OW YOUR E
"So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle". - Sun Tzu, The Art Of War
Since releasing the single The Masses Against The Classes in 2000, which managed to (quite amazingly) reach number 1 despite being pulled from general release on its launch date, the Manic Street Preachers had been awfully quiet. While the single had managed to fend off some criticism, many thought the group were a spent force, no longer capable of the anger or power of their earlier years with Richey James Edwards. The previous album, 1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, had seen a quieter, less electric guitar-led sound, and was the first to feature lyrics written entirely by Nicky Wire.
March 2001 came, and there were the Manics again, boasting an album that saw a return to their familiar sound. A heavy, incessant riff started an album which has divided fans ever since its release. Know Your Enemy, taking its name from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, is a 16-track-long affair which some have praised for returning to the group's roots, whilst being criticised by others for having ineffective lyrics, for being far too long, or for simply missing the point.
- Found That Soul - Starting the album off with a bang, Found That Soul sounds as if it wouldn't be out of place on Everything Must Go. The song heralds the return of the group, letting the world know that Manic Street Preachers have returned, as if they'd never gone at all. Released as a single at the same time as So Why So Sad on February 26, 2001, it reached number 9. "Not a subject, not a subject am I / Sick and pale, but strangely alive"
- Ocean Spray - The first song penned by James Dean Bradfield that the group have released. The song's title comes from the cranberry juice drink which James would bring his mother, who was in hospital battling cancer. The song also features a trumpet solo, provided by a Mr. Sean Moore. The manufacturers of the drink did consider using the song as an advertising jingle, but decided against it after reading the lyrics. Released as a single on June 4, 2001, reaching number 13. "Oh, please stay awake / And then we could drink some Ocean Spray"
- Intravenous Agnostic - Following Ocean Spray's quiet, more sombre atmosphere, comes a fast and powerful rock song typical with typical powerful Nicky Wire lyrics. James' guitar work never lets off as he rails against religion. Not released as a single. "Brutality is needed in Capitalist society / Television abandoned my very entity / Nature failed me but then it made me / We all pray for pluralist babies"
- So Why So Sad - A complete change of style for the group, sounding more surf rock than angry Welshmen. The Beach Boys would be proud. This song in particularly has split fans, some loving it, whilst others loathing it more than any other. Released as a single on the same day as Found That Soul, reaching number 8. "So why so sad? / You live and you love"
- Let Robeson Sing - Dedicated to Paul Robeson, who was censored after campaigning for equal rights and for supporting Communism, this is one of the most moving songs on the LP, if not of the Manic's entire catalogue. Released as a single on September 22, 2001, reaching number 19. "A voice so pure - a vision so clear / I gotta learn to live like you - learn to sing like you"
- The Year of Purification - Another song, gentler this time, that could fit on Everything Must Go. Whilst not being as urgent as Found That Soul, the song is still powerful and driving, focused on the line "run away, run away as fast as you can". Not released as a single. "Run away as fast as you can / From anything that needs discipline"
- Wattsville Blues - Another first for the Manics, as Nicky takes up the microphone. Sadly, he doesn't do it especially well, making this song another great divider, although it does grow on you. Synthesised drums and a haunting acoustic guitar part make this song quite unique, as Nicky talks of his love for his home town. Not released as a single. "But I still love the smile on your face / But I still love everything about this place"
- Miss Europa Disco Dancer - A brilliantly-executed critique of dance culture, performed as a disco song. Not released as a single - though if it were, it would've been lapped up by the very public it attacks. The song finished with constant, agressive repetition of the line "brain dead mother fuckers". "It's poetry, sheer poetry / The way you destroy your beauty"
- Dead Martyrs - Despite its subject matter, this song isn't about Richey. The song sadly does very little to excite, being technically quite good but not adding anything of interest to an over-long record. Not released as a single. "Had a beginning, but it got no end"
- His Last Painting - Recorded in just a single take, this song is an elegant mix of a simple guitar motif with quiet Hammond organ in the background. The song could refer to any painter, depressed and unable to carry on with their work, possibly referring to Vincent Van Gogh (remember La Tristesse Durera). Not released as a single. "I've loved so much I can't go on."
- My Guernica - A dirty-sounding sound with lyrics down a telephone line and a great burst of feedback to kick off. Another song that could, feasibly, have been left off the LP, although this is certainly better than Dead Martyrs. Not released as a single. "Little someone in my own little Guernica."
- The Convalescent - A great, high-tempo piece led by Hammond Organ. This song details Nicky's habit of sellotaping pictures of friends, family and heroes to his bedroom walls - including a nod to Brian Warner, better known as Marilyn Manson, who Nicky befriended in Australia. Not released as a single. "And Brian Warner has a tasty little ass / Scared of cash machines and the Mardi Gras"
- Royal Correspondent - An attack on television Royal correspondents from the staunchly anti-monarchist Manic Street Preachers, this song slows the tempo down again after The Convalescent to make a restrained, yet caustic attack. Jenny Bond unavailable for comment. Not released as a single. "Inbred baby just like you / But you'd love the chance to eat their food / Even though it's been chewed"
- Epicentre - Continuing the slow and vitriolic theme, Epicentre seems to lash out at everything around us. We are the epicentre of our culture, and it's this that Nicky Wire attacks. "I worship the painkiller", he says, knowing full well that we all do, too. Not released as a single. "Like a stunned fox / With memory loss"
- Baby Elian - Almost dropped from the album, and only included at the last minute due to its incredibly topical subject material. This was one of the songs the band played before Fidel Castro in Cuba, to rapturous applause, cementing the band's anti-American stance with phrases such as "America - the Devil's playground". Not released as a single (wonder why?). "Kidnapped to the promised land."
- Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children - A pet favourite of Nicky Wire, this song assaults capitalism in the post-Communism Eastern Block. While the people may have freedom of speech, many find themselves worse off financially than before. The song also includes an attack on the Beastie Boys. Not released as a single. "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 Are All Bourgeois Now - A secret track on some copies of the album, appearing 8 minutes and 40 seconds after the end of track 16. A wonderfully performed cover of a McCarthy track, fitting in nicely with the theme of the album. Not released as a single. "'Cause we are all bourgeois now / Once there was class war / But not any longer"
The problem with Know Your Enemy is that, whilst it contains some classic Manic Street Preachers tracks, and is as politicised as much of their earlier material, it is smothered in unnecessary and ineffective songs which only pad out the album - which, at 74 minutes long, is far too much for many to take. Compared to The Holy Bible, which sat at just under an hour, the album seems bloated. Commercially, the album was a success, but for the Manics, a new direction was sought for the follow-up, 2004's Lifeblood. Singles-wise, the album spawned four excellent tracks, but why, oh why, was So Why So Sad included on the greatest hits compilation Forever Delayed?
Previous: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours