MANIC STREET PREACHERS - SOLO PROJECTS
JAMES DEAN BRADFIELD
|2006 -||Singer/Songwriter, Rock|
The Manics frontman has always been reluctant to release music on his own but there have been a few times over the years when the band's been on a break and the creative urges took over.
THE GREAT WESTERN
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2006||8||"That's No Way to Tell a Lie", "Bad Boys and Painkillers", "Emigré"|
1) That’s No Way to Tell a Lie; 2) An English Gentleman; 3) Bad Boys and Painkillers; 4) On Saturday Morning We Will Rule the World; 5) Run Romeo Run; 6) Still a Long Way to Go; 7) Émigré; 8) Say Hello to the Pope; 9) To See a Friend in Tears; 10) The Wrong Beginning; 11) Which Way to Kyffin
A melodic palate cleanser full of sunshine while the band takes a break.
After 2004’s Lifeblood, Manic Street Preachers took the first break of their lifetime. Nicky Wire had been pondering about doing a solo album for a while so he set out to record one; Sean Moore took the opportunity to just enjoy time with his family; but James Dean Bradfield had no idea what to do. The Great Western, Bradfield’s first solo album and named after the train line between London and Wales he wrote most of the album on while travelling back and forth, was the result of circumstance and not really what he was driven to do: James has spoken many a times that he prefers to play and create music with the Manics and he had no real itch to make a solo record, but when you’re a man who obsessively loves to create music with a lot of spare time in his hands, it’s something that’s practically expected to happen. Even at the time of its release Bradfield was almost sheepish that The Great Western existed - like he was cheating on his band by writing music by himself and playing with other people.
Bradfield is the main songwriter in the Manics and so from that perspective The Great Western bears no surprises - it is all very identifiably JDB, melodic solos and impressive vocal theatrics and all, with a lot of detailed arrangements and additional instrumentation as if to highlight his role as his day job band’s instrumental wiz. Where it differs from the Manics significantly is that it’s a really cheery record, close to cheekily winking at the listener at times. It’s full of bouncy melodies, playful Beach Boys backing vocals and frolicking glockenspiels, to a point that many of these songs could be called summertime jams with no trace of irony. The more obvious change is that while Bradfield has always been the voice of the Manics, prior to this he had only ever sung his own words once. The Great Western gives him the chance genuinely sing his own material for most of the album, and for inspiration he's chosen his own past. Bradfield's (actually really good and in no way lacking next to Wire's) lyrics are full of hazy, uplifting nostalgia inspired by people and places of his past and present, partly happily reflecting on his memories and part wistfully looking back. The comfortably homey tone of the lyrics tie into the more genuinely positive musical ideas he’s rarely played with in the Manics, and so The Great Western isn’t an opportunity for Bradfield to experiment with musical styles he couldn’t do with his own band. Instead, it’s the chance to write some happy pop songs for once without feeling like he’s betraying the hard-worked reputation for anthemic misery.
There’s a certain level of freedom you can only get when you’re completely in control and that kind of boundlessness is what defines The Great Western. Right from its title the album invokes travelling as its central theme and it does invoke the same open-ended freedom of roaming the world around you and not bound to any given location - and if I owned a car, it’d be exactly the kind of record that would be in its element played out loud on the road. Bradfield makes everything on The Great Western sound so effortless as well: it’s awash with melodic riches, masterfully angled hooks and consistent highs, but it doesn’t sound meticulously planned or laboured even though you can tell so much attention went into its smallest details in a typical Bradfield style. The big pop moments are the obvious hook-in points to pin this down, simply because they’re where the album’s key tenet of breaking away from routine is best displayed, and they’re so charming in their unexpected directness. “That’s No Way to Tell a Lie”, “An English Gentleman”, “Bad Boys and Painkillers” (what a killer opening salvo) and “Say Hello to the Pope” are a celebration of James’ guitar work, his voice and especially the greatness of abundant backing vocals - an element of the album that deserves every single separate mention it gets because the use all the contrasting melodies, layered voices and call-and-answer sections make so much of the album’s magic. “That’s No Way to Tell a Lie” in particular is the kind of instantly addictive, succinct and precise single that Bradfield’s been trying to write for each Manics album ever since but rarely coming even close to this - and not even the most optimistic Manics albums would dream to feature something as outrageously upbeat as the sha-la-las and handclaps of "That's No Way to Tell a Lie". Another big highlight is “Bad Boys and Painkillers” (with lyrics by Nicky Wire, making this a Manics song in disguise), which swoons so wonderfully in its little world of harmonica licks, waves of keyboards and harmonies and intricately growing arrangement details - it’s massive, without ever really trying to sound as much.
