Broken Up or Still Around? Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Know Your Enemy’ 2022 Remaster Reviewed

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?

Continue reading “Broken Up or Still Around? Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Know Your Enemy’ 2022 Remaster Reviewed”

Love Their Mess and Adore Their Failures: Manic Street Preachers’ 100 Greatest Songs

Right, holy shit, so am I actually doing this…?

“Repeat after me…”

The Manic Street Preachers are the greatest rock band ever. That’s not an opinion, it’s a conclusion that I’ve reached and am now saying it loudly and not listening to any dissenting voices, which in 2021 counts as a ‘fact’.

Their greatness is… complicated… and not easy to explain in a simple intro to a blog post… These 100 tracks aren’t necessarily the greatest songs ever. Even as a pathetically dedicated Manics stan*, even I would argue that they’ve only ever released one indisputable, stone cold classic record from front to back (see if you can guess which one after you read the list!). They may have supernatural control over melodies and how best to ensure a chorus hits just there, but at the end of the day they’re just a rock band. They have never really challenged the very boundaries of music, never pushed things forward or necessarily introduced anything new sonically. I would argue that only one of their albums is truly challenging and experimental, rather than just being a break from what the band usually produce (yeah, it’s the same album…). I mean, Jesus, they once shamelessly released a song including the lyric “The world is full of refugees/They’re just like you and just like me“. That’s unforgivably bad, isn’t it? They can’t come back from that, artistically.

“You stand there and you think about what you’ve done”

(*I may occasionally use cool, groovy, young person lingo like ‘stan’ so you think I’m a hip young gunslinger. Not, y’know, old enough to be a Manics fan)

I’m not able to explain their magic here, but over the next one hundred (!) entries you’ll hopefully all have a better idea. It’s not as dominated by the 90’s as I was worried it might be, and every album is represented (apart from one. Because their tenth album is worse than Hitler). I’ve been wanting to find the time to do this for ages, partially inspired by the great What is Music podcast covering their entire discography and reminding me of how many big veiny stonkers this band had bulging out of their collective musical swimming trunks. They’re talking about Muse on that podcast now, a band for morons, so you only need to listen to the last season. My major blind spot is I don’t think they’ve done a decent b-side since 2001. Now, I’m sure I’m wrong, so please correct my ignorance in the comments. Tell me how wrong I am. Post your top tens. Your top hundreds. The Manic Street Preachers’ fan community is one of the greatest in the world, and no other band are as connected with their fanbase and feed off their adoration as much as The Manics. So let’s celebrate that by calling me a fat slut in the comments because I didn’t choose Little Baby Nothing.

If you don’t have time for such nonsense, here’s the Spotify playlist and here’s all the songs in order on YouTube.

And, er, you might wanna bookmark this page – motherfucker’s gonna be long. Your next 500 trips to the toilet are sorted.

Continue reading “Love Their Mess and Adore Their Failures: Manic Street Preachers’ 100 Greatest Songs”

“I’ve Been Calling it ‘Depressive Suicidal Pop Music'”; Don’t Do It Neil Wanna Know What Dragon Tastes Like

You should all absolutely already know this by now, but Philadelphia’s Don’t do it, Neil was already a bit fucking special. Mabel Harper has long managed to combine a Weeknd-esque ability to document the seediness and pain behind revelry and intimacy with an exquisite understanding of how right these wrongs sometimes feel that can sometimes rival Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s grasp of sheer pop bliss. Her songs often sound like the building pleasure leading towards an orgasm while having sex with someone you really shouldn’t, but always with the underlying anxiety of the size of the mess you’ll have to clean up after your messy climax. This has been quite the opening paragraph, hasn’t it?

Worryingly, there were moments in the last couple of years involving suicidal thoughts and hospitalisations that might have led to the brilliant B/X album being her final record. However, Mabel managed to survive and process the experience, and today sees the release of her new album ‘I WANNA SEE WHAT DEATH IS LIKE‘, adding new perspectives on death, grief and mortality to an artist whose personal circumstances already made her one of the rarest perspectives in pop music. As soon as I heard of its release, I had to request an interview. Which meant only one thing.

The carrier pigeon

Yeah, I know, the handwriting’s terrible, but in my defence I asked my personal carrier pigeon (Twattori) to write it himself, so my hands are clean on this one. Unfortunately, Twattori did not survive the journey and so was unable to reach Philadelphia to deliver the message. He didn’t even survive long enough to leave the UK. In fact, he didn’t make it 50 metres from my window. Because I shot him. Seriously, did you see that handwriting? Mabel would never talk to me if she saw that. Christ, Twattori was such a prick wasn’t he?

So I just hit her up on Twitter. I was going to blow her mind with questions she’d never been asked before.

Firstly, and I’m sorry for being the 65’703rd person to ask you this question, but why ‘Don’t do it, Neil’?

In the movie Dead Poets Society, there was a kid named Neil who seemed pretty gay to me. Just a really sweet boy who discovered his love of acting only to have his passion ripped away from him by his father. Long story short, Neil kills himself during the climax of the movie, and it was really, really devastating to me. So “Don’t do it, Neil” means, “Don’t do it, Neil, don’t kill yourself.”

Continue reading ““I’ve Been Calling it ‘Depressive Suicidal Pop Music’”; Don’t Do It Neil Wanna Know What Dragon Tastes Like”

Entry #2 Manic Street Preachers: Roses in the Hospital

Forever, Ever Pastiche

I’ve explained on this blog before how music journalism is absolute bollocks. A person’s response to music is a primal and unconscious reaction that simply can’t be described in words. Because of this paradox 99% of music reviews are the writer vainly attempting to explain why he or she likes or hates a song and twisting themselves into utter bollocks. You like a song because it sparks an unnamed fuse in your belly and twists your stomach in a knot*. You like a song because it reminds you of a time you were happier. You like a song because it reminds you of someone you love. You like a song because it soundtracked the sex scene in Trainspotting. You like a song because you really want to fuck the singer. You like a song because you did fuck the singer. All music journalism assumes an objective truth that can never be, and supposes there is any use in a larger knowledge of context. Just because you’ve religiously listened to all of Avril Lavigne’s records in the past doesn’t make your opinion on Hello Kitty any more valid. No matter the circumstances, no matter the knowledge, no matter the context, you can never force yourself to either like or hate a song. These things are primeval and undefinable.

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(*Evidently, reactions to music are primarily based in the digestive organs)

Music journalism could never hope to describe- or even comprehend- that dizzy and nauseous feeling you get when you fall in love with a song. This series isn’t a ‘review’ of the greatest songs ever, it’s simply aiming to be a practically collated list of all the songs that electrify your innards.

Continue reading “Entry #2 Manic Street Preachers: Roses in the Hospital”