"We wanted to leave our fans with a statement that wasn't shit"
- Nicky Wire, speaking during the recording of "Know Your Enemy"

"Know Your Enemy" is the sixth album from Manic Street Preachers. After the maudlin, introspective This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, KYE represents an attempt by the Manics to return to their firebrand punk roots. The album was recorded in two months in a Villa in Spain, with production by Mike Eringa and David Holmes. To keep the punk feeling in the songs, the band set themselves a limit of five takes per song.

They've already demonstrated this intent by debuting the songs at the Karl Marx stadium in Havana, to an audience of 5,000 that included Fidel Castro.

After hearing the album: The sound isn't actually punk as much as post-punk : XTC, New Order, Jesus And Mary Chain and, strangely, Donna Summer seem to have influenced this record. Which is apt, because in many ways this is post-Manics. It really sounds unlike anything they've done before. This is possible due to the fact that, apart from a subtle reference in So Why So Sad, Richey is nowhere to be seen in the entire record.

Without a doubt, it's the messiest album the Manics have ever recorded. The previous albums all tended to focus on a single lyrical and musical concept, while KYE lopes from punk to folk to new wave to disco to punk again. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But the big question over this album was always : would the Manics find that punk sound again, or just sound like old men who were trying too hard? In the end, neither was true. Know Your Enemy is a closer to This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours than Generation Terrorists. But there are hints of the old stuff there in tracks like My Guernica and Found That Soul. And it is nice to hear them experiment with stuff like Miss Europa Disco Dancer and Wattsville Blues.

A great album but deeply flawed. The review in NME captured it beautifully -

"Far from divine, but definitely on the side of the angels."

    1. Found That Soul
    2. Ocean Spray
    3. Intravenous Agnostic
    4. So Why So Sad
    5. Let Robeson Sing
    6. The Year Of Purification
    7. Wattsville Blues
    8. Miss Europa Disco Dancer
    9. Dead Martyrs
    10. His Last Painting
    11. My Guernica
    12. The Convalescent
    13. Royal Correspondent
    14. Epicentre
    15. Baby Elian
    16. Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children
    17. Bonus Track : We Are All Bourgeois Now

Michael Corleone to Frank Pentangeli

I was always glad that after my father died, this house didn't go to strangers, that it stayed in the family. This very room was my father's study. I used to come here many times while he was working. My father taught me alot of things in this room. Many things. It was in this very room that my father once said to me, 'Michael, to be strong for your family, there are many things a man must do. The most important thing to remember is this:
Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.'

The Godfather Part II

Know your enemy and know yourself;
in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated.

- Sun Tzu

It has come to my attention that large numbers of US citizens appear to have quite misunderstood why so many people - Arabs in particular - dedicate so much of their lives to fighting American power, and long for the eventual downfall of the United States. They believe, apparently, that their enemies hate the USA because they hate its freedom, and because they are fundamentally cold-hearted, evil people. Like the old chestnut about English people opposing American power because we're bitter about losing an empire that most of us are too young to remember, this is such an obvious self-serving myth that it's slightly scary in and of itself that people seem to take it seriously. Of course, it's not that many Arabs don't despise the decadence that seems to come with US-style freedom, and disapprove of the status afforded to women and so on; but these are not the main things that lead people to fight the USA with such devotion, and to make out that they are looks very much like a tactic to dehumanise the enemy with little or no basis in fact.

But if it's not America's freedom these people are so vehemently against, then what? What could a peace-loving country like the United States possibly have done to offend them? Well, three points in particular seem to stick in the craw of many Arabs, leaving aside for now the current war in Afghanistan:

  1. The United States' constant, unhesitating support of Israel while claiming to be an impartial party, only trying to help. Now, this is a complicated issue of course, and there is no shortage of good reasons for propping up Israel, but all the same one can't help but wonder if things would have got quite this bad if the States had made its massive military aid conditional on some kind of respect for human rights, or even UN resolutions. Conversely, if the US is indeed quite prepared to defend Israel no matter what, wouldn't it be wise to step back and allow someone who doesn't donate billions of dollars of military supplies to Israel every year play the part of honest broker?
  2. The sanctions and bombing regime against Iraq. Now, nobody's defending Saddam Hussein here; certainly he shoulders a substantial measure of the blame for what has been happening. Still, it is hard to escape the conclusion that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children and other civilians have died who would not have done were it not for America's insistence on sanctions which have seen many supplies vital for public health denied to the Iraqi people - chlorine for water-sterilisation, a wide range of medical supplies, and so on.
  3. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia. Around 5,000 US soldiers - imperialist infidels, some would say - are stationed in the holy land of Saudi Arabia, which contains most of Islam's most sacred sites. Apart from the problem some people have with their holy sites being guarded by people who are not members of their religion (and in many cases appear to have to hold said religion in contempt), the troops also help to prop up the ruling Saudi royal family, which many see as corrupt and decadent, funneling the region's oil wealth into their own pockets and the pockets of foreigners, largely Americans.

I am neither an Arab nor a Muslim, so what is said here is based on second-hand impressions. I wouldn't presume to speak for anyone if I wasn't pretty sure I could paint a much clearer picture of the true situation than anything the Bush administration or most of the mainstream media are willing to put forward. Now, why should Americans even care why these people want to kill them, or at least end their country's involvement with their own, when the USA is the most powerful country in the world by such a large margin? Well, know your enemy pretty much sums it up; but more specifically:

  1. If you leave the root causes untouched and simply try to fight all the terrorists you can find into submission, all you're doing is lopping heads off the hydra. The body still remains, and for every head messily severed - for every group of people slain or imprisoned in this fight - many more will step forward, disgusted at the murder of their friends and family, to take their place. You might succeed in wrong-footing a particular group, disrupting their communications, but how long can this be kept up when new parties are joining the struggle all the time? If there's one thing Britain's experience with Northern Ireland taught us, it's that killing people recruits for the enemy in the long run - increasing, not decreasing their numbers and determination.
  2. The United States is spending a great deal of money on this 'War on Terrorism', and placing substantial restrictions on the civil rights of its citizens, in the name of security. This looks set to continue for as long as there are people around who violently oppose to the American hegemony - which is to say, for the indefinite future so long as the USA does nothing to address the grievances that lead to this kind of terrorism.
  3. Many people who have looked into these grievances come away feeling that, actually, they have a point, and US foreign policy as it applies to the Middle East in particular is in fact morally reprehensible. If you've looked into it carefully and concluded your country is doing nothing wrong there, that's fair enough. However, US citizens who do not believe that their country's foreign policies are ethically sound are of course under a moral obligation to at least try to change the situation - regardless of the pragmatic arguments I have presented here - and those who really haven't looked into the question but defend the status quo all the same really aren't living up to their duties as citizens of a powerful democracy.

I guess it's worth saying something about the United States' other enemies, too; Muslims are certainly not the only ones the country has pissed off. The refusal of the world's biggest polluter to do anything to reduce emissions in the face of potentially disastrous global warming; its implacable opposition to international conventions for the control of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; its insistence on free market economics for the poor countries of the world while it continues to place tariffs on imports and subsidise its farmers and other industries; its general insistence on involving itself in the affairs of everyone in the world while maintaining an insular outlook best summed up by the three lines of world news at the bottom of CNN.com's front page; its largely indiscriminate arms dealing; its legally dubious embargo on Cuba; all of these are losing it friends and making it enemies around the world. For the time being, the USA can still count most of Europe as its allies; but the relationship grows ever shakier, and our governments are a lot friendlier than our populations. If George W. Bush is allowed to continue on his present tack the United States may find itself without a friend in the world. The questions to ask at that point are: Can the USA continue to buy the co-operation of other governments indefinitely? And to what extent can it get by without it?

Note: None of this is meant to excuse terrorism in any way. I probably shouldn't need to say that. What I am trying to do is to explain the magnitude of anti-American feeling among Arabs and others, because without understanding this I don't believe that the United States has any hope of countering it, and in the long run I very much doubt that it is going to prove possible to suppress the results of it by force alone. I do not think the grievances people have against the USA justify the slaughter of civilians - but neither do I think the grievances the USA has against people living in Afghanistan justify the ongoing slaughter of civilians there, the death count of which long ago exceeded that of the WTC destruction.

In case this isn't already clear, all of the major points here are directed specifically at the United States government, not at its people. I for one have nothing against American people, except inasmuch as they are responsible for the actions of their government, and I believe that this is true of most people who oppose the USA's foreign policies; I suspect that even those who resort to terrorism against the States are doing so out of rage against and frustration with the policies of the US government, not out of a personal antipathy towards Americans; but perhaps they really do blame the people for the actions of the government, as well as despising their lifestyle. Either way, killing civilians apparently seems to them the most effective way to fight their fight. It's a filthy tactic, but I'm not convinced that it's really on a different moral plane from pursuing policies which one knows very well will kill thousands of civilians, while claiming to do 'everything possible' to avoid civilian casualties, which are 'always very regrettable'.

Please do not make the mistake of supposing that to be appalled by the actions and policies of your government is in any way equivalent to hating your population. Thank you for listening.

President Bush's speeches: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
Questions and answers about the causes of anti-US terrorism: http://www.terrorismanswers.com/causes/
A piece about US aid to Israel: http://www.wrmea.com/html/usaidtoisrael0001.htm
Excellent interview with Harold Pinter: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,781544,00.html


"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.

Track Listing

  1. 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"
  2. 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"
  3. 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"
  4. 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"
  5. 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"
  6. 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"
  7. 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"
  8. 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"
  9. 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"
  10. 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."
  11. 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."
  12. 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"
  13. 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"
  14. 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"
  15. 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."
  16. 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"
  17. 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?

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