Know Your Enemy (Super Deluxe Edition)

Sep 07, 2022
Web Exclusive

By Dom Gourlay


“Things get clear,” sings James Dean Bradfield, three songs in, on “So Why So Sad.” A song that confused many fans at the time when first released as the joint-lead single off Manic Street Preachers’ sixth album, Know Your Enemy, and one that hasn’t featured in any of the band’s live sets for over a decade. So, it might come as a surprise to some that the version here (The Avalanches’ “Sean Penn Mix”) stands out as one of the early highlights on this Super Deluxe anniversary reissue of said album.

Originally released in February 2001, Know Your Enemy was a sprawling collection that traversed the band’s combined influences without sounding like anything they’d put out beforehand. It was at the height of the Manics’ most successful period commercially and critically, with the band having notched two platinum albums, a brace of number one singles and four Brit Awards under their belts. Know Your Enemy was the sound of a bad experimenting both sonically and lyrically. Promotional duties saw the trio release two lead singles on the same day (“So Why So Sad” and “Found That Soul”) followed by a well-documented trip to Cuba, while the album itself consisted of 17 very different, but equally fascinating pieces of music. Despite reaching number two in the UK album charts and each of its four singles attaining positions in the Top 20, it’s probably fair to say a lot of the band’s fanbase and allies within the music press were divided on its merits at the time.

So, having already celebrated its 21st birthday earlier this year, the Super Deluxe version doesn’t just reissue the songs that made up the original. It actually reconstructs the original album into two separate records as the band had originally intended, while adding a collection of previously unreleased demos from that era. Speaking to Under the Radar last year, bass player and songwriter Nicky Wire suggested there was a “real treasure trove” of material in the archives from this era, which turns out to be an understatement if this collection is anything to go by.

Released across several formats for collectors of vinyl, CD, or digital editions, each record contains 10 songs—including two previously unreleased numbers (“Rosebud” and “Studies In Paralysis”)—entitled Door to the River and Solidarity. Both track listings have been reimagined in the same order as they were originally planned some 22 years ago, with each containing songs that didn’t make it onto Know Your Enemy. The first album is comprised of more introspective songs from that era, whereas the latter consists of heavier, raw material including the band’s second number one single, “The Masses Against the Masses,” originally released as a standalone 45 in the January of 2001.

Highlights come thick and fast; from the opening bars of “The Year of Purification,” which takes its inspiration from early R.E.M. and the C86 scene they helped to inspire, through to the universally underrated “Epicentre” that closes Door to the River. The title track—initially released as a bonus number on 2002’s Forever Delayed greatest hits compilation—also stands out here. Stripped back and laid bare minus the strings off the original version, it’s an exquisite demonstration of how prolific the Manics’ songwriting was at this point. Likewise the aforementioned “Rosebud,” whose epic quality further highlights the treasure trove of riches Wire was referring to last summer.

The second album, Solidarity, opens with the Sonic Youth-esque “Intravenous Agnostic,” while also listing the band’s excellent cover of McCarthy’s “We Are All Bourgeoise Now”—then a hidden track at the very end of Know Your Enemy—on its first side. “The Masses Against the Classes” opens side two, while the brutally charged “Dead Martyrs” and delectable “Miss Europa Disco Dancer” make claims for being “the two singles that should have been” off Know Your Enemy.

Elsewhere, assorted B-sides from that era make a welcome inclusion—the glacial “Fear of Motion” and visceral “Ballad Of The Bangkok Novatel” featuring Wire on lead vocals in particular.

However, what’s most fascinating are the demos that make up the third disc. Mostly recorded between the London flat James Dean Bradfield was living in at the time and the studio, an early version of “The Masses Against the Classes” containing different lyrics in the chorus (““We are the animals, you are the useless”…“We’re still together, but you’re no longer dangerous”) and “His Last Elian”—which eventually saw its verses and chorus split to become “His Last Painting” and “Baby Elian”—being the most fascinating.

The reissue was remixed by Bradfield alongside long time production cohort Dave Eringa, while also featuring expansive sleeve notes from long-term collaborator Robin Turner and previously unseen photos of the Know Your Enemy recording sessions by Mitch Ikeda. Know Your Enemy (Super Deluxe Edition) is something of a rare beast among a plethora of reissues and reconfigured albums that actually improves on the original while adding an intuitive insight into the writing and recording process for a record that thoroughly deserves a second bite at the recognition cherry this time around. (www.manicstreetpreachers.com)

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