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Preaching revolution or rhetoric?
Manic Street Preachers: 'Know your enemy' and live at Cardiff Coal Exchange March 2001, reviewed by SARAH MAYO.
STUNG BY accusations of selling out with their 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the Manics have very consciously embarked on a new radicalised era, musically and politically.
Know Your Enemy is an ambitious, eclectic record which wears the Manics' much-vaunted 'socialism' on its sleeves, so to speak.
The album veers from edgy, abrasive punk rock (Found That Soul and Intravenous Agnostic), glittering, swirling disco (Miss Europa Disco Dancer) to the warmer REM- like tones of Let Robeson Sing.
The album bursts open with the charged metal assault of Found That Soul - the soul misplaced somewhere between all those Brit awards and stadium tours.
The Manics attempt to recapture the creativity previously fueled by indignant anger, despair and frustration. But now the Manics are so entrenched in the mainstream, can they 'keep it real'?
They do their best on Know Your Enemy, a great but flawed record. And in rhetoric at least the Manics reaffirm their revolutionary politics.
THEIR FUTURE single Let Robeson Sing is a tribute to actor and activist Paul Robeson, a victim of the McCarthy witch hunts in 1950s USA. Inspired by Robeson, the Manics wonder: "Can anyone make a difference anymore?/ Can anyone write a protest song?"
Well they can but they should be careful. A major theme of Know Your Enemy is Cuba.
The Manics celebrate the Castro regime, not because it's above criticism but as one of the few places on earth that's largely managed to actively resist American Imperialism.
In interviews the Manics acknowledge the Castro regime's limitations - its lack of democracy, its dubious human rights record, its past treatment of gays and the poverty that still exists in Cuba, to give a few examples.
However, on record, Castro and his ruling elite are treated largely uncritically. Baby Elian dissects the custody battle between Elian Gonzales' father and his US relatives in a decidedly rose-tinted way.
Lyrics like "You cannot buy a nation/ not even the Miami mob/We follow a shining path/ that you will never destroy" sound like Nicky Wire has been appointed as Cuban propaganda minister.
This is, at best, an odd line to take from a band who always stressed their depth of political knowledge.
Meanwhile their recent intimate gig in Cardiff was a triumph for the Manics. Singer James and Nicky were in their element, while Sean pounded away on drums, delivering an often impassioned performance.
The gig was mostly a launch pad for Know Your Enemy although the 'older' songs were best received by an eager crowd.
Motorcycle Emptiness was steeped in raw beauty and melancholy while Ocean Spray - James' tribute to his late mother - was understated and affirmative.
The gig was brilliant yet nagging doubts remained about how genuine the Manics' revolutionary politics are.
Backstage Nicky told us that he's a 'situationist socialist', without elaborating what he meant by this. (The situationists were a Paris-based group of radical intellectuals that rejected 'old' left-wing ideas).
Nicky, though, defended New Labour (an ally of the USA) on the spurious basis that they're "better than the Tories". This hardly tallies with Know Your Enemy's revolutionary rhetoric.
The Manics' politics are at best confused and inconsistent. However, because they still recognise the revolutionary potential of music they can still be celebrated.
In The Socialist 20 April 2001: