Sunday, 2 April 2017

Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll by the Manic Street Preachers...

What exactly is music all about? Is it something to listen to on a top-of-the-pile hi-fi system that enables you to hear every note as if you were not just at the concert, but one of the musical instruments? Or is it purely about reminiscence, evocation, the joy of the moment, mood? For me it's a bit of both, but the latter qualities are most important: the thinking back, the memories, the sunshine and those moments in life that are somehow captured by the music like a butterfly in a jar.

And let's be honest, where's the best place to listen to music? It's in the car, of course. The moment you switch on the music player, be it CD or MP3 or whatever, you find yourself in the opening scene of your own movie, where you're the star until you turn off the music and get back to reality. The music dictates the mood and for me there's nothing better than finding an album I purchased a while back, in 1992 to be precise, recommended by a bloke called Roger in the days when I could still buy cassette tapes and CDs were a relatively new phenomenon.

Generation Terrorists was the album in question and it was one of those moments when I first played it, that I distinctly knew that every track would be good; a bit like Nirvana's Nevermind from roughly the same time, and Therapy?'s Troublegum – three albums that haven't lost an inch of their power and all the tracks are still 100% on the money.

As for memories, they're all car-based. Driving through the English countryside on a lazy summer afternoon, a week off work, watching the meadows pass by, window down, a cool breeze, the open road.

For me the 'movie' kicked off the moment track one of Generation Terrorists started – Slash and Burn, but before we go any further, this isn't going to be a track-by-track appraisal of the Manics' first album, which I believe will be remembered as their finest, although there are others, and everybody has their own opinions on which is best. But enough, there's just one track – Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll – that I want to rave about because of its ascendant guitar riffs and the sad desperation of the last lyric: "There's nothing I wanna see, there's nowhere I wanna to go...". Potent, tear-jerking stuff, but for me the ecstatic, soaring guitar work that precedes this haunting line almost beggars belief in its brilliance.

Musically, it's the ascendancy of the riffs and the way the guitarist, James Dean Bradfield, goes higher and higher as if he's running up a wrought iron fire escape into the sky and belting across metal landings before ascending again and again, adding something new each time, it's almost vertigo-inducing, a bit like the opening animation to a Dreamworks movie when the balloons safely deposit the boy on a crescent moon only to float higher and higher, into infinity, perhaps. Quite scary. I've been on planes before where I think we've broken through the clouds only to find there are more, higher up, even at 38,000 feet. Incredible. Those riffs on Condemned to Rock and Roll induce similar giddy but ecstatic feelings of joy. It's a fantastic end to an absolutely amazing album that simply doesn't let up from the moment it starts to that final, desperate lyric on the last track.

Should I ever find myself on a desert island, I would request a CD player, two powerful speakers and, of course, Generation Terrorists by the Manic Street Preachers.

Generation Terrorists by the Manic Street Preachers (1992).

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