(Planet Me)
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
MANIC STREET PREACHERS. Generation Terrorists. Box Set.

It all started with Snub TV. It started with “Motown Junk”. It started with a furious three minute brawl of incoherent glory, the singer spitting out lyrics as if his mouth couldn't form the words fast enough to keep up with his brain. “The only thing you give me is the boredom I suffocate in – numbed out in piss towns – just wanna dig their graves – twenty one years of breathing – a lifetime of slavery – songs of love echo underclass betrayal – stops your brain thinking for 168 seconds.”

Sure. Sixth form poetry. But sometimes, being 'Sixth Form' makes you smarter than everyone else in the room. Sixth Formers aren't yet hooked always : not always in the system, not always in the belly of the whale, not always in the prison of work, not always in the cycle of debt, not always in the world of compromise, betrayal, acceptance, not always selling out their ideals for a payrise, Sixth Form Poetry sees the world in ideals, in ethics, in morals, in purity, in what could be, not what is and what cannot be. “Generation Terrorists”, the Manics first record, was the manifestation of a lifetime of dreams in one compressed vinyl quotation number one. This band was everything I wanted to be : one of the handful I took to my soul on first listen, and never ever, ever, let go of. Even when they released “Lifeblood”. These words were a universe apart from the drivel & dross that surrounded them : The Farm wanted you to get on a groovy train. The Manics wanted you to hijack a speeding train, smash through the gates of the palace, and set fire to the world.

Should I wax lyrical? No, you know this already. Imagine if Noam Chomsky, Axl Rose, and Philip Larkin were all fighting for control of one mans body, and he was also a musician of the talent of Johnny Marr and a voice as perfect as Morrissey and James Hetfield combined. Hell, yes. I'd buy that for a dollar. Extend this battle out to a total of four South Wales, unemployed souls from derelict mining towns, and you have a band so bizarre that they could only be real. Some kind of musical platypus.

Over time, of course, they evolved, they changed, they became something else. But for a short while, The Manics were a freak of musical science. It is all here.

Where have we been?

20 years, already. For the first time that I can really, tangibly feel, the nostalgia circle is closing. 20 years seems like yesterday to me, and 4,000 years ago. Can it be so long? And yet, so short? Even now, I remember, as tangibly as last week, the roar of sirens as they opened with “You Love Us” in Leicester in 1992, the shambolic set in Birmingham University, the roar of cheers in a tiny hall as they played “Motorcycle Emptiness”, watching the television appearance for “You Love Us” - the band surrounded by flames – on a small grey set in a suburban terrace. And here it is, the lavish, post-the-event retrospective box set.

At the time, of course, it never seemed we would ever get to this point. No thought at the time for the inevitable retrospective reissue. There & then there was only the here & now.

The box however does feel a little thin : the cardboard and the thickness of the paper on the book, the 10” Radio Sessions EP, the art print feels thin, cheap even : which, for a £45 item is simply unacceptable. On the other hand, this is certainly no less exhaustive in terms of material than the recent Sex Pistols box set (and at less than half the price).

Whats in here? The debut record in full (admittedly, missing the sample from “Streetcar Named Desire” that was only on the first pressing), a full reconstruction of the record from demo recordings and early singles, extra demos (with 8 unreleased songs), and all the b-sides. On the 10” 4 Radio Session songs. On the DVD, a 76 minute talking head documentary, 11 promos, 6 TV appearances, and half an hour of archive VHS and 8mm footage. Sadly, I have to keep my VHS recorded from German TV of an hour long live show, but I suppose it was difficult to get the rights. Oh, and you get a book and a fake plastic lanyard.

The album itself is something I haven't listened to in full since April 1992. Too long, too many songs, - and sometimes the wrong ones – it is a magnificent, beautiful failure that simply could not and never could meet its own crazed expectations. Were it six songs shorter and had “Motown Junk” on it, it would be the best debut record since, and surpassing, “Never Mind The Bollocks”. But as it was, it was the one shot at an album, the crammed, desperate speech of everything that you had waited a lifetime to say finally having had a chance to be said, a musical vomit that could only have been made there and then by people of such beautiful naivete.

The second CD is a glorious assemblage of demos – mostly taken from two sessions at House In The Woods and Marcus Studios. (Outside of this a live take of “Damn Dog” and the first single release of “You Love Us”.). The demos are all, by and large, serviceable, though they include drum machines, scrappy and rushed performances, and are unpolished diamonds in the rough, shown here in embryonic, formative stages that demonstrate the vast and arrogant vision that the Manics held close to their hearts : Trainspotters such as I will note different lyrics and interpretations. Appended to the end, given that there is no demo for “Condemned To Rock N Roll”, the first three singles - “Suicide Alley”, “New Art Riot”, and “Motown Junk” are shown in demo form.

The third CD, only on the demo, contains several demos that were available and bootlegged for years on the “Lipstick Traces” 1992 vinyl bootleg or cassettes sold in dodgy markets. “Motorcycle Emptiness” is “Go Buzz Baby Go”, a three minute romp at twice the speed, as well as much heard cassette only demos, and the flexi disc of “UK Channel Boredom” which I still have upstairs on razor thin plastic.. The back half of CD3 is the albums numerous b-sides : “Sorrow 16” has the erm, 20 second fade exit of “Motown Junk” at the end of it thanks to some bad mastering. Given that the band released 18 songs, several non album singles, and numerous extra songs, the quality of the songs does dip somewhat near the end when the 4th b-side to the 11th single hoves into view.

But look at it from a distance : 66 audio tracks and four and a half hours over three CD's and a 10”, alongside a three hour DVD, and this set is an enormous, bloated slice of history. Perfect in its flaws, beautiful in its imperfections, a record that means so much more to me now than it did then.

“Revolution soon dies – sold out for a payrise”.

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