and to service its consumer economy – akin to the slash and burn technique of agriculture.
The Manics would deal with big issues again both on this LP and for years to come, but ‘Slash ‘N’ Burn’ is notable as an early, flawed attempt by Wire and Edwards to confront very large global-scale issues in one of their songs.
The video was the second directed by Tony Van De Ende and like his previous effort, consists mainly of live footage, plus shots of the band on a UK tour (posters for a show at the London Astoria can be seen). The version of the track played in the video contains live drums by Moore which were not used on the album.
“you need your stars / even killers have prestige”
Slash and burn – an agricultural technique in which wild plants are cut down and burned so that their ashes act as a fertiliser for crops planted on the same ground.
Third world – now outdated term used during the Cold War to refer to parts of the world that were neither Western liberal democracies in the US sphere of influence (the “first world”) or communist states aligned with the Soviet Union (the “second world”). Now fairly analogous with the term “developing world”. This, however, shifts from a political-ideological definition to an economic-developmental one.
McDonald’s – global fast food chain originally founded in in San Bernadino, California in 1940.
Exxon – brand name used by the American petrochemical giant now known as ExxonMobil. The Exxon name is often associated with Exxon Valdez disaster of March 1989 (alluded to by the lyric “drain your blood and let the Exxon spill in”) in which hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil were spilled in Prince William Sound, Alaska causing vast environmental damage.
Madonna – American singer born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan in 1958.
Coke – colloquial name but also registered trademark for the main product of the Coca-Cola Company, founded in 1892 and based in Atlanta, Georgia. As Greg points out (below), the line “Madonna drinks Coke and so you can too” is likely adapted from a similar line in Andy Warhol’s 1975 book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.