Here is what I know about the state of the world:
1. We are rich.
2. There are no wars or anything (real wars, that is).
3. Ummm. Very little continental drift going on (that’s probably normal).
4. Somewhere, the president’s daughter is “like, totally wasted” right now.
There. One minor problem. Otherwise, things are swell. I haven’t really researched this much, but if something major was going wrong, I’m sure someone would have told me. So what are these Manic Street Preachers bitching about?Pitchfork review posted March 19th 2001, roughly six months before Americans became aware of bad things happening in the world apart from Jenna Bush being arrested for underage drinking
I discussed the Manics’ 2001 commercial hari kari ‘Know Your Enemy’ at length in my 50’000 word list of their 100 greatest songs published last year. I mentioned that it all started when an aging British revolutionary folk icon turned his nose up at the band’s private Portaloo at a Scottish festival. I mentioned how Manics bassist/lyricist Nicky Wire would later confirm that he wouldn’t have that same folk icon’s “Dick pissing in my toilet for all the money in the fucking world”. I mentioned how that shot of verbosity occurred during a T in the Park performance that acted as an reinvigorating reminder of the band’s routes as angrily political agitprops. I mentioned how people had mostly accepted they would never be that exciting again after the morose and Phil Collins infused ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours‘ had sold roughly seventy two squillion copies, making the band Britain’s biggest rock band after Oasis had politely taken their dog out of the fight with ‘Be Here Now‘. I discussed at length their line in the sand statement single The Masses Against the Classes*, the scuzz punk call to arms that became the first new UK number one of the 21st century. I noted how this moment – along with them playing the song live to 57’000 people at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium at new years eve 1999 – represented the absolute peak of their commercial success. For the benefit of the TL:DR generation, I then explained the release of their sixth album a little over a year later in meme form:
And despite everything I’ll discuss in this review, I still absolutely stand by that visual point. It’s simply inconceivable that the band ever believed that ‘Know Your Enemy’ would be a commercial success, and it’s likely that they correctly assumed that it would cut ties with the mainstream to such an extent that they would never again experience anything close to the success that they enjoyed in the late 90s. Their previous album, 1998’s ‘This is My Truth…’ sold five million copies worldwide (!), while ‘KYE’ sold 500’000. Nicky Wire would later even concede in Mojo Magazine that much of those sales were to dissatisfied customers, and also remark on how it marked the band’s commercial downturn: “To this day, you see ‘Know Your Enemy’ at service stations for £2.99, because they bought so many thinking it was by one of those commercial bands! In retrospect, it sold half a million copies. Imagine what we’d give for that now.”
So, yes: commercially, it was ritual suicide. But was it any good?
It was absolutely not a commercial endeavour, but it was hardly a ‘Metal Machine Music‘ style audio dirty protest. Whatever your feelings on the record – whether you’re the casual You Stole the Sun From My Heart fan furiously throwing the CD out the window of your Mondeo as you leave the service station and Wattsville Blues comes on or the diehard Manics obsessive doggedly claiming that it’s a subversive masterpiece – you would understand that it was a legitimate artistic statement that the band honesty believed was a brilliant album. And, back in 2001, the band were correct. Kind of. Kind of.
Judging the album in a superficial sense, the good songs are incredibly good. My Guernica (#79), Intravenous Agnostic (#48, shockingly low), So Why So Sad (#26), Miss Europa Disco Dancer (#64), His Last Painting (#96) and, erm, Wattsville Blues (#90) all made my 100 greatest singles. Listening to the remastered album, I’m kind of ashamed that Epicentre, Found That Soul, Let Robeson Sing, The Convalescent, and (oh God, especially) Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children didn’t make the cut. Looking past the surface level quality though (sit down kids, papa’s ’bout to do some proper music journalism) there’s really little that links those ten album tracks sonically – apart from occasionally a ‘General Fuzziness™️’ – which points to the album’s wider issue of lacking real coherence or even complete clarity. The record sounded like it was a real levee breaking of their commercial constraints to release all the ideas, influences and artistic statements they felt were constrained by their previous position as the most successful band in the country. The band took in influences from Joy Division, REM and The Beach Boys as they consciously turned away from the arena rock that had previously been their forte (since long before they were playing arenas – they emerged in the late 80s as a stadium rock band in search of a stadium). And that to me was the chief issue with ‘KYE’ – it’s chief goal was proving what it’s not, rather than spending adequate time communicating what it is. You ever see a dating profile where someone explains at length what they’re not into (“No vaxxed, No mums, No tats, No liberals, No dyed hair, No piercings, No independent thought, No ambition, No aspiration, No physical defence training, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!”) rather than what they are? ‘KYE’ would be full of red flags.
‘KYE’ was absolutely not a stadium rock album. So instead it was an REM album. No! It was lo-fi political punk album, McCarthy style! Nooooooooooooo! Sonic Youth? Yeah? Sonic Youth? We all happy with a Sonic Youth album? No no no! How about if we fed Brian Wilson into a meat grinder and asked him to sing Joy Division through bloody tears!? OK, let’s compromise, how about we do all of this but just do it on different tracks so no one song on the album sounds anything like another? OK, now pass the ketamine that I need to inject into my eyeballs as the only way to conceivably record an album this frenetic. Like, ketamine had to be involved, surely? I know the band say they’ve never taken drugs and Wire has stated that the hardest drug he’s ever done in paracetamol, but… have you heard this album?? They must have been off their fuckin’ nuts mate. ‘KYE’ really captured the feel of the band’s debut album in that it contained every single idea the band had, like they were convinced this was the last album that they would ever record. Even the band themselves would concede that the album was fucking bonkers (or, in Nicky’s more learned words, “a fucking impossible mess”), its insane ambition and a lack of focus creating an ill-defined word salad of ideas that actually feels a lot longer than its sixteen tracks.
The solution? Increase it to thirty three tracks!
I joke, I joke. You people are alright.
Now you see what I did there? I was both being funny and also deadly serious. Because the new 2022 remaster of ‘KYE’ is actually thirty three tracks long. And I’m not talking ‘alternative takes’ or ‘Radio 1 session’ or ‘live at WOMAD’ bollocks (though there is an often fascinating extra disc of demos). The entire album has been reimagined, resequenced, remastered and reoriented, bolstered with b-sides and standalone singles recorded around the same time and a handful of new songs, and now spread across two discs. The album was originally conceived as a double album, with the two sides ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Door to the River’. Grasping for inspiration and unsure of a direction (apart from, obviously, away from ‘This is My Truth…’) the idea of having the audacity to release a double album in the style of their heroes Guns n’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusions I & II‘ motivated them into the studio. However, for various boring reasons they settled on a single really long album (Nicky: “James just looked at me: ‘Why are you trying to do this weird shit all the time?’ In a nice way.”) and the concept only sort of saw light with them releasing the two lead singles (Found That Soul & So Why So Sad) on the same day which, I know, some younger readers might not understand in this era of everything being everywhere at every time and costing no money nor effort. I imagine my reaction upon first hearing about this ressue;s radical reinterpretation was shared by a large portion of the Manics fanbase: Yaaaaaaars!! So that’s why ‘KYE’ never made any fucking sense! It was supposed to be a double album! Finally we’ll get to experience it as it was originally intended!! I don’t want to build it up too much, but I imagine it will literally make my brain explode and force me to shit my own balls in amazement. Yeah. All the fans would be saying that. Verbatim. Much like the band used to be a stadium rock band without the stadium, ‘KYE’ was always kind of a double album without the two discs. An obvious comparison to be made with ‘KYE’ originally was with the band’s beloved Clash’s ‘London Calling‘ (or perhaps the even more excessive ‘Sandinista!‘) – though ‘KYE’s swings in tone and style arguably extends either record – so it now seemed that one of the band’s most divisive records was finally ready to be fairly assessed! Finally, the normies will agree what a fucking masterpiece it is!!
Well, I’m going to start my assessment (1’680 words in) with a complaint. The two new albums formally known as ‘Know Your Enemy’ don’t actually contain thirty three tracks. ‘Door to the River’ is ten tracks long and ‘Solidarity’ is twelve. But good luck working that out on the album sleeve, which doesn’t differentiate between what are artistically and canonically considered to be on the album and what are considered extra or ‘bonus’ tracks. Just lumps them all together and makes you search random websites and blogs to find the actual tracklist. Random websites like this one! Yeah, you can trust me. Anyway, let’s have a look at ‘Door to the River’:
The Year of Purification is an… interesting way to start a record. A jangly C86 inspired mid tempo jaunt that, if we’re being honest, may as well have been called The Fable of Reconstruction. It’s hard to rewire your brain after twenty years. The Year of Purification is a perfectly pleasant song in the middle of ‘KYE’! Yet here I am supposed to accept it as not only the opening track of ‘KYE’, but that also actually this album isn’t ‘KYE’ at all but a completely different album called ‘Door to the River’. Sigh… I’ve never thought it was one of the highlights of ‘KYE’, so such a big promotion to the opening track seems a rash decision. At least it contains the couplet ”Moral little shit-kickers/Liberal asinine pricks’, the words and delivery of which live in my head forever. Rent free? Well, yes, of course. In what Capitalist dystopia do you live in where you charge thoughts rent for even being in your mind? Ocean Spray is lovely, never one of my favourite Manics songs, but James Dean Bradfield’s first lyric (so partially to thank for future glories like ‘Even in Exile‘), a lovely paean to his lost mother and, really, an impossible song to dislike. Ho-hoooo! Then there’s one of their heavy hitters! The twenty sixth best song they’ve ever done! The reigning! Defending! Undisputed! So Why So…!
…the remix by Avalanches’ Sean Penn?? I mean… OK…
First of all, I’m kind of disappointed that they felt the need to clarify it was Avalanches’ Sean Penn in the title of the song, as that’s an ambiguity I would have definitely played upon. With the removal of one word, they could have launched a million urban legends. I have to eat shit a little here. I can really understand how the famous single mix of So Why So Sad wouldn’t really fit on either ‘Door to the River’ nor ‘Solidarity, and I can accept that the remix is far more fitting to ‘Door to the River’s pace and mood. And I can’t one minute complain how ‘KYE’ lacked focus and coherence, then next minute complain that a song isn’t on the album (it’s a bonus track on the reissue) because it’s a certified banger. Hey, Alex, maybe they should have put Faster on this album as well? Or Design for Life?? Fuck it, aren’t you angry that this album doesn’t contain Hey Jude by the Beatles or Battlefield by Jordin Sparks?? I know, I’m a fool, but people often forget than art can really hurt your feelings sometimes. Sigh… Why does love always feel like a battlefield, a battlefield, a battlefield?
Also, I swear I can hear those original backing vocals! They’re in there, man, they’re there!
The next song, Door to the River, forced me into another stage of self reflection. This album is really forcing me to challenge my beliefs and question everything I once knew, as all great art should do (for example, I used to hate bees, until Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Bee Movie’ showed me how they’re actually pretty chill dudes). Recorded for ‘KYE’ but shelved until coming out the next year on the bone headedly prosaically compiled ‘Forever Delayed’ best of (which, important to note, did not contain the song 4 Ever Delayed. Oh shit! They even used the ‘Richey cutting up his arm’ typography on the song title! This band are shameless! I love them so much). And… yeah, I hated it. Maybe hate is a strong word. I thought it was a dull as dogs cock pile of the runniest faeces dribbling down empty platitude’s bum crack. And I still do. Every time I listen to it again waiting for that great realisation that so many Manics fans seem to have had – with more and more placing it amongst their best ever – and I keep coming to the same conclusion that you’re all fucking crazy what the fuck is wrong with you Jesus fucking Christ? The version on the album that shares its name though is far superior, with even the band admitting in the linear notes that the ‘Forever Delayed’ version was the polar opposite of the close intimacy that they originally had in mind when they first started working on the song. Which is just a polite way of saying Yes, Alex, you wee always right, the original song is shit. In this context (and done properly!) the song works beautifully. The original release’s excess of strings and kitchen sinks are removed, leaving a far more sparse and affecting piece. Still not a majestic standout, but a gorgeous mid album breather.
