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Fun but inconsequential
on June 7, 1999
Generation Terrorists was originally hyped as a cross between the Clash, Public Enemy, and Guns and Roses. But, a fan of any of these artists can easily see that GT fell short of that by quite a bit. The lyrics itself are great. Mostly shotgun blasts of Situationist slogans, political inventive, and rebel chic. Often the lyrics comes across as shallow, adolescent, and self-impressed; but, that's precisely the point. For a band to forbode greatness, it's debut record must have the hubris of rock'n'roll youth. And for an album so full of itself, MANY a trenchant political and philosophical insight can be found.
Then, where is the problem? The music. Even working in glam rock, it's still possible to create still brutal, brilliant music. Guns and Roses have done it again and again. But,Generation Terrorists is primarily slick, heavy hair metal, more Skid Row than GNR. It's well done, with plenty of hooks, catchy melodies and riffs, and solid musicianship. In fact, if the lyrics were more conventional, this would be bloody great in the car. Nevertheless, it doesn't transcend its limitations and sells the lyrics short by alot.
There are significant exceptions, however. You have the epic "Little Baby Nothing" - their most succesful attempt to depict a femninist archetype (in this case, porn star), as tragic victim. Then, you have the truly magnificent "Motorcycle Emptiness." It must be the first power ballad about cultural boredom, and it completely works. If anything, at this point in the game, the Manics already were gifted in conveying "beautiful sadness", in creating memorable, moving anthems to existential despair. This is simply one of the finest anthems ever written in the 90s.
So, all in all, GT stands not as a taste of things to come, but the conceits that the Manics would attempt (and bittersweetly succeed) to create greatness from. On its own, it's a pretty good hair rawk album to strike the poses with.