The Great Western isn’t completely bereft of the more traditional James Dean Bradfield flair, and some of its strongest moments come from Bradfield going back to his old guitar hero habits. The drama of the stadium torchlit “Still a Long Way to Go” is the closest the album gets to the Manics and maybe would have deserved a shot to become part of that canon, with Bradfield showing off the sheer awe-inspiring volume and strength of his voice as he belts out the chorus in a way that gets your hair stand up. The conceptual title track and the heart and soul of the album “Émigré” is an all-out rock stand-out and also the album's most resonant track, Bradfield surrounding himself with guitars that manage to be both delicate and muscular at the same time, urgently pushing forward like the album’s titular train. While it's great to hear Bradfield play around with more novel ideas to excellent results, you can tell he's most at home here, and these two songs together form a slide towards the more contemplative side of the record. The less extroverted moments of The Great Western have the same warmth as their sunnier counterparts, so even at its moodiest it still feels like a comforting shoulder to lean against rather than anything truly melancholy: the contrasting intimate quiet of the Jacques Brel cover “To See a Friend in Tears” perhaps comes the closest, but it’s beset by the gospel-flavoured and choir-backed “The Wrong Beginning” and the dreamland sunset scene of “Which Way to Kyffin” - the latter of which especially is one of the album’s most evocative and quite frankly beautiful cuts.
Overall, The Great Western is a consistently great album where even the somewhat lesser cuts (“Run Romeo Run”, “On Saturday Morning We Will Rule the World”, to some extent “The Wrong Beginning” that plods a little too much before it gets really going) have parts that sparkle and shine. But did anyone expect anything less? Manics had been comfortably cruising from highlight to highlight in their golden age right before this record and Bradfield is their the primary musical contributor, so of course The Great Western is really good - there was never a risk it wouldn’t have been. I would imagine Bradfield knew that there weren’t many risks involved in writing it either, but rather than coasting along knowing there’s an audience ready for it, it’s clear the lack of pressure made recording the album all the more comfortable and relaxed. It’s a repeated point but it’s kind of the gist of the record: no chips on the shoulder, no weight on the shoulders. Simply a selection of great songs from a great musician, treating this sort-of peer-pressured solo album chance as a method to unwind and play something more relaxed and upbeat for his own fun, and the benefits of that lack of self-censorship is apparent all over the album. As far as solo records and side releases go The Great Western isn’t the sort of breakaway record that would establish Bradfield as someone who could convince you even if the Manics left you cold, and so it comfortably slots in the category where it is probably more of a fan record - but that absolutely does not tarnish its strengths or simply how good it sounds.
Physically: Jewel case with a fold-out booklet, the artwork forming a little railroad pattern across the pages with each stop represented by a song and a watercolour sketch representing it. No lyrics.
EVEN IN EXILE
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2020||8||"Recuerda", "Without Knowing the End (Joan's Song)", "The Last Song"|
1) Recuerda; 2) The Boy from the Plantation; 3) There'll Come a War; 4) Seeking the Room with the Three Windows; 5) Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles; 6) Under the Mimosa Tree; 7) From the Hands of Violeta; 8) Without Knowing the End (Joan's Song); 9) La Partida; 10) The Last Song; 11) Santiago Sunrise
Part prog rock, part musical - Bradfield indulges in his more conceptual flair, given the chance.
I was as surprised as anyone that Bradfield ever released a second solo album - and that probably includes Bradfield himself. He's a workaholic who's always writing and composing, but he's faithfully devoted to his band. Since its release his attitude towards his 2006 debut solo album has been that of a formerly faithful husband caught cheating, embarrassedly brushing it off as a moment's folly, and any other solo work since has been various soundtrack work for small independent projects. Most of those have never seen an official release, and Bradfield has kept his musical endeavours tightly synonymous with his band. That long silence was broken by Even in Exile, a song cycle about the Chilean activist and musician Victor Jara, and even this didn't start out as an album or even Bradfield to begin with, but as a personal writing exercise for Patrick Jones, brother of Manics' Nicky Wire and Bradfield's close friend. Bradfield caught wind and Jara's life became a passion project for both men who have collaborated in the past in a variety of off-hand projects (including some of those aforementioned soundtracks), where they turned the poems into lyrics and from there into songs.
