Saturday, 22 November 2014

Motorcycle Emptiness

Literally a day after the release of 'Slash 'N' Burn', the 17th March 1992 was obviously a busy day in providing things for my collection.  The latest song on 'Lipstick Traces' was an acoustic rendition of 'Little Baby Nothing' for Radio 1.  Nothing out of the ordinary now (apart from the Radio 1 part) you might think, James has done countless solo acoustic slots over the years.  But those dodgy glam/punk Manics?  Acoustic?  On Radio 1?  What's going on?!!  Obviously the song is performed magnificently to general encouragement from Steve Wright and that housewives market they previously referred to was now well within their grasp.

Another live gig featured on the Reading 97 video had the same standard 'Generation Terrorists' set as the two gigs mentioned on the previous blog.  So, despite what we now know was coming as the next single, there was still no room for 'Motorcycle Emptiness' yet 'Democracy Coma' and 'Damn Dog' were hanging on in the setlist.  After quite a lengthy Public Enemy intro tape, the gig itself is solid early Manics.  A decent vantage point with decent footage and an enthusiastic crowd, it is slightly marred by Richey's guitar being too loud in places.  The 'You Love Us' outro again is exhilarating stuff.


Fast-forward two months and we have an acoustic rendition of 'RP McMurphy' from Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan, which appears on the 'Unplugged' bootleg.  So there's at least one change to the setlist we've been seeing in the other live performances featured on this blog.  It's a fairly faithful version, unremarkable, apart from the additional minute at the end which if I'm perfectly honest I was surprised to hear this early on in their career.  Amid high-pitched, heavily accented screams of "Richeyyyy!" and "Nickyyyy!" we get the first recorded instance in my collection of the James band intro.  Not sure I believe that Sean is 5'6" though....and who on earth is Richey Rocks?!!

In the NME from the 30th May 1992 we get another chance to catch up with our boys in interview form, this time from somewhere which seemed as though it may suit them but from the general tone almost definitely didn't, Los Angeles.  In the midst of the LA riots they plumped for a photo in front of Disneyland, all looking mean and moody hiding behind their shades.

If their career to date was actually 'Generation Terrorists' and they started with the youthful enthusiasm of "You need your stars...", then this interview is 'Condemned to Rock 'N' Roll', "There's nothing I want to see, there's nowhere I want to go".  Starting off at an album launch party at the Rainbow, Sunset Strip, you would think that this would be exactly where they wanted to be, but no.  Nicky says "It's made me much more inward. I haven't gone out at all.  I've been reading more than I've done in the last three years...I've gone back to the days when I used to love Morrissey."  Richey meanwhile observes that "Everything just seems for sale."  Might be a good idea for a song, that.....

The piece tells of a gig at the Whiskey, with Gilby Clarke of Guns 'N' Roses in attendance, again something that you might expect to be a dream come true, the next step on their path to world domination and 18 million album sales.  But the Manics don't get America and America doesn't get them, we're told that 'Slash 'N' Burn' was played by KROQ to commemorate the LA riots.  Nicky: "It just puts it all into perspective, being poxy British white kids in the heart of this grim nation of corporatism."

There's a sense of things falling apart a little, even Sean gets his own section of the article, stating that "the other Manics seem a little put out by his hermit style".  We're also told that after making the top 20 Sean got a letter from his dad asking to meet up which coincided with plenty of drink and Sean smashing his room up with a pool cue.  The interviewer also notes Richey's right arm (not the 4 Real one) - "burns, scrapes, slices, lesions - a lurid pink testimony to a sustained programme of self-mutilation" which Richey dismisses as " just my war wounds".

As things take a slightly darker tone what better way to raise spirits than with another hit single?  It was finally time for 'Motorcycle Emptiness' to take centre stage, as the NME single review gushes "OK, doubting Thomases, prepare to push quivering fingers into the wounds of Christ.  OK, mockers and deriders - prepare to eat hat, to gobble shit sandwich."  Never before played live (to my knowledge) and now the fifth song to be taken from 'Generation Terrorists', it was the one that in theory would propel them to super-stardom.

After buying the 'You Love Us' cassette and then the 'Slash 'N' Burn' seven-inch, it was back to the trusty old cassette format again this time.  The CD and additional B-sides followed when all of the GT-era singles were re-released, the 12" picture disc followed a few years later in my ebay gap-filling period and the German promo CD is actually one of my newest additions, bought because it is apparently the only place that the particular edit of the song appears (and I must admit it is a new one on me, fading out at only 3 minutes and 40 seconds).

Main B-side 'Bored Out Of My Mind' was another new studio song, the next in a long line of quiet, introspective, largely acoustic numbers. In terms of subject matter and the languid pace it seems to fit the mood of the aforementioned interview perfectly.  It has always slightly bothered me that James doesn't really seem to be pressing the strings down quite enough in places though.  The next B-side (on the CD and 12") is a cover of Alice Cooper's 'Under My Wheels' from a Friday Rock Show session a few months earlier.  Along similar lines to 'Damn Dog' and 'It's So Easy' it's a three minute romp to the finish line, as with the others a bit of fun but not up to the standard of their own originals here.  Also included on the CD is a live version of 'Crucifix Kiss' from the Astoria in February, a gig covered in the last blog.  Needless to say it's ace.

The cover of the single shows a photo of each band member making themselves at home in hotel rooms, James strumming away on his guitar, Sean looking rather pensive and Richey and Nicky doing their best bored out of my mind poses.  In terms of quotes, the original cassette goes with Marlon Brando's "The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalized, develop scabs, never evolve.  Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much."  Quite an apt Richey quote.  The CD again reverts back to the quote from the album sleeve.  An interesting curio on the 12" is that it is actually 'Bored Out Of My Mind' that is credited to M.Bruce/D.Dunaway/B.Ezrin and not 'Under My Wheels'.

