ALBUM REVIEW: Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy Reissue

8/10

Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy

This twenty-first-anniversary edition of Know Your Enemy doesn't feature the LP in its original track order. Instead, the first set of songs under the title of Door to the River feature, to use laypeople's terms, the lighter, non-punk songs. The second group, Solidarity, liberates the guitars and includes the standalone number one single, "The Masses Against the Classes".

The following questions need to be answered to assess Know Your Enemy 21 years later:  Do the original Know Your Enemy songs still hold their own? Are "Door to the River" and "Solidarity" track listings well suited? Could the non-LP tracks and B-sides have been better suited than the tracks selected for the Manic's sixth LP?

Door to the River opener "The Year of Purification" doesn't naturally feel like an LP opener; it feels better suited to being a third to the halfway point on an LP. "The Year of Purification" was initially track six of 17. Nonetheless, the poignant lyrics, "run away, run away as fast as you can from anything that involves discipline…" to pleasantly mid-tempo jangly guitars, cannot be dismissed as a commercialised middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser. There is some stability with track two, "Ocean Spray", also the sophomore song on the original LP track listing. This acoustic-led wonder explodes into raw, resounding heavy guitar crescendos and more than stands the test of time.

The Avalanches remix and the original version of "So Why So Sad", one of the songs on the first double A-side singles released to promote Know Your Enemy, both feature. The marmite Ba, ba ba's are surprisingly missed on The Avalanches remix. Whilst the superb production on the original version is impressive, there remains a whiff of sanctioned commercialised radio friendliness intended to entice the newly acquired Manics fans on the next leg of their musical journey.

The songs on Door to the River that didn't make the initial cut include "Door to the River" and "Rosebud". The raw acoustic-led "Door to the River" about how "all my best wishes are just lies" impresses with Django Reinhardt-style guitar picking. "Rosebud" opens similarly to Mansun's "Legacy", which blossoms into an organ-loaded cacophony which will remind fans of "La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)". While this song wouldn't have complimented the Know Your Enemy track list, the early year's passion and hunger are there, something some critics unfairly accused the band in 2001 of lacking.

The Solidarity track list opens with "Intravenous Agnostic", initially track three on Know Your Enemy. Either "Intravenous Agnostic" or "Found That Soul" could have opened the LP. Both songs are instant and enticing and offer raw guitar-led punk elation. "Found That Soul" follows, which has that bit more grit than its predecessor, where punk and fifties rock and roll synchronise harmoniously like two separate entities that realise they were one whole that had been living separate, lonely lives in exile before reuniting. Some of the songs on Solidarity, including "Wattsville Blues", "Baby Elián", and "Fear of Motion", owing to their more sensitive nature and spectrum of instruments used, would have been better placed in Door to the River, but pay homage to the passionate productivity the band underwent during the Know Your Enemy period. The Sister Sledge disco leaning "Miss Europa Disco Dancer" shows the different paths the band was prepared to walk down to make the defining follow-up LP fans expected. The "Ballad of the Bangkok Novotel" is the perfect outro, whereas with "Found That Soul", punk and fifties rock and roll perfectly intertwine.

Having released their biggest selling and most commercialised album three years previously, the Manic Street Preachers set out to convert their newly acquired fan base to the rawer and more tenacious sound of their earlier efforts with Know Your Enemy. There is plenty to consider with 17 tracks, including the hidden bonus and over seventy-five minutes of music. Critics at the time were quite harsh, rebuking the band for not referencing the drink in the song "Ocean Spray" to creating songs that were "too preachy" or "introspective and earnest". The latter point is the only one that can be taken seriously and is a positive sign that the Know Your Enemy period was highly productive. Many bands who have just released their most commercialised and biggest selling album would be tempted to meander the middle ground and not rock the boat by being too honest or leaning too heavily to one side of the political spectrum with their follow-up.

Whilst the track listing order on the original LP is better organised, all the songs on both Door to the River and Solidarity are impressive. Accusations of a band playing it safe or suffering from writer's block are unfounded. Some, including "Pedestal", could have slotted in, whilst others, worthy in their own right, including "Groundhog Days", needed a different home to shine. After 21 years of waiting, it's time to finally give Know Your Enemy the honorary recognition of being a classic Manic Street Preacher's staple.

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