Know Your Enemy + Bonus Tracks Import
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Know Your Enemy has a more political feel than many of the band's other albums. This is documented by songs like Baby Elian, Let Robeson Sing and Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children.
Opener, Found That Soul acts as a fantastic, energetic, rocking start to the album with it's one note keyboard in the background creating a bit of tension in the song.
As an album, we have an eclectic mix of punk rock in Found That Soul, Dead Martyrs and Intravenous Agnostic - we have calm, solemn reflective songs Ocean Spray and Baby Elian and we still have space for a Beach Boys-esque song of miserable lyrics and upbeat music, and a disco song.
This album is a grower and certainly not one that could ever give an accurate representation of who the Manics are, yet it's fresh, it's fun in places and introspective in others. It'll never be a Manics fan's favourite album but it deserves top marks nevertheless.
This, in my humble opinion, is better than the two albums which preceded it, their best since 'The Holy Bible'.
'Found That Soul' is just over three minutes of aggressive, riff-filled rock, leading nicely into the subtle beauty of 'Ocean Spray', which musically, is split into three very different sections. It was inspired by the death Of James Dean Bradfield's mother, but avoids veering into tribute song territory, instead opting to be a subtly moving, underrated little song.
'Intravenous Agnostic' is probably the exact point in the album where the critics started to grimace. However, they are wrong. Wordy though some of the lyrics are, it is a slab of frenetic, intelligent punk which the Manics had not explored since 'The Holy Bible'. It sounds aggressive and dangerous - like all good music should. It also has an underproduced feel which was more in line with what the Manics were supposed to be, and had abandoned on their previous two, (rather highly-produced) albums.
Anyone who says 'So Why So Sad' is a bad song is lying. Actually, it's one of the Manics most beautiful, featuring an incredibly affecting vocal from James Dean Bradfield. He still has 'it', even on this album. 'Let Robeson Sing', another touching song, is about the singer/actor Paul Robeson, also containing a soundbite - their first since 'The Holy Bible'. The manics were always particularly adept at the use of soundbites - a nod to their love of Public Enemy.
'The Year Of Purification', though pleasant enough, is probably the only thing approaching a weak song. It is fairly FM friendly, hinting at what would come on their next album 'Lifeblood'. The Manics should stop listening to music critics and be what they want to be. They are at their best when embracing social/political commentary. Nicky Wire did after all study Political History.
'Watsville Blues' falls into the 'so bad it's good' category, featuring a rather disturbing vocal from Nicky Wire, offset by what sounds like dodgy Casio keyboards. Somehow, it works though, probably thanks to the accompanying vocals of James, and his backing guitars. 'Miss Europa Disco Dancer', however, was probably the most experimental song the Manics had attempted up until that point, featuring disco-led guitars and shimmering harps. For a band like the Manics, it was pure experimentation, and it worked rather well, commenting on the nightclub culture in Wire's typically sneering style.
The opening of 'Dead Martyrs' sounds alarmingly Joy Division, building up into an atmospheric blend of aggressive guitars and James' trademark hollering. 'His Last Painting' also has a rather low-key, stripped-down and desolate sound to it, but 'My Guernica' is the Manics at their best, all politics and fantastic lyrics, featuring an excellent vocal from James, offest by plenty of guitars and plenty of feedback. Indeed, it probably wouldn't sound too out of place on 'The Holy Bible'.
'The Convalescent' is so wordy, it almost hints at Nicky Wire having devoured a thesaurus and a dictionary at the same time, prior to writing the lyrics. The song itself is fantastic, throwing in references at a rate of knots whilst layering on the feedback, fast-paced drums and keyboards. It all sounds just fantastic.
'Royal Correspondent', dedicated to Jennie Bond, is another of the album's more laid-back moments, showcasing some of Nicky's more amusing lyrics, whilst James' guitar work is at of the same high quality as everywhere else on the album. This continues on into 'Epicentre', which concludes with the 'Happy Black Days' segment of 'Masking Tape', a B-side. It sounds absolutely stunning.
The final three songs on the album are some of it's highest points: first, 'Baby Elian', which discusses the Cuban Missile Crisis, and criticises Americanisation (again). Again, it sounds beautiful and sincere, Bradder's voice echoing at several points in the song. The lyrics are some of Wire's finest. Then, 'Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children', one of the most daring and admirable songs on the album - and probably the one which got the critics backs up most. It appears to sympathise with Red China. There is nothing wrong with that. Western life is not everything. "Liberty, sweet liberty - charitable respectability", James sneers, almost arrogantly. The spirit of Punk has never, ever left the Manics.
Then, as if all of this couldn't get any better, it does - in the shape of a 'hidden' track, 'We Are All Bourgeois Now', a McCarthy cover. Amazingly, it actually IMPROVES on the original, which is mind-boggling. It is also a strong contender for the most fantastic-sounding song on the album, pure early-era Manics guitars against the best vocal on the album. Honestly, it just puts a shiver down my spine. That this album finishes with a McCarthy cover is hugely significant - the Manics were saying EXACTLY what they wanted on this album - and to hell with the critics!
If all this hasn't convinced you, consider that 'The Holy Bible' was also met with a muted response upon release. Now, it's hailed as a classic. This too will be hailed as a classic in the future. As far as I'm concerned, it already is.
However, after Richey's dissapearance, I feel the Manics lost their way a bit with 'Everything Must Go' and 'This is my Truth', although they still produced a healthy number of quality singles from these albums. The problem was, the albums just didn't really suit the Manics.
However, this album marks a return to form, albeit in a different way from their early days. This can only be expected, there is nothing worse than a band trying to contrive and relive past glories. The Manics appear to have sat down and said 'Sod it, lets do what WE want'. Hence in this album, variety is the spice of life.
The album begins with the 'Motown Junk'esq 'Found that Soul', then moves onto the beautiful 'Ocean Spray' and the power of 'Intravenous Agnostic'. What really hits the listener is the variety of influences pulled in on this album and thta can really only be a good thing. You name it, from the jangly Beach Boys sound on 'So why so sad' to the 70s disco on 'Miss Europa Disco Dancer' to the raw Ramones/Clash vibe on 'Dead Martyrs'. This album also contains the fantastic 'Let Robeson Sing'; a ballad that really does touch the conciousness of the listener.
In summary, this album is for anybody. For fans of the early days like myself, to people who want to buy their first Manic Street Preachers album. Buy it. You will not be dissapointed.
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