And so to the video.  It's definitely iconic, wandering the Japanese streets as the true rock stars that they are.....but please, someone sack the stylist.  Nicky is passable although I'm not sure about the black hair, Sean's coat is too big, the less said about Richey's haircut the better and James?  The designer stubble is probably working but the suit makes him look like a little boy dressing in his dad's best clothes.  Full marks for one of the greatest moments of any Manics video with Richey on the bridge though.  Although that clock on the big wheel going back in time has always bothered me.  Maybe it's ART.

It was inevitable that a song like this was going to allow them to return to Top of the Pops, although it was surprisingly not their biggest hit to date ('You Love Us' pipping it by one place).  The performance turns up on disc 1 of 'Televised Propaganda'.  With James not learning and dressing the same way as in the video and Nicky appearing to have leopard print drawn onto his arms, they play along on a stage strewn with what appear to be rose petals.  Nicky in particular seems to be enjoying another triumphant moment, even though the crowd clapping along is particularly irritating.

So was the 'Generation Terrorists' era coming to a close?  Was the end going to be nigh with the 18 million album sales nowhere near achieved?  The answer to the first question for now was a no.  I think we all know the answer to the second....

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Slash 'N' Burn

Around about the same time that 'Generation Terrorists' was arriving in our shops, the Manics were featured in long-forgotten magazine Siren, with an article by John Robb.  John has subsequently confirmed to me via Twitter that he wasn't responsible for the headline!

The most prominent interviewee as usual is Richey, the feature focussing predominantly on the intelligence of the band, with an almost apologetic tone towards the music on the new album, a fairly common stance at the time.  The practicalities of touring rear their head, with talk of Sonic the Hedgehog and getting "really drunk" and "hanging around with groupies".  References to "3 or 400 letters a week" show that the fan devotion had already well and truly set in too.

They almost sound as if they're uncharacteristically praising another current band, Nirvana, at one point, before pulling it round with a sneer when asked if they feel an empathy with them: "They are at least not singing about Harley Davidsons cruising down sunset strip".  Interesting quote of the piece goes to Nicky - "...if someone dies in this band I'd write a book about it".

The 15th February 1992 edition of NME delves further into the Manics' world in the immediate aftermath of 'Generation Terrorists' and hints for the first time (to the general surprise of no one) that the 'release-one-double-album-and-split-up-in-a-blaze-of-glory' claim may not actually be true.  It's also Carter's turn to come in for some stick, or rather their fans, ironic given that my first ever gig was Carter and my second was the Manics.

One part in particular interested me reading back, about how "...Richey plays a solo which is five minutes long and goes KRDAGANGGRRRRAH!!".  Now we all know he was never really one for solos, and as for that sound unless it was a break from the norm his live guitar sound was never really much louder than someone itching their back.  Richey does let himself down in my eyes though - "I was really surprised that in the NME Readers Poll, Bottom came second in the Favourite TV Show list.  For me, someone like Tony Hancock is way up there and Vic Reeves is with the scum down the bottom."  Richey, you wouldn't let it lie....and may I say that's a smashing blouse you're wearing?

Talking of Tony Hancock, Richey's labelling of his suicide note ("Things just went wrong too many times") as " of the most beautiful things I've ever read" shows a haunting echo of what's to come.  For all the initial bluster and propaganda, the melancholia is definitely gradually starting to come to the fore, both through the music and in interviews at this stage.

Back to the music.  Tucked away on a bootleg video of two 1996 gigs that I picked up on ebay a while back is "London Astoria 20.2.92 - Full set inc. lots of old songs they no longer play".  It's not quite a full set, as it turns out two and a half songs are missing, but even with the presumably fan-filmed footage it's a corker.  Coming in halfway through 'Democracy Coma', it leads us through 'Born to End', 'Love's Sweet Exile', 'Repeat', 'It's So Easy', 'Slash 'N' Burn', 'Crucifix Kiss', 'Sorrow 16', 'Little Baby Nothing', 'Stay Beautiful' and 'Motown Junk'.  It's the gig that the footage from the 'Slash N' Burn' video is taken from (with 'Crucifix Kiss' also turning up as a B-side to that single), James looking far cooler than should be possible in a frilly blouse, Sean boiling his brains with his Russian hat and Nicky in his iconic black mask makeup.

The choice of songs is interesting, B-sides still included in the set, but no room for 'Motorcycle Emptiness', and 'Love's Sweet Exile' is still played more in the style of its earlier incarnations than the album version less than two weeks after its release.  Nicky is warming up into his full-on motormouth period informing some audience members, presumably in the balcony, that they look like they'd be better suited to being at an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  The general feeling is that despite the gloss of the album, the live arena still shows that the early spirit is still there, albeit with renewed musical prowess (James I'm looking at you).

The missing songs from the above gig, 'You Love Us' and 'Nat West...' turn up on Disc 2 of the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD seemingly recorded for MTV, along with 'Love's Sweet Exile', 'Slash 'N' Burn' (or 'Lash & Burn' as it is on the sleeve), 'Crucifix Kiss' (labelled wrongly as 'Sorrow 16'), 'Little Baby Nothing' and 'Motown Junk'.  They obviously have the added bonus of decent footage and improved sound as well as the infamous Nicky-smacking-a-photographer-with-his-bass incident.  It must have hurt Nicky just as much as he had to carry on the rest of the gig with a different guitar.

Some of the songs from this gig also turn up on a couple of bootlegs, 'If You Want Blood...' listed as "Live at the Astoria, London, 1993 Japanese TV broadcast, stereo" and on 'Where Are You Goin' Now!?' as "live in U.K. 1991".  Come on bootleggers, get your facts right!  Both of these bootlegs were picked up around the same time from ebay in around 2002.