Bradfield is the voice of his band in many ways and Even in Exile isn't a million miles away from a Manics record - Bradfield's vocals and guitar chops are immediately recognisable even from a distance, and he isn't actively dodging the similarities either. You can't really ask a leopard to change its spots, much less one who seemingly shudders at the thought of breaking away from his day job - and so, Even in Exile hits a lot of familiar beats for anyone who's familiar with Bradfield's day job. Parts of the record could have well appeared on a Manics album, especially whenever Bradfield aims directly for the jugular: the anthemic and radio-ready "The Boy from the Plantation", the excited firecracker "Without Knowing the End" and the piano-guided stomper "Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles" all nestle in familiar Bradfield territory. "The Boy from the Plantation" in particular is exactly the kind of archtypical lead single which Bradfield is keen to include on each album these days, and its soaring choruses and biography-heavy lyrics (serving as the cliff's notes intro to Jara for anyone who's unfamiliar with him) would feel at home on any Manics album from the past ten years. But if anything, those familiar traits appearing across here display just how well he's perfected that loud and ecstatic guitar anthem vibe rather than showing any signs of a songwriter stuck in his own groove. "The Boy from the Plantation" is admittedly predictable, but when that chorus soars it's practically irresistable; and without "Without Knowing the End" Even in Exile would be a much lesser album as it zooms past with such life-affirming energy that's not been heard in a Manics album in a while.
And then there's the other side of the album. This is the first time Bradfield has worked on an honest concept album and having that clear throughline has given him space to let loose and experiment. Even in Exile is on closer examination Bradfield taking his lowkey soundtrack work to the next level by merging that level of aural storytelling with his usual rock band tricks. The combination is that Even in Exile turns out to be as much a prog rock album as it is a musical. The songs go through Jara's life from his unassuming beginnings to his tragic end, starting with a clear theme-setting overture ("Recuerda") and ending with a post mortem epilogue about his legacy by way of "Santiago Sunrise", with each key character in Jara's life getting their own their signature songs along the way. These pieces have then been arranged around unexpected time signature and key changes and the songs often start in one place and either finish in or detour somewhere completely different along the way. There's even three widescreen instrumental compositions just to further underline the connections to Bradfield's soundtrack work, including a cover of Jara's "La Partida" which has been transformed from a jaunty acoustic number to a bombastic spaghetti western theme. Bradfield has been subtly flirting with less formulaic song structures across the past few Manics albums prior to this, and Even in Exile sounds like the logical next step from there, taken to distances that he perhaps doesn't feel fits the core Manics sound.
It's not like Bradfield goes wildly mad with the songs - strong centrepiece choruses and tightly wrapped four-minute songs are an integral part of his writer's DNA. But he's never predictable either. You couldn't ask for a better opener than "Recuerda" in that respect, moving through its mini-suites of differing tempos and tones from subtle soundtrack textures to explosive stadium guitars, thrilling throughout its bombastic run as it acts as an introduction to Even in Exile's shifts. "The Last Song" breaks out into lengthy, synth-driven instrumental vignettes, "From the Hands of Violeta" cuts through its gentle mood by the later choruses that jolt into life with wild abandon, alongside many other smaller surprises scattered throughout. While his signature guitar is all across the album, Even in Exile also sees Bradfield compose with a piano for the first time in his long career and that's likely where some of the more unexpected sounds originate from; this most notably reveals itself in the haunting duo of "There'll Come a War" and "Sandiago Sunrise", both immensely atmospheric and spatial pieces where the lonely piano notes are accompanied by a booming drum machine and various guitar and keyboard textures respectively.
