7 December 2013

Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy


This seems to have been a long discography review, but it just goes to show how much material the Manic's have released - just wait until the team find out I want them to review the ever-growing Frank Zappa discography (joking....OR AM I!!!!); anyway here we are near the end and here is the 6th album released in 2001.  It came after the stupidly popular 'This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours'.  This album can be seen as a direct reaction to that album with its stripped back use of correction technology and heading for a more punk sound.  They were probably trying to get back to their roots whilst still keeping that experience that had came from the previous five releases.  It is not as if they had changed their mind before, on 'Gold Against The Soul' (cleverly linked here and reviewed by Mr Jerm) the band did a left turn from their first album (again, cleverly linked and reviewed by Mr Richardson),  and then they did it again.  At each turn this band tries to do something slightly different. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not if the truth be told.  Now I will be honest here, I have not given this album much of a look outside the singles before this review; I just sort of lost my way with them for a bit.  So should I have paid more attention, or was I right to look elsewhere?

Now let's get this one out of the way, it is a long album, I mean it is long than 'Generation Terrorists' and that felt like an eternity in places (and the version on Spotify has two extra tracks - one of them being the band's number one single "The Masses Against The Classes"). Now this album has been given a mixed reception by the team to be honest and I have to say I can see why they are apprehensive in places with the album.  Firstly, it has something that no rock album should have - more than one producer outside of the band. It is something that has long been debated in the blogs and apart from the recent M.I.A. album I have not found many albums that have worked with many albums.  For lots of people, this album is where it all started to go wrong; but let's see how it fairs.

"Found That Soul" is the opening track of this album and it changes from the mature sound that had dominated the band's last two albums and tries to go back to the band's roots again.  To be honest, it is sort of a hybrid of the two worlds which works incredibly well.  The rock does indeed roll with the punk on this number.  Afterwards you have "Ocean Spray" which is the first song with lyrics written by James Dean Bradfield and is about the passing of his mother.  This is firmly back in the AOR territory and it is a touching tribute for his mother.  Next is "Intravenous Agnostic" and it is back to the harsh indie punk hybrid that the band had made their own.  The way the band are play here is with a fire in their belly that had been missing for a while.  Then they go all Beach Boys with "So Why So Sad" - the switch will not stay on one style.  It could be infuriating, but it is what works for me here.  I cannot explain why, but something just clicks with it.

Then comes a more acoustic protest number with "Let Robeson Sing", I am sure Billy Bragg was crying that he did not write it first.  The simplicity of the work on this track is understated and the lyrics are some of the best that Messer Wire has ever written and the sample about racism is brilliant.  "The Year Of Purification" is when the indie rock comes back and is a nice simple little number.  I find it entertaining but I cannot blame people for not liking this.  It is a little bit too twee and nice in a way.  It does not have a fire, but it does have a soul for me.  After this is the vocal debut of Nicky Wire with "Wattsville Blues" - it is what you would expect; a love punk song and Mr Wire is not the most gifted vocalist but he gives a decent showing of himself here.

Then they go left field again with the disco heavy "Miss Europa Disco Dancer" that brings the funky to the album in a way that would not look out of place on a Daft Punk album.  I love the ending with Nicky Wire saying brain dead mother fuckers over and over again.  Just a joy of a track, which is followed by the rock disco fusion protest of "Dead Martyrs" which has more bite in its vein’s than the whole of 'Lifesblood'.  Again, the band is seemingly to want to change with every song to make the album feel more like a collection of mix tape songs.  "His Last Painting" is next and as you would expect with this album the direction is changed again.  This time it is back to the AOR, but the song seems to struggle after a great section of numbers; it is a little bit by the numbers and is the first track on here that should have been left to the side to be honest; after nine brilliant tracks that is a good return.

Then we get onto "My Guernica" which is just a stomp of punk protest again, the song is a reminder that when they are in the mood that they are one of the best band's to ever come out of Wales and the UK and they do it so simply as well.  "The Convalescent" brings back the indie and also a chorus organ which throws me at times.  This song could have been on the Sparklehorse/Dangermouse 'Dark Side Of The Soul' album, lyrically it is the usual mix of anthem slogans and bile, but something is ill at ease in here.  Not the best song, but it does the job nicely here.

This is more than can be said for “Royal Correspondent”, which is a bit of a pre-cursor to what was to come on ‘Lifesblood’.  It falls flat and is another track that could have been dropped from the album and make it a more fluid product, it is a shame but it does not work here.  "Epicentre" is a better song, but it does not bring the album to the brilliant moments of the beginning of the album.  That said, it is a hell of a lot better than "Royal Correspondent".  "Baby Elian" is back in the AOR territory and the band sort of feel that they are just bringing the album to a close with some average tracks.  "Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children" changes that thankfully, it has that spark which makes the Preachers a quality band, it has the protest and the music that makes them special.

With this album the band could have made a fantastic album just by trimming off a few tracks, but with them on it drags them down a little bit more if I am truthful.  That said it is one of their most fun albums, it is starts off mad as a box of frogs going from one style to another and till the last few tracks it had the chance to be their best album.  But it is certainly their most surprising for me, I was expecting to be bored from beginning to end; yet I was entertained for the most of it. A little hidden gem in that dark Topman period which should be given a second chance.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

You can purchase the album on Amazon here

You can visit the Manic Street Preacher website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

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