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Is there really such a thing as selling out?

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Did the Manic Street Preachers sell out? Most fans will agree that there’s a difference in sound between ‘Motown Junk’

and later songs like ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’

and certainly the production values improved. The roughly-recorded punk sound of their 1992 debut album Generation Terrorists gave way to lush strings, and they did reach Number One in the UK charts.

But are these changes more than cosmetic? The Manics have always written pop songs, and this song about the Spanish Civil War is still full of the same political sloganeering that once inspired Richie to carve “4 REAL” into his arm with a razor blade. In other words, if they’d recorded it in their garage they could have slapped it on after ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and we’d have been none the wiser.

I did often wonder if the grumblings about the Manics were to do with a sense of the loss of ownership. A music fan invests a lot emotionally in a band, especially when it’s a band that’s not so well-known. You have to hunt harder for information, the act are often more accessible personally but less accessible professionally – you might be able to meet the band but there are fewer photos and less biographical information. That hard-won information, even of the band’s existence, is a badge of esoteric honour. When that band then becomes popular, you have the loss of that personal access combined with a sense that the new fans didn’t have to try as hard as you did to find those handily rereleased rarities. It can feel like a betrayal, and the fan blames the band: they ‘sold out’, because they don’t belong to you exclusively any more.

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