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Archive for the ‘2001 – Know Your Enemy’ Category

We’re all free to choose

The first Manics hidden track, stacked cunningly right at the end of Know Your Enemy. Also one of those cases where you really wish the song was an original by the band because it’s that damn awesome.

We Are All Bourgeois Now doesn’t actually differ much at all from the original. The original version was written and performed by the 80’s British political rockers McCarthy who the band openly worships as stated by many, many interviews and the sheer fact that they’ve covered and recorded more than one McCarthy song during their career. Unlike most McCarthy songs where the lyrics were intentionally provocative and extremist in views (whether they were frontman Malcolm Eden’s own or not), Bourgeois goes on about rather calmly and idealistically, sung atop of a wonderful jangle anthem.

The main differences between the Manics and McCarthy versions are the singing and the production – musically they’re completely identical. The McCarthy version has the usual flat and weak 80’s production and Gann’s singing doesn’t exactly ring the bells of yours truly. On the other hand Bradfield’s soaring and the stronger, beefed-up production really squeezes the anthem like quality of the music into fruition. When the final chorus and the song’s soaring ending blast out, it’s sheer rock heaven. The vocal melody in the verses is absolutely fantastic as well.

Essentially, due to the similarity between the two versions, the whole thing boils down to which band you prefer. This is a Manics blog so we’ll go with our heroes.

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See the love in Richard Gere’s eyes

What would otherwise be a fairly ordinary political rock track straight from the Manics factory lines is transformed into a quick-and-effective album bookend that perfectly nutshells everything Know Your Enemy is about because of simple productional tricks.

There’s so much going on in this track. Echoey synths that sound like filtered noise, practically hidden guitar tracks underneath all the synth fuzz (love those little melodies in the verse), a middle-eight that takes that synth fuzz to the max… the soundworld is completely filled. Freedom of Speech merges the dirty acoustic and dirty electric side of Know Your Enemy together, mixing some of the keyboard heavy production pieces of the album along with it. The lyrics are a bit crap when you just read them from the booklet but in the song they actually work. It’s a fuzzed-out, flipped-over protest song. Oh, and I just love the call-and-answer vocals on the verse.

And it just closes the album so perfectly. The album’s schizophrenic nature makes it so that it’d be really hard to close it properly because there’s practically no order in the chaos, so Freedom of Speech just takes the dodgy route of adding a quick 3 minute rocker that kinda comes from nowhere and ends pretty abruptedly, and works it like it means it. It just encapsulates Know Your Enemy so wonderfully in its sound and the abrupt ending fits the absurd tracklisting.

The band values it as well – it’s one of the very few Know Your Enemy songs to receive multiple live outings after the 2001 tour.

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Like a stunned fox with memory loss

Epicentre’s ramshackle acoustic approach is one that would’ve been cool to have an album of its own. Hasty, gritty acoustic guitar strums and a very lo-fi feeling yet the song itself is fragile, almost tender. The subtle yet vicious electric guitar storms in and doesn’t cause much of a fuss but does add a great element of messiness into the final mix. Add the pounding drums and the piano that flips from elegant to clangy.

Epicentre’s got a great tune and a wonderful atmosphere, but it’s sorta buried at the latter half of Know Your Enemy so it rarely gets a mention. It’s also a very subtle song: it goes around in a very calm, even pace. Even its slightly more noticably soaring finale stays pretty close to the ground. It’s one of the few Know Your Enemy moments that’s not really in-your-face, more relying on subtlety’s power. It’s a refreshing breather, as well as a great song all in itself, in its melodies and patterns.

The track officially ends around 5:11, as stated on the album’s booklet. What follows afterwards is more of a hidden track in the middle of songs rather than an outro for Epicentre. That mystic, ethereal voice section is a part of Masking Tape, a b-side released ages after the album.