Shit! I’d forgot that I’d set that alarm. I do need it though, we don’t want another 2003*, do we? Rosebud is pretty fantastic, subtle and creepy and managing to combine wonderful atmospherics with a 胆子 busting vocal performance by JDB over anthemic stings. It’s absolutely better than a lot of the worst dross on the original album (the insipid Royal Correspondent is relegated to a bonus tack that feels more like a punishment**, despite it’s newfound relevance), but I think a great deal of the excitement over it has been because of the natural human joy at 20+ year old unheard Manics songs. I can’t wait for 2040 when we’re all losing our shit over discovered outtakes from the ‘Resistance is Futile‘ album sessions. And also falling over and pissing ourselves and shit, cause we’ll be old as fuck and probably about to die. Rosebud‘s sound doesn’t really fit on either ‘DTTR’ or ‘Solidarity’, and it would be in no way a highlight of the album. To me, it sounds like an especially great b-side that you’re very cool for namedropping. Quite the opposite of Just a Kid, of course (segway! segway!), which is officially the 54th best thing they’ve ever done, could have been a ‘KYE’ single, but was nonsensically ushered onto the b-side of Ocean Spray (a song which is – as I’ve discussed – fine). It’s good to see it get its proper dues on ‘DTTF’, and it stands out as one of the strongest songs on the album yet still totally fits the vibe. The remaster of His Last Painting (#96) is one of the more obvious and effective restoration job on the new album. Already a brilliantly and uniquely constructed song, the way the organ (?) stings are now much higher in the mix makes it all that more foreboding and creepy, making it sound like it’s dong the job that Rosebud is trying to do atmospherically, but making the new track sound superfluous just a couple of tracks after it’s featured. Brilliant song, absolute deep cut gem.
(*I didn’t know about the appearance of Judge Yrself until, like, four full days after it was announced. Never again. Never again)
(**though I nave to say ‘You’ve been this way since school/Dysfunctional, translucent’ is not a terrible opening couplet. Of course, it quickly loses all good will with ‘They’re inbred, baby, jut like you/But you’d love the chance to eat their food’)
And next… Oh no… Some more vicious self-criticism. This is how we improve, comrades, we must always be prepared to self analyse and recognise our ideological errors in order to reaffirm our belief in the party line.
I didn’t list Let Robeson Sing in the Manics’ 100 greatest songs. Listen, I’m sorry, I can only now promise to have learned from my errors and to do better in the future. The fact that it only scraped in at number 19 on the singles charts might point to how much the band were losing their connection with the dreaded wider public, as it was played to death on radio, on music video stations, in supermarkets… The fact that the general public generally didn’t deem it worth a trip to Woolworth’s speaks to how little interest they had despite the song’s omnipresence for a while. When making my list, I didn’t really consider placing this song anywhere. Mentally, I placed it alongside Ocean Spray in the ‘Perfectly Decent KYE Tracks That are at Least Likely to Get Airplay’, and didn’t really listen to it to remind myself of its charms.
But, holy shit, this song is bananas good, you guys! It’s basically the perfect latter day Manics song:
- It’s anthemic
- It’s fucking gorgeous
- It celebrates an important historical Communist figure (Paul Robeson) whom the listener should absolutely know more about, and in doing so smuggles a (proper) left wing message into the popular culture.
- It has the OMT moment than Manics are the best in the world at where… oh… this song’s finished. Well, that was enjoyable and HOLY FUCK WE’RE GETTING ANOTHER CHORUS!!!
- Nicky kinda sings a bit
Much like my re-evaluation of ‘This is My Truth…’ lead to me rediscovering how the already widely appreciated Tsunami was actually one of the most perfect rock songs ever released, inhabiting ‘KYE’s tracks again after twenty years reminded me what a gen Robeson… is. It’s an absolute all-timer, and my next top 100 in about 2026 will reflect that. My only complaint is that this reissue doesn’t feature the Ian Brown remix. What, you’re silencing him just because you disapprove of his vaccine beliefs being ‘outside standard science‘?? Reminds me of a certain other singer who was silenced for holding beliefs outside the accepted norm?? Tsk, what happened to you guys, you used to be cool. “Rockin’ in Havana like a manic street preacher”? That’s gold.
Robeson… is followed by another b-side – Groundhog Days also appearing on the b-side of Ocean Spray and also being significantly superior to the a-side – showing how the ‘KYE’ was perhaps the band’s greatest/dumbest era in terms of putting out some of their best material in places where people were less likely to hear it. The original motivation in making a double album might explain this, but the choice of what material eventually made it and was cut for the single disc ‘KYE’ is often baffling. The wonderful Groundhog Days finally gets its deserved place in the sun on ‘DTTR’ though, promoted from a much forgotten b-side (which, again, I neglected to name on my top 100!) all the way to the album’s emotional peak. The track begins with a basic (but astonishingly effective) Pixies/Nirvana dynamic, before unfurling majestically at the song’s end with a wall of sound, a simple but stirring guitar solo, and one of Nicky’s greatest ever spoken word parts, recalling his brother’s poetic interludes on the band’s 1992 debut album as he partially quotes an astonishingly existential scene from the Bill Murray film that shares the song’ title:
Is this what you do with eternity?
I killed myself so many times
I don’t even exist any more
So I surrender to impulse
But still so numb
So make some time
So make some time
Wake up feeling like a Messiah
Totally fucked, five minutes later
My body a temple falling to pieces
Chocolate or Coke
My needs are artificial
Unintentional, forsaken for what?
All in search of our personal gods
As a song, it was always an amazing moment. On the ‘DTTR’ recors it sounds like the album primal screaming after it exorcises its soul, a moving catharsises after the often biting self analysis of the previous eight tracks. Honestly? It justifies ‘DTTR’ being a separate album from ‘KYE’ all on its own.
The album ends, perfectly, with Epicentre. Much like the other time the band kinda did a double album, when the final songs on ‘Rewind the Film‘ – 30Year War – pointed to the far more impassioned and political soon to come on sister album ‘Futurology‘, Epicentre sounds not at all out of place on ‘DTTR’ but signals a shift in tone, aggression and experimentation. The remaster might irritate some with its ‘everything up to eleven approach’ dog released into the ‘Loudness Wars™️’, but it certainly makes the song feel even more like the absolute epic it was always intended to be, and the closest the band have ever come to their wet dream of early 80s McCarthy with the budget of early 90s G’N’F’n’R.
Jesus… OK, so that’s the first album. I thought I’d finish the post on Saturday afternoon lololol…
‘DTTR’ is a fantastic album, managing to locate coherence and beauty from within ‘KYE’s enraged schizophrenia, mainly by removing the original album’s more unhinged moments and keeping them safely in a high security offshore facility, where they’re not going to harm anyone any more. However, you can’t keep a power that diabolical safely away from listeners forever. On ‘Solidarity, they unlock Pandora’s Box, and may God have mercy on our soul. I’ll say first of all that one of the main things I always loved about ‘KYE’ is that it had the perfect opening track and the perfect album closer. Both of those tracks are on ‘Solidarity’. Neither of them open nor close the album. Let’s see how that goes, yeah?
And, holy shit, the record stars with a motherfucking riot. Intravenous Agnostic is, simply put, one of the most insanely vital, most heroically unintelligible, most dang invigorating rock songs ever made. It’s absolutely fucking batshit mental, don’t get me wrong – its duel guitars, its drunk driver speed and tempo screeching all over the road, its furiously babbled near stream of conscious lyrics – but it’s perhaps the most expertly realised example of ‘KYE’s less hinged portions that it may actually be the perfect introduction to the ‘Solidarity’ album. And t-shirt slogans?? Take your pick, man: Into a vein exhibit the derelict! Destructive aesthetic! Nature failed me, but then it made me! Brutality is needed in capitalist society! Sparkle and believe! Fuckin’, intravenous agnostic, man! I’ll admit, that on the times that I allow myself to picture such nonsense, this song is kind of exactly how I’d imagine/hope the band would sound today were Richey still with them. On ‘Solidarity’, it sounds like the engine spluttering and sparking into life, and when it’s followed by Found That Soul – the original ‘KYE’ opener and one of the two lead singles – it sounds like the ship is steadied and the band can now gather their focus and proceed with more understood boogie-woogie punk as they glare at you in the crowd with unnerving intensity. Not a subject! Not a subject am I!
Then there’s the band’s cover of McCarthy’s We Are All Bourgeois Now, which… OK, artistically is pretty worthless. Originally a hidden track on the end of ‘KYE’ (so perhaps technically another closing track that loses its place in the runtime) and a near carbon copy of the 1988 original [shrug emoji]. However, situationally it remains a strong statement. Originally released under the Thatcher government – when protest was common – and covered by the Manics during the Blair years where many people, much like the ‘Brendan’ who wrote the Pitchfork review I quoted at the beginning of this piece, were successfully sedated into believing the whole world was a happy shiny place with nothing left to protest for/believe in. “We are all bourgeois now/Once there was class war/But not any longer”. Now, at the dreg end of a Conservative reign that has seen many people finally question the unrestricted capitalism that the neoliberals convinced us was the just way twenty years ago might not actually be the solution, the band give the cover an even greater prominence on the album. Not on artistic merit (God, no!), but just to seethe/flex that they’d been telling people about this for twenty fucking years! The band will soon point out on Masses Against the Classes how they themselves were the only thing left to believe in.
The ‘Solidarity’ reimagining makes perhaps its biggest miss-step next at track four, with the absolutely astonishing Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children. One of the most shocking and bravest takedowns of the lazily accepted liberal ideology that I can ever remember a major cultural figure ever making. And not in the “I think people are too woke todays so I decided to change all of my social and economic beliefs to become a shill for the right wing state machine and accept Fascism as the true end goal” way so popular these days for those seeking extra social media engagement. Freedom of Speech is the Manics angrily attempting to teach the petit bourgeois that dare to think of themselves as ‘left wing’ about the disgusting emptiness of their centrist/right of centrist virtue signalling. Fuck the casual Manics fans who think they get our politics. Fuck the Mondeo men who do not dare to imagine art having deeper power. Fuck the fraudulent affluence that liberalism’s politicians have gaslit the West into believing they inhabit. Fuck all this ‘end of history‘ bullshit. Fuck Brendan from Pitchfork!! The Manics were obviously not right wing, but they certainly weren’t liberals! They were and had always been the most hard left rock band you’re ever likely to hear over the speakers at Curry’s. This is their ideology, and this is what being left wing is. I had never misunderstood a song as much as I did Freedom of Speech when I first heard it as a 16 year old. And as a 26 year old a decade later. To be honest, it was only when I joined the Communist Party in my 30s and started to fight the neoliberal brainwashing that I’d been subjected to all my life that I even began to understand what the song was telling me. Do they have free speech in China? Absolutely not. Have they lifted eight hundred million people out of poverty in the last forty years, feeding countless people’s children? Astonishingly, yes. To a liberal, that fed, housed, employed billion is meaningless without access to Facebook.