Keeping up the pace in the press, the NME featured a live review by Stuart Maconie on 29th February 1992 with another of those Welsh pun headlines that were all the rage at the time (let's face it, I'd have probably done it too).  The line "in theory, the Manic Street Preachers have always been my favourite group.  It's just the practice I've had a little problem with" was pretty much the norm for most journalists then.  It's probably all you need to know from this review.  That and "the Manics are Japanese rice crackers in a world of Hula Hoops".

The third and final interview on the 'Mouthing Off With the Manics' interview CD (mentioned in previous blogs) is labelled as "March 1992 Here we hear Richey and bassist Nicky Wire talking openly in a face-to-face interview about life in this rapidly rising band. 37 minutes 39 seconds".  When listening, it becomes clear that it's taking place just before the album has been released though (oops wrong blog!) and it's also clear that the two of them are eating pretty much the whole of the way through the interview!

Tasty information includes Traci Lords taking a few takes before she got the right feel for 'Little Baby Nothing', Nicky claiming she initially sounded like Joey Ramone!  In terms of lyrics, we find out that 'Crucifix Kiss' is about religion (shock!), 'Nat-West...' is about banks (horror!) and 'Repeat' is anti-monarchy (scoop!).  And apparently producer Steve Brown said while recording that James was 10 times the guitar player that Billy Duffy is, despite only being 22.

We also find out that future plans include touring America and Japan, we're reminded that up to now they've only played one gig outside the UK in Paris.  Apparently American reviewers of the album are describing it as "Nine Inch Nails meets Cheap Trick" and Richey in particular almost spat the words "Smashing Pumpkins" in relation to another comparison.  When asked about singles we're told that 'Another Invented Disease' will be next (really?) and maybe either 'Motorcycle Emptiness' or 'Little Baby Nothing' after that to cross over "into the housewives' market" (Nicky).  Highlight of the interview again goes to Richey for the way he says The Who.

Proof that the Manics were moving out of the indie-land that they had predominantly inhabited up to this point came with a great feature on Headbanger's Ball, captured on Disc 2 of the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD.  Featuring an extremely bashful Richey and Nicky talking through the usual stuff between clips of all their promo videos and a quick snippet of 'Nat West...' live, it's a perfect summation of their career to date.  Nicky for one expresses pride at the album hitting number one in the rock charts, something which he didn't particularly feel about the indie charts.

Another bootleg video in my collection, which leads with the Reading 1997 gig, features a performance from Brighton East Wing from 14th March 1992.  Essentially the same gig as the one described earlier, the only differences are the opener and closer are exchanged, with an absolutely storming 'You Love Us' even featuring the ending played at lightning fast speed, and 'Damn Dog' (credited as "Unknown Song ?") replacing 'Sorrow 16'.

Shot from the side of the stage, it's quite a Richey-centric video given that he's stood in front of the camera, but James is again the star of the show.  The highlight comes before 'Little Baby Nothing' when one heckler clearly shouts "Hey Richey, are you plugged in?!", with a mouthed "Nah" and a shake of the head the response.  Great gig.

And so to the next official release.  The next single to come from 'Generation Terrorists' was 'Slash 'N' Burn', and after buying 'You Love Us' on cassette last time out I went for the 7" option on this occasion.  A very wise purchase given the B-side was 'Motown Junk', so I finally had the chance to hear that properly after the fleeting glimpses before fandom really took hold.  It was single purchase number 33 in my collection, and as it was bought on release was in my possession before 'Generation Terrorists' itself, which as mentioned on the last blog arrived on my 14th birthday two months later.

Carrying on the tradition of including older songs, ticking the boxes of allowing newer fans to hear them and not having to record any new songs, 'Motown Junk' was joined by its B-side 'Sorrow 16', although on the re-release CD I picked up later on 'Motown Junk' was omitted, preventing me from owning it on CD for a while longer.  Tucked away as the only new song was the superbly understated one-man-and-his-guitar of 'Ain't Going Down'.  To throw this away as the B-side of single number four from an album shows an embarrassment of riches in terms of material that would carry on for most of their career.

The quote on the sleeve of the 7", "Only the man who says no is free" - Melville, was replaced by the quote inside 'Generation Terrorists' for the re-release.

The accompanying video is basically a James Dean Bradfield appreciation-fest.  Comprised of footage from the aforementioned Astoria gig, along with backstage footage it's a PROPER ROCK video.  James pulling out all his best guitar god moves, looking as cool as he ever has, even managing to pull off wearing the brightest pink fur coat you'll ever see.  My favourite moment was always the play-fighting scene where he looks like he's just slightly overdoing it, but no one would dare tell him he was.  We've all been on the receiving end right?

So, after four major label singles and a double album, what next?  1992 still had plenty more Manics memories to come.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Generation Terrorists

I remember getting 'Generation Terrorists' on cassette for my 14th birthday, which would mean I got it around 3 months after its release.  As it was 1992 that must have been the birthday where I also got the white vinyl 12" of Pearl Jam's 'Even Flow' and winded myself trying to recreate Eddie Vedder's dive into the crowd from the video for one of my friends (just a bit of context there!).

Cassette is a pretty underwhelming format to own, it isn't the size of vinyl and it doesn't have the smarter looking booklets and shiny discs of CDs, but it's how I owned the majority of my collection up until the mid 90s.  For this blog I dug out my old paper record of my early record collection and 'Generation Terrorists' was actually my 15th album and only my 3rd cassette (do I hear gasps at the back?).  For a little bit more context it appeared in between 'Boing!' by Airhead and 'Pretty Hate Machine' by Nine Inch Nails.