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My bedroom wall recalls what’s in my head

Know Your Enemy’s sprawling centerpiece epic, as mad and frantic as the album surrounding it is schizophrenic and seemingly without any direction. The Convalescent is a six-minute storming right into Nicky Wire’s head. The gigantic, nearly endless armada of stream-of-consciousness lyrics and words are spat out by James in a relentless pace; it’s probably the largest mouthful of lyrics Nicky’s ever committed to one single song and the ridiculous namedropping and moving from one point to another bears very little directional sense, only unified by an overaching theme of what goes on in Wire’s private life. Musically the band engages into a gritty high speed rocker from the very beginning – there’s barely any intro, just barely a second of noise before the song crashes into existence – which is punctuated by the occasional, relatively long calm spots (surprisingly including the chorus). And when the lyrics finally disappear, James isn’t content in giving his vocal cords a rest – the long outro, constantly growing in madness, ends up being a multilayered parade of James’ yelps and oohs.

The Convalescent, much unlike its name, knows no rest. It just goes and goes and goes in a manic frenzy. It’s the epitome of Know Your Enemy’s gritty side, distorted organs howling while crappily recorded vocals and rambling guitars break the airspace. In fact, like I mentioned above, it could be called the whole album’s centerpiece – everything that was played before climaxes into it, afterwards which begins the slow descent in pace and atmosphere.

God knows why it never made a live outing, it would have been an absolutely mad king of the concert field with its fierce energy.

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It’s not my life anymore

Subtle. Downstated. Minimal.

Simple is beautiful.

His Last Painting doesn’t really try to reach for any soaring heights or fall into great melancholy lows. It stays in the middle. It doesn’t want to chug along like a high speed train or crawl slowly. It stays in the middle. The most basic of all song structures: verse chorus verse chorus solo verse chorus fade-out.

It doesn’t have to do any extremities. His Last Painting is fantastic in itself. Simple indeed is beautiful. It’s placid and complacent, fitting perfectly with the self-downgrading lyrics – it sounds apathetic and defeated, waving its white flag while trying to walk on. When just before the final-fade out the song rips into a miniature solo much fiercer than the first one, the mood breaks into pieces – it’s a call for help, desire to break from the mould but soon it submits back into the same march, fading out into forever.

Simple is beautiful.

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Had a beginning but it got no end

Dead Martyrs is such a simple song and it explains itself quite well when it’s nutshelled. What we have here is three and a half minutes of fuzzy, dirty, filtered rock. It sounds like a demo that was composed and recorded in hours – considering this is Know Your Enemy we are talking about, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. It was never played live by the band and its existence is pretty much ignored for no other reason than that it was a random spur-of-the-moment album track on Know Your Enemy.

But it’s such a fun spur-of-a-moment dirty demo thing. The energy it holds is fantastic and it’s one of the tracks that really do hark back to the band’s earlier days like the band babbled about doing during Know Your Enemy. Not in a musical sense as this is very much a modern Manics rock track but in the sheer sense of raw, passionate energy covered up with the uncensored desire to put out whatever and forget it immediately afterwards.

And so Dead Martyrs stands forgotten but for the three and a half minutes it grumbles in the air, it’s pure fist-waving aggressive joy.

And I really, really like the lyrics in their simple existential angst.

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It’s poetry, sheer poetry

Let’s go disco!

Unarguably the most off-beat Manics moment (perhaps next to that Umbrella cover). Know Your Enemy may be a sprawling epic full of stylistic jumps but no one could have expected Manics of all people to randomly jump into straightforward disco.

The lyrics might tell the tale of the self-destruction of a club junkie but the song’s bubbly, bright and groovy. Infectious bass line, a hi-hat filled classic disco drumline, simple standard disco guitar riff, brightly sparkling keyboards. All it would need are handclaps (and there’s even a perfect place for them: “It’s poetry/agony *clap clap* sheer poetry/agony” – it works perfectly!). And then the song ends with a slightly under a minute of Nicky Wire’s immortal “braindead motherfuckers” chanting.

Maybe it should have been a b-side instead of an album track but in a strange and warped way it works perfectly in the chaos of Know Your Enemy. And in the end it’s still perfectly Manics. Words cannot state its genius.

And if you’re a fan enough, try and go fetch a live version of this. It’s truly sad that so few Know Your Enemy tracks get live outings anymore, as the performances of this floating around are some of the band’s most entertaining live moments. It got the crowd moving, it got the band grooving, and one of them got Nicky Wire shout “I can’t remember my fucking lines!”. Priceless. Its live performances also included James and Nicky swapping instruments for whatever reason. The clip embedded is from Reading 2001.

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