You know I sometimes highlight killer lines from a song? well, I couldn’t’ choose, so here they all are, explaining the Manics’ (and my) ideology better than I ever could:
Liberty, sweet liberty
Then pacifism killed us all
For all the tourists on the Berlin wall
So we protest about human rights
Worship obesity as our birthright
But freedom of speech won’t feed my children
Just brings heart disease and bootleg clothing
We love to kiss the Dalai Lama’s ass
Because he is such a holy man
Free to eat and buy anything
Free to fuck from Paris to Beijing
Little boys with dangerous toys
All bow down to the Beastie Boys
But freedom of speech won’t feed my children
Just brings heart disease and bootleg clothing
Royalty, hereditary, unelected and becalmed
Just like Stalin, just like Stalin
Human and useless
Bomb the Chinese Embassy
The west is free, oh the west is free
Laugh at the hammer and sickle
It is antique, oh it is antique
And see the love in Richard Gere’s eyes
JS Pemberton (inventor of Coca Cola) saved our lives
But freedom of speech won’t feed my children
Just brings heart disease and bootleg clothing
I’m sorry to go there again, but I can’t imagine any latter day Manics song appealing more to the person who wrote ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart and Archives of Pain.
The miss-step? Manics, guys, mates, lads, dudes, boys, Freedom of Speech is one of the greatest album closers of all time, and is a perfect last screamed CliffsNotes review of everything covered on the album. And you don’t even have it end the first side of the LP?? Absolutely shocking decision, minus five stars.
The rest of ‘Solidarity’ suffers a little as a result – because Freedom of Speech is a song you *cannot* follow!! -though it’s good to see that The Convalescent made the cut. Would work perfectly if it followed We Are All Bourgeois Now, but I’m not going to keep going on about it. The absolutely exhausting amount of references might be overwhelming – from Payne Stewart through Alberto Juanterino and Klaus Kinski – but it’s a wonderfully skittish yet strangely beautiful scuzz rock anthem. Even if Nicky’s claim that ‘Brian Warner has a tasty little ass’ has become an ever so more problematic statement recently. Baby Elian, about the 2000 custody battle of Cuban child Elián González (“Things are swell!”), is probably the weakest song still included on either album, and likely only highlighted because of the links to the band’s historic gig at Cuba’s Karl Marx Theatre in the build up to the record’s original release (Fidel Castro was in attendance and apparently stood up and applauded at the ‘You don’t just sit in a rocking chair/When you’ve built a revolution’ line). Side two opens with Masses Against the Classes, which, again, no. There’s another 6’000 word article to write about the significance of that song alone, but it doesn’t really fit on this or any other album. Masses Against the Classes doesn’t really belong anywhere, it should always and only be set apart from everything else, out adrift on its own because it doesn’t play well with other children. Conversely, My Guernica absolutely belongs here, and shows a real focus on the style of fuzzed up stadium C86 that the band were actually going for on the ‘Solidarity’ album, and only works all the better in its new surroundings. Next up is Studies in Paralysis, which
Sorry, sorry, I know, I should have put it on silent the first time it came on. I’m not sure if it’s the standard opinion, but I actually think that Studies in Paralysis is (just about) the stronger of the two new songs, and definitely fits into its album better. That ‘Nothing to lose/But my sanity’ refrain is amongst the album’s more affecting. Am I just saying that because we get a tiny bit of Nicky singing? No further questions. It also acts as an ideal lead into the dark near metal of Dead Martyrs, an incredible stadium goth rock creepshow that shows the band’s appreciation for Marilyn Manson goes beyond his tasty little ass.
Hey, listen, you know chocolate, right? It’s a tasty little treat, right? Who doesn’t like a bit of chocolate now and then?! Stick a Kit-Kat into an orifice, ammi right?? Well, with that in mind, did you know that if the average sized adult ate around eighty five full size chocolate bars it would lead to theobromine poisoning? You know how theobromine poisoning leads to arrhythmias, internal bleeding, seizure and eventually death? Yeah? So sometimes, even the best things in life are best enjoyed in small doses, do you agree? Do you get what I’m saying? OK, changing subject now: do you know how I always pop for a Nicky Wire vocal appearance? OK, keep that in mind.
The next song, Wattsville Blues, is the first track on a Manics album to be sung entirely by Nicky Wire. It was only the second released song sung by him ever, after Ballad of the Bangkok Novatel came out a week earlier on the Found That Soul b-side (and also included as a bonus track on this reissue). And… I dunno, man, I kind of love it. Like, if you were going to look at it scientifically, there are probably far more justifiable reasons to dislike it than like it, but it still gets me sometimes. That outro with the piano stabs and JBD’s background vocals? Come on now. I also quite like Bangkok Novatel though, and I’m pretty sure that puts me in a field of approximately one. Then it’s their bizarrely successful and hilariously cantankerous disco ‘homage’ (can you call it a ‘homage’ when you end the song by chanting ‘Braindead motherfuckers’ twenty times! Oooh! Nicky does that bit as well! Gimme that sweet chocolate! Nomnomnom! Pump Mars Bars straight into my veins! But only an amount up to and including eighty four) Miss Europa Disco Dancer and.. that’s it? That’s what you moved Freedom of Speech to track four for?? I mean, it’s a great song, but guys, come on…
Ha! ‘Conclusion’, like this 5’775 word shitpost was a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
To me, ‘Know Your Enemy’ was always a success. Sure, it was bloated, skittish and unfocused, but its very insanity was the reason why it was such a brave move for one of the biggest bands in the country. I definitely wouldn’t suggest that it was ahead of its time musically – it’s influences are almost exclusively mid-80s and you’d struggle name any album that’s come out in the subsequent 21 years that sounds anything like ‘KYE’s glorious mess – but their angry castigation of the apolitical culture of the early 00s now seems prophetic in a world where we are feeling the consequences of far too many people who are ‘not really into politics’ allowing capitalism to decay to catastrophic ends. A lot of Kendrick Lamar’s work post 2020’s BLM protests has been chiding many of his peers for only taking an interest in the issues that he has been highlighting for years when it’s a cultural trend, and I’m sure the Manics feel similar whenever any act these days is quick to highlight their ‘politics’ in search of Insta clout. I’ve poo-poohed the idea that it was created to be hated – there are far too many extreme highpoints and obvious concessions to commercial radio for that to be true – but it may well have been designed to shed the ‘fans’ of their music who probably still voted Tory and read the Daily Mail. If anything, that was too successful, as their next album sold less than any of their albums before or since. But more on that in the upcoming ‘Lifeblood’ reissue review (please, Manics, you know we’re fucking idiots who’d buy it).
What the reissue does is clear up the project as an artistic endeavour. It makes all the sense in the world to be split into the ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Door to the River’ albums, and works so well as a double album that you wonder what success it would have had if it had received its proper release back in 2001. There are some insane errors of sequencing, in this writer’s heroically noble opinion, but the tracks that are included are multiple chef’s kisses, and give prominence to b-sides of the period, some of their best ever whose absence from the original album seems ludicrous. As bonus tracks you also get other remastered b-sides like Pedestal (#82) and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel (#68) that show what an incredibly rich time it was for them creatively.
In retrospect, ‘Know Your Enemy’ is the reason that the band were able to go on to make eight further albums. They wouldn’t have been able to take another album as the biggest band in the country, they had to lacerate a few wounds, they had to experiment artistically without any care. They would be far more focused and sure of themselves on each subsequent album, but they needed this album to remind themselves what they made music for.
However, remember when I gave it minus five stars for not naming Freedom of Speech as the final track? Yeah, I’m in a bit of a bind here
So, the world’s fucked up, and these guys can write pretty good songs about it. What am I supposed to do? Like, what about that Bush girl? ‘Cause man, she’s fucked up.Pitchfork, 19/03/2001
And finally, in light of recent events – Repeat after me: fuck Queen and country
2 thoughts on “Broken Up or Still Around? Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Know Your Enemy’ 2022 Remaster Reviewed”