Given the smaller scale of cassettes, the sleeve for 'Generation Terrorists' was particularly big and foldy, plenty to get your teeth into with the quotes against every song, photo collages, the lyrics - this was obviously Richey's contribution.  Also at this point he has decided to call himself Richey James, maybe he just wanted a stage name like Nicky Wire, maybe both of them just wanted to sound less Welsh.  Whatever the reason, to me he was and always will be Richey Edwards, even though I seem to remember Jeremy Paxman giving an incorrect answer on University Challenge to someone who answered Richey Edwards to a Manics question (or was it the other way round?!).

When I started writing proper songs myself around 95/96, in a way I stopped hearing fully formed songs and instead heard a combination of vocals, guitars, bass, drums, maybe keyboards.  You might be thinking "what is he talking about?!", but there is a difference.  'Generation Terrorists' falls into that pre-songwriting period and so wasn't subject to having the instruments picked apart, the genres and sub-genres analysed and so was basically judged on whether it was good or bad.  Listening to it with fresh ears for the first time now I might hear all sorts of references, but it's too's 'Generation Terrorists', it's one of my favourite albums of all time and I love it.  So there.  And so to the songs.....

18 songs - 4 already released as singles, 4 older songs resurrected or re-recorded, 1 remix, 1 cover and 8 brand new songs.  It's the monster album that they promised.  Starting off with one of those new songs, 'Slash N' Burn', it's like guitar riff, GUITAR RIFF, BOOM!  Welcome to 'Generation Terrorists'.  Note to journalists: it doesn't sound like the Clash.  It's a great choice for opening track, it's simple, it's immediate, it's fantastic.  "You need your stars, even killers have prestige"....sorry I'm babbling, did I turn 14 again?!

The production is immediately noticable as being very shiny, very slick, which is a sure-fire way of annoying the inkies, but they had plenty of warning!!  James has suddenly transformed into a guitar god, I mean he was always good, but this raises the stakes even more, and the drums sound massive.  Another thing that hits you is how ready for mass appeal they sound, up until this point it wasn't really something that people had taken seriously but it's just the perfect pop-rock song with a riff that stays in your head for weeks.  Have always loved Simon Price's take on it as well, being "the first rock song about the living hell that is cystitis".

'Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds' carries on where 'Slash N' Burn' left off, but in a slightly more understated way.  It certainly proves that they can do good chorus, even though when you think about it it does sound faintly ridiculous now.  Like I said, I never used to think about what I was hearing or singing along to at the time, so it never really dawns on you that you're actually screaming along to a list of banks!  Nice sensitive piano outro too....

'Born to End' bounces into view next and was a little underrated by me previously, although lately (while doing my Manics Top 50!) it has been stuck in my head for days at a time.  It is beautifully melodic and I especially like the line "Can't afford it so I hate it all" for some reason.  James again shows his guitar prowess with the new-found shiny, crystal-clear production.

After the early demo of 'Go Buzz Baby Go', that song had never reared its head again until now.  Maybe they didn't think they could do it justice, maybe it didn't fit with the image they wanted to portray in the early days, but whatever the reason 'Motorcycle Emptiness' had finally arrived.  The Manics had steadily been blowing people's preconceptions out of the water as they progressed, but I don't think anyone saw this one coming.  It doesn't sound at all dated even over 20 years on, and despite clocking in at over 6 minutes you still never want it to end.

'You Love Us' then cartwheels by in its own inimitable fashion, almost like a footnote to the preceding track - "You hear what we just did THERE?! You MUST love us now!!!" - before 'Love's Sweet Exile' (with the addition of an acoustic Patrick Jones-narrated intro) graces us with its presence.  You get the feeling that, following the all-new songs kicking the album off, these two are giving us a bit of familiarity, putting a bit of fun back into the album.

As 'Little Baby Nothing' begins, like 'Motorcycle Emptiness', it's another blow to the head of anyone who still had them down as punk chancers.  Is this the most feminine song ever performed by an all male band? Yes, it features Traci Lords, but you know what I mean.  We all know the story about them wanting to have Kylie on this song, but I definitely agree that it worked out for the best in the end.  I've seen this described as fairly clumsy lyrically, like in a "boys trying to understand girls" kind of way but I've always really liked it.  There are some classic lines in here - "Paper made out of broken, twisted trees" and possibly THE most Manics-like lyric ever, "Culture, alienation, boredom and despair".

So, the original statement that Public Enemy's production team were going to produce the debut album didn't come true, however we did get a glimpse of how it could have been with 'Repeat (Stars and Stripes).  We'll let them off for their love of Public Enemy, they must have been really proud at the time, but now it just seems a little bit out of place.  I always did like it, but it seems to get in the way a bit now.  There are a few songs which could have been relegated to B-side status if they weren't insistent on it being a double album...this was one of them.

'Tennessee' had already been a B side, so presumably in the absence of any more new material they brushed it down, rocked it up and stuck it at the end of the first side (back when we had 'sides').  Maybe they thought the American reference would work on the American market?  Unlikely, and although it's not exactly one of my favourites it's a blast all the same!

My old stereo always used to dislike cassettes, it had a particular loathing for the first song on the B side, making the sound go all swirly and up and down.  This is kind of how I hear 'Another Invented Disease', even now on a CD.  This is quite possibly the most ROCK song on the album, custom-built for stadiums and 3 female backing singers swaying in unison.  Was this really four awkward, androgynous Welsh boys?!  Are they supposed to sound this huge?!

'Stay Beautiful' returns like an old friend and does its stuff, not quite the same sheen as the others, but all the better for it.  For anyone that was into the band before the release of 'GT', I love how the pre-album singles break everything up and make it all seem more fun, this one in particular.

'So Dead' is a very good song, but maybe one of those that would have been better suited to B-side status if they hadn't insisted on opening with a double album. Bonus points to James for managing to invent a new word, "su-ee-uck", though.  With 'Repeat' already having appeared in remixed form, it now gets itself a slightly amended title of 'Repeat (UK)', but see my previous comments about the singles, this has exactly the same effect.  The contrast in style between this and the likes of 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and 'Little Baby Nothing' was clear though, if they didn't split up as they promised, would the new material still contain the same mixture or would it head in the direction of the newer songs?

