Released on: Generation Terrorists (Album #1) Columbia Records, 10 February 1992 (Track 2)
Surely the only rock record to build its chorus around the names of four high street banking chains, ‘Natwest – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds’ is often seen as the most prescient and ahead-of-the-curve song the Manics ever recorded. There is an element of truth to this idea; in attacking the corrupt and soulless practices of the banking sector, the band were tapping into an issue that was not a major item of public concern in 1992 but has certainly become one during the economic chaos of recent years. However, a number of previous crashes had occurred within living memory while the song was written, including the “savings and loan crisis” in the 1980s and 1990s in which hundreds of US building societies collapsed.
What does make the song feel prescient is its focus on credit and debt; the enormous levels of debt incurred not only by individuals but also governments is today a huge concern, as is the power of banks and rating agencies who have become strong enough to topple whole nations like Greece simply by raising borrowing rates. Of the banks mentioned in the song, Barclays has been the most controversial recently, being involved in the rigging of the Libor inter-bank lending rate, collusion with Lloyds TSB (the successor to Lloyds, also mentioned in the song) and tax evasion.
The banks mentioned in the song were at the time the “Big Four” UK banks. Natwest is now part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, Barclays exists in very much the same form, Midlands bank became HSBC Bank and is part of the HSBC Group, and Lloyds became Lloyds TSB as the result of a merger in 1995. Both in terms of banking practices and corporate identity, this song is an interesting insight into how little changes in London’s financial core.
Musically, the song is an effectively muscular but fairly unremarkable entry on Generation Terrorists, although the piano outro and Bradfield’s anguished wail of “Mein Kampf for beginners” are both memorable moments. The original “Marcus” demo of this track has some very notable differences to the final released version. Although it is very rough around the edges as you would expect from a demo, it is actually in some ways superior, especially in its marvellously sinister-sounding riff and the altered “prosperity…” section towards the end.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“prosperity / exports for Pol Pot”
Natwest – formally known as the National Westminster Bank. Founded it 1968, it is one of the ten largest banks in the world and has been part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group since 2000.
Barclays – the 6th oldest bank in the world, Barclays was founded in 1690 by Quakers who favoured careful, responsible lending. Times change.
Midlands – Midland Bank, founded in 1836 and absorbed into the HSBC Group in 2000.
Lloyds – Lloyds Bank, founded in 1765, merged into Lloyds TSB in 1995.
Black horse apocalypse – a reference to the black horse symbol used by Lloyds Bank and still used by Lloyds TSB.
Pol Pot – leader of the genocidal Khmer Rouge faction in Cambodia – see [A18] ‘Repeat (UK)’
Mein Kampf – German for “My Struggle”. Infamous book written by Adolf Hitler on his ideas, published in two volumes in 1925-6.
Barclays iron eagle – while a clear reference to the eagle symbol long used by Barclays, it is also an intended comparison between Barclays and Nazi Germany, which used an iron eagle symbol extensively (including on its currency).