The Manics talk 20th anniversary ‘Know Your Enemy’ reissue and Nicky Wire’s “jazz-meets-C86” solo album

'Know Your Enemy' split opinion upon release in 2001

Manic Street Preachers have spoken to NME about what to expect from the upcoming 20th anniversary reissue of their divisive 2001 album ‘Know Your Enemy’, as well as bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire‘s “jazz-meets-C86 solo album.

This week will see the release of the Welsh rock veterans’ acclaimed 14th studio album ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament‘. The band have also been working on putting together the long-mooted re-release of their sixth album from 2001, ‘Know Your Enemy‘.

The album, which contained the singles ‘Found That Soul’, ‘So Why So Sad’ and ‘Let Robeson Sing’, split opinion upon its release. A sprawling record with a heavily eclectic mix of sounds and some of their most overt political imagery, it alienated much of the new fanbase who were won on their previous and most successful album ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’. However, it won a place in hardcore fans’ hearts, as well as in the history books – when they played a launch gig in Cuba to an audience that included Fidel Castro.

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Asked about the progress on the reissue during a recent conversation with NME, Wire replied: “It is staring at me right now! There are two boxes of stuff. I’m sat in the studio with our engineer and it’s there, confronting me.”

He continued: “It was quite exciting because I’ve actually discovered two songs that have never been released. Unless I’ve made a fuck-up somewhere, there’s a song called ‘Rosebud’, which no-one has ever heard, and another called ‘Studies In Paralysis’ which has never been heard, plus a completely different version of ‘Let Robeson Sing’ that James [Dean Bradfield, frontman] did in his flat in London on a keyboard, and bares no resemblance to what it became.

“There are actually a lot of goodies. Even I’m quite giddy with excitement. James and Sean [Moore, drummer] weren’t arsed though…”

Wire also revealed that he plans to fulfil the band’s original intention for the record with the upcoming re-release by separating it into two separate albums called ‘Solidarity’ and  ‘Door To The River’, showcasing its distinct hard-rock and more acoustic, experimental side.

Asked if they might perform special ‘Know Your Enemy’ anniversary shows, Wire replied: “I wish I could say! To be honest, there’s a lot to fucking learn. When we recorded that album, we never played in the same room. It was all purposefully on the edge. It was really punky. A lot of demos became songs, we were doing ideas on our own. I don’t think we could pull off a whole show.”

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Having celebrated various anniversaries for their albums ‘Generation Terrorists’, ‘Gold Against The Soul’, ‘The Holy Bible’, ‘Everything Must Go’, ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ and ‘Send Away The Tigers’, Wire sounded doubtful if they’d revisit any more of their records through reissues or tours. “I don’t think there are any left, mate!” he said. “There’s some good stuff with [2004 album] ‘Lifeblood’, because the [producer] Tony Visconti versions have never been released. There are about three or four of them. I think that’s about it.”

Manic Street Preachers, 2021. Credit: Alex Lake
Manic Street Preachers, 2021. Credit: Alex Lake

Frontman James Dean Bradfield described Wire’s archive of unreleased material for reissues as “Stanley Kubrick-esque”.

“Stanley Kubrick had all these special boxes built for scripts, tapes, films and postcards,” Bradfield told NME. “Nick’s got different boxes for different lists that fit his purposes. When you see one of our reissues, they’re always so good because of all the stuff that Nicky has collected: whether it’s a napkin from a hotel in Japan that he scribbled a lyric on [or] some stationary with lyrics on from the Intercontinental Hotel in Amsterdam in 1995.

“All that ephemera goes into a reissue because he’s collected it all in boxes somewhere.”

Reviewing the album at the time of its releaseNME concluded: “‘Know Your Enemy’ might be riddled with more faults than California, but in an increasingly unambitious world, it allows you to answer with a cautious ‘yes’. Far from divine, but on the side of the angels.”

Revisiting the split reaction that ‘Know Your Enemy’ received back in 2001, Bradfield said: “Sometimes an indelible part of a band’s direction that they take is just a way to childishly wreck their own success.

“That’s what ‘Know Your Enemy’ is, to a certain degree. It’s us reacting to albums in a row, ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’, being massive albums in Britain alone – one sold 1.3 million copies and the other 1.5 just in the UK. Then we just childishly and churlishly go and accuse ourselves of being too successful, bloated and pleased with ourselves by writing ‘Know Your Enemy’.”

He continued: “When I hear ‘Know Your Enemy’ I hear that we did a good job of dismantling the success that we’d built up over those two albums. Sometimes you thought the press had it in for you, but we probably had it in for ourselves more.”

Bradfield went on to explain how he feels that the album “stands up lyrically much more than it does musically, and Nick wins that battle there” – naming tracks like ‘My Guernica’ for not sounding as “fucked-up” as the words required.

“There are certain songs on there that I really like,” he said. “I love ‘Epicentre’, I still stand by ‘Ocean Spray’. I still think that The Avalanches’ version of ‘So Why So Sad’ should have been the single. I still love the lyrics on ‘Royal Correspondent’, it’s really on the money. ‘Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’ with Kevin Shields playing guitar on it, I still think that sounds really good. It’s a stand-out track.

“I love ‘The Year Of Purification’. That’s our love of early REM coming out in the wash, big time. ‘Murmur’ was one of our favourite records for a long time, it still is and I stand by every track on that record. You can hear its influence on that track, definitely.”

Of the decision to split ‘Know Your Enemy’ into two this time around, Bradfield added: “I stand with Nick that it would have been two brilliant stand-alone albums. We should have done that twice in our career. We did it with [2013’s] ‘Rewind The Film’ and [2014’s] ‘Futurology’, and we should have done it with ‘Know Your Enemy’. Perhaps we’ll do that this time, perhaps we’ll remix some of it.”

In terms of other activity in the Manic Street Preachers’ camp, Wire also revealed more about his new “modern, electronic, soothsaying” solo album.

“It’s done,” he told NME. “Whatever, I might bury it in a fucking pond somewhere, I might burn it, I might do it mail order, I might do it on Bandcamp. It’s very fucking fragile. It’s got some very off-kilter modern jazz and some C-86 indie vibes to it.”

This would follow Wire’s 2006 solo debut ‘I Killed The Zeitgeist’. Asked how it compared, Wire replied: “It’s a lot better than that. There’s some ‘Bitches Brew’-era Miles Davis in there, some obscure trumpet-led, and some songs that just sound like The Shop Assistants.

“It features Gav [Fitzjohn] on the trumpet. Sean [Moore, drums and trumpet] refuses to play. He says his lip has gone.”

Read the rest of our interview with the Manics here, where Bradfield and Wire also discuss how Abba and The Clash came to shape the “snow globe” feel of their new album, life in lockdown, railing against culture wars, the Liam Gallagher and Mark Lanegan feud, working with Sunflower Bean‘s Julia Cumming, the upper class “tipping the cultural scales too heavily in their favour“, and much more.

Manic Street Preachers will release ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ on Friday (September 10), before touring through to December. Visit here for tickets and information.

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