After all the bluster, energy and bad language of 'Repeat', we come down to the most mellow song on the album, a re-working of 'Spectators of Suicide'.  Breaking my usual rule of preferring the first version I hear of a song, I heard this before I went back over and discovered the Heavenly version.  While it's good, it's not as good as the Heavenly version, it just seems a little weak compared to the songs that surround it on the album and the general tempo, especially when you put it next to the shuffling original and take into account the apparent lack of bass. Love the jagged, watery guitar sound though.

A formal intro and a Nicky Wire count-in heralds the start of 'Damn Dog', the only cover on the album, which is entertaining enough, but like 'Repeat (Stars and Stripes)' seems a little bit out of place.  With retrospect another one that would have been more suited to B-side status, although its length means it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.

And so to the last triumvirate, the final furlong.  Whenever I used to get this far into the album I think I would get bored by this point as I never used to particularly like 'Crucifix Kiss' and 'Methadone Pretty'.  Why?! Am I an idiot?!  I have now seen the error of my ways.  'Crucifix Kiss' is probably THE most 'Generation Terrorists' song on the album if that makes sense, it seems to be all the songs rolled up into one.  'Methadone Pretty' is almost unchanged from its previous outing within the 'Lipstick Traces' demos, a rarity in itself given the changes many of the other early songs went through before their final release.

With an album this big, this bold and this brash, we needed a scorcher to finish it off.  "Lumberer" may be a more apt word, but 'Condemned to Rock 'N' Roll' fits the bill perfectly, although I'm aware that others aren't overly keen on this song.  This was my favourite Manics song back in the day, maybe because my tastes were getting heavier, maybe not.  Regardless, loads of other songs have overtaken it in the pecking order now, even from this album alone, but it's still an amazing album closer.  From the main part of the song itself with one of my favourite lines, the incredibly bleak but perfectly written "The past is so beautiful, the future like a corpse in snow", to James leaving us in no doubt that he has now turned into a bona fide guitar god during the last couple of minutes, the album eventually comes to a close with "There's nothing I wanna see, there's nowhere I wanna go'.  It's like that moment at the end of a horror film where everything has seemingly resolved itself only for the viewer (listener) to catch a glimpse that it hasn't quite gone away yet, there's still more to come....but in the words of Bob Mortimer's 'Detective in a Wheelbarrow', this time it's personal.

Given that Richey contributed nothing to the musical side of things, he was probably responsible for overseeing the packaging.  From the iconic cover with the doctored tattoo to the collage of pictures of the band posing and playing, from the lyrics to the quotes tailored to every song, there was obviously a lot of thought put into it (although not on everyone's part if the story about getting the colour of the cover wrong is to be believed).  Image-wise it's probably the point where they had the most classic look of that era of the band, the images in the booklet framing each member perfectly - the pouting, preening Richey, Nicky having to put a bit more effort into his glamour, the slightly dishevelled but still cool James and the dark mystery(!) of Sean.

A bit later on, in my Ebay period of the early 2000s, I managed to pick up one of the vinyl picture disc copies of 'Generation Terrorists' (limited to 5000), one disc presumably showing what the colour of the original cover was meant to look like.  I also picked up a regular CD to give my old cassette a rest and allow me to hear the likes of 'Another Invented Disease' as it was intended.

So what of the reviews, how was it received?  NME decided to go with "Rocket to Blusher" and centred around the fact that yes, what they're doing may be unfashionable, but they're daring to do it so good luck to them - "..the Manics have not compromised their abrasive, agit-pop, scratch-mix slogan-choked lyrical style one iota despite having realised (presumably) that the Yanks won't understand one word of what they're saying".  Barbara Ellen concluded that the album was a "10 and stuff the marking system".

It obviously wouldn't all be plain sailing though, it never was.  Select gave the album 3 out of 5, describing 'Little Baby Nothing' as "Tiffany making a record with REO Speedwagon" and coming to the same conclusion as many journalists at the time that they had vastly overstretched themselves.

But let's give the last word to Simon Price shall we.  Despite the headline "Guns N' Daffodils", it's everything you would expect a Simon Price Manics review to be - it speaks in their language even as far as having a classic put-down of an indie band of the time, "The sleeve alone...has more aesthetic merit than the entire recorded output of Kingmaker".  The final words sum the album (and the band) up perfectly and are a fitting end to this piece - "a damaged diamond".

Saturday, 15 June 2013

You (Still) Love Us

The Manics started out life being very measured, rehearsed but nervous interviewees.  But as the scorn poured out of their mouths over the subsequent months, they perfected the art of the interview, calm and articulate but with vitriolic soundbites aplenty.  The interview with the NME from 2nd November 1991 is one where they're in top form.

Interviewer Andrew Collins puts everything into perspective first of all - "1991 might have been the year of Carter, Blur, Oceanic, Bryan Adams and Right Said Fred, but what got namechecked the most in other people's interviews?  None of the above".  You don't need to ask who he was referring to.  He also defends them against accusations of hype - "Steven Wells never managed to sell anyone Revolting Cocks or Lard; Philip Hall (their PR) also represents the Southernaires and Flood (no front covers there); and Columbia Records have yet to successfully 'get' Fishbone or the Real People into the Top 40".  The simple conclusion is the Manics do hype themselves to death, but you don't get this much prolonged attention without the music to back it up.

It's classic quote time too, from Richey - "You know how Catholics always hate every other religion, or Baptists hate Methodists more than they hate the devil?  Well, we will always hate Slowdive more than we hate Adolf Hitler".  Absolute journalistic gold.

