Released on: Generation Terrorists (Album #1) Columbia Records, 10 February 1992 (Track 2)
Generation Terrorists finally reaches its apocalyptic conclusion in ‘Condemned to Rock ‘N’ Roll’. After seventeen tracks of backwards cock rock, spray-painted slogans and the flat thud of that drum machine, the do-or-die album crashes completely off the rails with this six-minute blow-out. What results is a triumph that has become a cult song among a particular wing of fans.
The success of the closing track has little to nothing to do with the lyrics, however. The sheer amount of material needed for the album must surely have placed severe strains on the output of Edwards and Wire, and ‘Condemned’ is one of the songs which shows that little was left in the tank when it came to writing. The song falls on lazy tropes like plentiful swearing and attacking music journalists in place of making any real points; we get the impression that our hero has hit rock bottom when Bradfield moans, defeated at the end of the song “there’s nothing I wanna see / there’s nowhere I wanna go…” but there’s little else to speak of.
What makes ‘Condemned’ work is its vast level of reckless bombast, unmatched anywhere even on Generation Terrorists, but more particularly the extraordinary instrumental section towards the middle of the song in which Bradfield segues from riff to coruscating riff. It’s arguably the most searing and exciting instrumental moment of the album and possibly of the whole early period of the Manics; it demonstrates Bradfield’s enormous talent for guitar heroics and goes some way to explaining why the song has very rarely been played live.
Shows of instrumental prowess have never been a major element of the Manics sound; this is probably best explained by their roots in the punk tradition. To the first wave of punk bands making a mark on both sides of the Atlantic in 1976 and ’77, their stripped-down and often instrumentally crude music was an antidote to the often ludicrously overblown and pretentious displays of virtuosity favoured by bands like Yes and King Crimson. ‘Condemned’ is one of the clearest Manics examples of this attitude being mixed with the crushing power found in early heavy metal, in which soloing was less about technical accomplishment and more about pure impact. Pinned to the end of the otherwise densely lyrical Generation Terrorists, it proves the ideal way to bring the album to a glorious, flaming car wreck of a conclusion.
Rather than being played live in full, the early part of ‘Condemned’ was quite often used as an introduction to [A8] ‘Motown Junk’. Bradfield performed an amazing acoustic solo performance of the song at Rough Trade East in London to celebrate the release of GT‘s 20th anniversary edition in 2012. Although he amusingly refused to sing, his rendition of the infamous riffing section is truly something to behold. At the event, Bradfield stated that the song had never been played in full in the UK ever before.
“the past is so beautiful / the future like a corpse in snow”
Vodka – Russia’s national drink, a strong clear spirit made from barley, rye or potatoes.
Claustrophobia – an intense fear of being in a confined space, treatable with psychotherapy.
Avant-garde – French for “advance guard” or “vanguard”. Refers to work or behaviours considered outside the cultural norm.