An interesting little quote with hindsight is that amidst all of Richey's talk of Wales being " a museum, everything is closed, it's like a long walk down a graveyard", the interviewer asks if they ever get hiraeth (a "peculiarly Welsh sense of homesickness").  Mr Mouth himself, Nicky Wire, is the one that pipes up to say "I do sometimes".  Anyone who may have thought that the sudden championing of Wales later on in their careers was bandwagon jumping, can see that in Nicky at least it has always been hiding in the background.

You can't beat a good picture disc.  No matter what's on it a 12" slab of coloured vinyl just looks amazing doesn't it?  As far as the more obscure items in my collection go, this is one of my favourites, a 12" picture disc featuring an interview for Spiral Scratch magazine.  I have seen a few CDs knocking around Ebay, but I have also seen from a few sources that the vinyl version is quite rare, although don't know how accurate this is.  This is one of the earlier rare items I picked up from one of my previous favourite pastimes of looking at the record shop adverts in the back of Melody Maker, NME, Select etc.  My two favourite shops were Track Attack and Opal, they always seemed to have loads of Manics stuff that I could either use to plug holes in my collection or total up the current prices of everything I owned!!  Pre-Ebay they tended to be a lot more expensive, probably as they were more difficult to track down.

The interview itself starts off mid-conversation talking about bands who try their luck in Japan and moves on to their history where Nicky claims they only formed about 18 months ago??!!  There are demos to prove otherwise Mr Wire!  With the sound of people making tea in the background they discuss early gigs, the first singles (they didn't even keep a copy of 'Suicide Alley' for themselves apparently!)' and how their fans aren't ex-Smiths fans or whichever band's fans, they seem like the Manics were the first band they've ever been into. True for me, although more through age than anything else.  Special mention must also go to the way Richey says "punk", I can't even begin to do it justice by trying to write it down in print.

As we move into '92 (still in a room without a view, sorry couldn't resist it RATM fans) the NME is following our heroes with a live review at Cambridge The Junction.  It's Steven Wells again, so obviously not really going to tell you anything other than the fact that "The Manic Street Preachers are a kamikaze divebomber flown by Andy Pandy and his transsexual friends" and James, whilst singing, looks like "a puppy dog straining on its first solid dump".  Cheers Swells.  Comedy is also provided by Nicky apparently handing his bass to someone else to smash as he hasn't figured out how to do it yet!

What would the new album be if it didn't contain 'You Love Us'?  The decision to re-record it can't have been a difficult one, with such a shiny new production now the old version would have stood out like a sore thumb, never mind it being recorded for another label.  So, big guitars and drums are in, some of the peripheral stuff like the whooping in the verses and the extra guitar in the chorus are out (shame) and the outro is different, now being a showcase for James' ever improving guitar skills.  I'm not going to go into any more depth on this song as the original has already been covered in a previous blog.  It's 'You Love Us', what more is there to say?!

This was my first Manics purchase, going for the cassette single, I later bought the reissued CD for the additional tracks.  The artwork is different to the original, more toned down in silver and black, and the quotes used are also different across the two formats - "False Media.  We don't need it do we?", Public Enemy (cassette) and "Regard all art critics as useless and dangerous", Manifesto of the Futurists (reissued CD).

The video?  Well if you thought 'Love's Sweet Exile' was a bit raunchy, you ain't seen nothing yet!  Nicky and Richey camp it up for all they're worth, Richey in particular stealing the show while kissing a giant picture of himself, then suddenly turning his head to look in a mirror.  It's quite hilarious, no wonder they used to bring it out as a backdrop at later gigs.  It has to be said James has finally decided to make an effort in the image stakes, this is probably the point in time where all four of them actually look the part (usually someone would let the side down).  It's another triumphant video in the sense that whatever feeling you had for them before, love or hate, you can now double it.

After releasing no less than four songs from their upcoming album (before it has been released!) across three singles, and with it being a double album, the Manics were clearly struggling for new songs to use as B-sides.  They had used up their store of old songs, presumably all the new ones were going on the album, so they had to find something to give to their fans.  'A Vision of Dead Desire' was a new title but not a new song, although they could be forgiven as its original incarnation of 'UK Channel Boredom' was released before most people knew of their existence.  It's faithful to the original recording, apart from the obvious change in lyrics, but comes across as a definite B-side, good stuff but nothing special.

Also recognising that new fans may not have been around at the time of 'Motown Junk', the inclusion of 'We Her Majesty's Prisoners' both fills in a gap for fans and buys more time before new material is available.  It definitely sounds more dated in this context, still a good song but without the trimmings that major label life now brought.  Bringing up the rear is a live version of Guns 'n' Roses 'It's So Easy' recorded at the Band Explosion a few months before.  If the new sound wasn't enough, this was basically just ramming down everyone's throats who their current influence was and as with the live footage of this gig they sound like they're on fire, Nicky sneering along with James on many parts as the song careers to a close.

After the relative chart success of the last single, surely 'You Love Us' had the legs to go even higher?  Of course it did, earning the Manics their first shot at Top of the Pops, which features on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD.  With James bare-chested and ignoring his guitar for the first minute or so, Richey and Nicky pull all their best poses while the crowd stand motionless, some might say stunned.  Sean meanwhile packs in about a minute before the end treating us to the hilarious sight of pyro going off all around his drum riser while he's sat completely still in a sulk!  A big moment for them, no matter what some people may want they really aren't going to go away (apart from when they split up after the album of course....yeah, right).

An advert from the inside cover of the March 1992 issue of Siren shows the cover of the new album due out on 10th February 1992, proudly bearing the line "18 Tracks including the Hit Singles..." ('Stay Beautiful' was pushing it a bit as a hit!).  Underneath that a list of tour dates taunt me, specifically the one reading "Friday 7th February Middlesbrough Town Hall".  I was a few months short of my 14th birthday and despite wanting to go, I wasn't allowed.  Eighteen months later I would go to my first gig at the same venue, but despite being good, Carter and the Sultans of Ping wasn't the same.  Imagine if I could have actually said that my first gig was the Manics on the 'Generation Terrorists' tour!!!

Two TV interviews in the run up to the album's release turn up on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD.  The first for Rapido has the obligatory introduction from the mildly irritating Antoine de Caunes and starts off with some great old footage from what looks like a rehearsal around the time of 'Motown Junk'.  It moves on to the band going back home, wandering around Pontllanfraith in the snow, Richey in his fur coat genuinely looking like he is freezing to death, but like a true pro carrying on regardless.  We are also informed about Traci Lords' appearance on the new album on a song called 'Little Baby Nothing' and Nicky gives his famous quote about her being the "most intelligent American we've ever met" with a massive grin on his face.

The next piece for Vivid TV (who?) begins with the reporter saying "They've been described as the sexiest rock band in the entire world, they've also been described as utter crap".  Clips from videos are interspersed with Nicky and Richey, again in their fur coats, talking on some stairs.  The highlight is Richey responding to an unheard question, presumably along the lines of "What do you want from the album/life", saying what sounds like "I want someone who could love me" with a massive smile on his face, while Nicky, also laughing, replies "I love you Rich...I just want to have a number one album in America and then retire to a big concrete bunker.."

With singles released, TV and music paper interviews given and EVERYONE waiting for the album that was going to change the world, it wouldn't be long before it was upon us.....

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Love's Sweet Exile/Repeat

The Manics are captured in the studio environment for an interview with Rage magazine around the time of the release of 'Stay Beautiful' and it's another one of those interviews which mis-spells 'Richie', 'Shaun' and 'Nicki'.  It immediately paints a picture of rock 'n' roll excess as James welcomes the interviewer wearing a blouse bearing 'I AM A SLUT' while Sean "is sullenly working out with video golf" and Richey "passes round a plate of Mr Kipling apple pies".

It's more of the same about the one and only album, trying not to slag off bands ("The interviews we were doing were, like, two or three hours long and we'd talked about loads of different things.  We'd illustrate a point by mentioning a band and they'd be the only quotes that ever got used") and how they seem to inspire their fair share of hatred ("We are weak, puny little people.  We always knew that.  Anybody could beat us up.  But then, it happens to a lot of people in everyday life anyway.  So many bands forget that").

Select were next on the agenda, in which the band seem to strangely be mostly wearing the same clothes playing live as they were in the studio in the previous article.  This time they manage to tag "Ricky Edwards" in the caption on the main photo, which I seem to find more funny than it actually is.  And they also appear to be playing on the set of an old Flash floor cleaner commercial.

It starts off telling it like it is - "So far, they've released three properly distributed singles but only one, the latest 'Stay Beautiful', has gone anywhere near the Top 40.  Their concerts mostly attract audiences of between 100 and 200 people.  Their records have had measly airplay.  Fact is, most people have never heard Manic Street Preachers, they're a phenomenon that only really exists on the pages of the music press, where they've caused one hell of a stink with their blatantly sensation-seeking interviews and divided critical opinion more starkly than any group in years".

All smiling?!
It's an on the road feature and goes on to introduce each member, highlights as follows: quiet, shy, jittery, trying to run a four minute mile (James), addicted to fruit machines, drinks Babycham, former captain of Wales under-16 football team (Nicky), charming, pretty boy, doesn't play on the records (Richey), cousin of James, youngest trumpet player ever in the South Wales jazz orchestra, has childhood sweetheart of 8 years (Sean).  All of these are probably well-known to fans now but for some this may have been the first appearance of the more personal information.

Apart from a bit of a band history and tales of table tennis, computer games and Babycham, a large chunk of the interview is made up of a letter sent to the magazine by the band and printed word for word.  It basically complains about how they've been portrayed in the magazine and is a plea for a fair crack of the whip (which this interview is).  They do this in the style of their early manifestos, also littered with lines which would eventually crop up all over 'Generation Terrorists'.

An interesting little curio is credited on the trusty 'Tortured Genius' bootleg as 'Sorrow 16 Riot - Reading After Dark 10.8.91'.  It consists of about a minute of 'Sorrow 16', during which Nicky sounds a bit distracted, missing notes, then Nicky and James stop, leaving Richey and Sean merrily playing away. James then lashes out at someone "Don't hit him, right, if you want to hit anyone hit me, I'm not gonna hit back all right?!".  He might be short, but don't mess with him or his friends!  The incident is referred to in Simon Price's book 'Everything', where a mixture of sound failure, Nicky baiting the crowd and no security obviously led to a confrontation that perhaps only James actually relished (once Nicky had established there was no security).

A slightly different kind of feature appears in the 24th August 1991 edition of NME, a Q&A article headed 'Material World'.  It reads like a written interview rather than face to face, asking random questions like "Key films in your life", "Desert Island Discs", "Great writers" etc.  A lot of the questions are either answered in list form or by quotes from Lenin to Bret Easton Ellis to Marlene Dietrich.  It's pretty much the Manics' reason for being in a handy two page guide.  Slightly worrying at this point (and a pointer for images to come) is that "Best Dressed Person in Rock" is answered as Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.  I like the Black Crowes, but not for their fashion sense.....

In September the Manics were part of Band Explosion, a series of showcase gigs recorded by both Radio 1 and BBC2.  Included on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD were two televised performances of 'Stay Beautiful' and 'Motown Junk', with a short interview by early 90's wish-you-could-have-forgotten-him presenter Gary Crowley.  His interview contains my all time favourite question - "So you guys come from, what, Blackwood? So what have you made of all of that?".  Richey answers patiently, Nicky chips in his views, before the band are called to the stage.

I remember watching this at the time, I think my brother recorded it on one of our 'Tusic Mapes' (music tapes, videos, no?) and seeing it now I can believe that this may have been the catalyst for me changing my opinion of them from being a band with good songs to being a proper fan.  It definitely seems like "an event", the band playing out of their skins, although Nicky messes up as usual, and that early 90's seal of approval, the constant stream of stagedivers livening things up even more.  As a display is destroyed and thrown around the venue during 'Stay Beautiful', James encourages the crowd to "rip it apart" - that moment stuck in my head so much that I always hear James say it in my head at that part of the song every time I listen to the album version!!

As 'Motown Junk' brings everything to a climactic close, the glitter rains down on band and crowd and you get the feeling that after all the column inches they've finally arrived, they're finally receiving some sort of acclaim.  The credits rolling over this scene hit this home even more with the roll call of some of the bands also appearing - Catherine Wheel (good, but hardly exciting), Intastella (interesting hair, but ditto) and Slowdive (do you really have to ask?!).  A definite turning point.

The second interview from the 'Mouthing Off with the Manics' CD mentioned in a previous blog is described as follows: "October 1991. Featuring Richey, again, in a phone interview, this time you can hear him talking about the artists and musicians that influenced the Manics in those early years and what they meant to him.  From Public Enemy to Guns 'n' Roses, Richey sheds new light on what inspired the band to pick up guitars in the first place. 17 minutes 21 seconds".

It does exactly what it says on the tin minus the awkward introductions from last time, the start and end being edited out.  We hear about Public Enemy, Richey shaming himself by saying that 'She Watch Channel Zero' has guitar  from an Anthrax song.  Richey, Richey, Richey, it's obviously 'Angel of Death' by Slayer!  He tells us how he's hardly seen any bands live, just read about them, before moving on to Guns 'n' Roses (exciting, much more interesting than boring indie bands) and The Clash (the Tony Wilson Channel 4 documentary from 1986 gets another mention) at which point it carries on for a minute or two as a conversation between two obvious Clash fans. Next to be discussed are the Sex Pistols, quote of the whole interview coming from interviewer James Sherry - "The best thing was they never reformed and they never will". Are you sure about that James?!  And finally the Rolling Stones, where we learn that James learnt to play 'Exile on Main Street'.  A different interview for the band at this stage, about what they like rather than what they hate!

And so to the Manics' first double A side, probably because they wanted to release 'Repeat' as a single but the use of the 'F' word kind of made that a bit difficult.  This single is almost like they are clearing the decks of their old material before pressing on with the new, with the exception of 'Methadone Pretty' there weren't many other older songs that would resurface.  Like with 'Stay Beautiful', the first time I owned this single was as part of the 97 CD re-releases, also going back to Ebay later on to pick up the 12" with the additional live track and gatefold sleeve.

There are actually two different quotes on the sleeves of the different formats, the 12" containing "Then came human beings, they wanted to cling but there was nothing to cling to" (Camus) and the reissued CD going with "Modern capitalism, organising the reduction of all social life to a spectacle, cannot offer any other spectacle than that of our own alienation" (Kotanyi, Vaneigem: IS NO.6 1961).  The artwork for each was the same, a simple target painted on a sculpted torso, but with different colours.  The gatefold opened up to a blurry live image with the lyrics printed down one side, for a band that was very conscious of their lyrics it was an opportunity for some to get past some of James', er, interesting phrasings and read what they were singing about!

'Love's Sweet Exile' is the final incarnation of a song previously known as 'Just Can't be Happy' and 'Faceless Sense of Void' and the production qualities of the upcoming album show a marked change to those previous versions.  Huge sounding drums kick the song off, with James' guitars increasing the rock factor from the last single ten-fold.  I have honestly never noticed this before, but where is Nicky?!  Did they just not bother putting him on it or was it another Jason Newsted on '...And Justice For All' scandal?!!  Given that Sean does pretty much the same drumbeat all the way through, it may as well be a James solo single.  As the last drumbeats come to a halt, you can almost hear the sound of those journalists that had them down as Clash copyists sharpening their pencils (do journalists use pencils?).  Well, they did warn us with all those Guns 'n' Roses references!

The accompanying video was a strange one, camping it up doesn't quite seem enough, homo-erotic seems closer to the mark.  You can picture the discussions as Richey and Nicky try to persuade Sean, who turns up later in the video wearing his best "I'm not even taking off my T-shirt" look.  The idea that 'Repeat' was always the one they wanted as the single is backed up by Nicky spraying the song title onto a pane of glass.

'Repeat' had always previously been incredibly energetic and controversial.....but usually a bit of a shambles.  Now they have finally got the right version.  At the time I seem to remember this being one of my favourite Manics songs and quite possibly one of the best uses of a siren in music alongside EMF's cover of 'Search and Destroy'.  One thing I don't seem to have (although it's probably buried on a video somewhere) is the version of 'Repeat' played on The Word, another one of those rebellious acts having rehearsed 'Love's Sweet Exile' before the live programme went out.

'Democracy Coma' is the B-side on the regular versions, another contender for best ever B-side, it could almost be a triple A-side!!  It really seems to suit the new sound perfectly and begs the question that if this is a B-side what treats are waiting for us on this multi-million selling debut album in waiting?!  The 12" actually has 'Repeat' and 'Democracy Coma' on the A side and 'Love's Sweet Exile' on the B-side with a live version of 'Stay Beautiful' from the Band Explosion referred to earlier.  It even has old Goodybags himself, Mark Goodier, at the end, telling us that it was from "London's Mar-klee Club" and is another one of those live recordings where Richey is clearly audible in your right ear.

While 'Stay Beautiful' had only just scraped into the top 40, this was the single that made a slightly larger dent, peaking at number 26.  So, they're starting to make further inroads to the general public consciousness, but if only they could make an extra leap....Top of the Pops maybe?