The instrumentals, too, are of note. They're miniature film scores played with rock band arrangements, perfectly telling a story through music alone with no verbal accompaniment. They feel a little superfluous (or abundant) at first, but they do bridge together the album closer together and help the flow of the narrative move smoothly from the triumphant beginnings to the bittersweet and uncertain end. Jara's story isn't a particularly happy one - he had a humongous impact to Chilean culture through his songs and he protested the political powers that be by bringing ordinary people together by singing about them, which then lead to him being targeted when Augusto Pinochet rose to power and shortly after his brutal death by the hands of Pinochet's squards. Even in Exile starts as a celebration of Jara and his impact but the chronological song sequence becomes more and more wistful the closer towards the album reaches Jara's end. The end is not without its glimmer of hope as Jara's death only served to gild his legacy and both "The Last Song" and "Santiago Sunrise" simmer through a mix of funeral sadness and burning defiance. The song cycle does genuinely feel like a story is being told through music and the instrumentals help depict what words can't through their atmosphere: "Seeking the Room with the Three Windows" radiantly explodes as one of the album's most out-and-out rock moments to insinuate how intensely the gear suddenly shifted in Jara's life, "Under the Mimosa Tree" serves as a spot of peace centered around the warmth of Jara's personal life, and his own "La Partida" shouts out with triumph one last time before the end.
The one particularly exciting facet across all eleven songs is hearing Bradfield sound so free-spirited and uncharacteristically jovial, seeing as how these days he treats his band with utmost seriousness most of the time. There's flashes of the old sly fox familiar for long-time fans revealing itself throughout Even in Exile, in its cheeky little tempo twists, jubilant melodic explosions and the general unrestricted inspiration it operates on. Writing for something with tangible continuity in its content has inspired Bradfield to tailor his music accordingly and despite its obvious standalone candidates (which work perfectly outside the context, for the record), Even in Exile works best as a body of work - and by aiming to make such a record, it's resulted in Bradfield bringing some genuinely new ideas to the table. It also makes sense as a James Dean Bradfield release specifically rather than as a Manic Street Preachers album by any other name, showing off aspects that might not ever be extended to this degree in his band's music. For a man who's on his fourth decade of releasing records - and for a fan who's followed those records for around for three quarters of that time span - that's wild, even ecstatic.
Physically: Jewel case with lyrics. My pre-order copy also comes with a little extra paper slip with Bradfield's short note to the listener about the background of the album and his signature. And technically it also came with a download code for some demos.
|2006 -||Singer/Songwriter, Rock|
Like Bradfield, Wire has never clamoured a solo career but has released some things of interest.
- 2006: I Killed the Zeitgeist
I KILLED THE ZEITGEIST
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2006||7||"I Killed the Zeitgeist", "The Shining Path", "Bobby Untitled"|
1) I Killed the Zeitgeist; 2) Break My Heart Slowly; 3) Withdraw/Retreat; 4) Goodbye Suicide; 5) The Shining Path; 6) Bobby Untitled; 7) You Will Always Be My Home; 8) So Much for the Future; 9) Stab Yr Heart; 10) Kimono Rock; 11) Sehnsucht; 12) (Nicky Wire's) Last; 13) Everything Fades
A rough and raggedy ugly duckling with a heart of gold. So, a Nicky Wire record.
Wire had been writing the lyrics for the Manics for years but barely contributed to the music. James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore were the musically gifted wonders, meanwhile Wire had spent years talking down his own musical skills even long after it stopped being relevant. Still, a spark remained and the experimental, laissez-faire sessions around 2001’s Know Your Enemy gave Wire the informal go-ahead to have a go at writing music. A few years later and Wire was actively writing a song here and there (even if they were relegated to b-sides), and had started to hint at writing a solo album. When the band took a break in mid-2005, he was the first member to announce one.
To put this into context, no one was expecting anything out of I Killed the Zeitgeist. In the band's early days Bradfield would record the bass parts for the albums and the band couldn't play certain songs live because Wire couldn't consistently play the riffs, and while he'd gotten much better over the years the reputation stayed. The first songs written by him for the Manics were chaotic, rudimentary and divisive, and even though by the mid-00s he had learned to write more melodically, there was still the issue of Wire's voice - i.e. the fact that his grovely, inherently out-of-tune voice just wasn't cut for singing. In short, the general expectation was that whatever Wire would release would be a complete mess.
I Killed the Zeitgeist is most definitely a bit of a mess, but so is Wire and it’s an album that very explicitly embraces it just like Wire would. It’s ramshackle and scattershot by purpose, almost antagonistically showing off its unpolished rough edges on the spot - including the complete lack of bass on the record, simply because Wire's whim dictated that it would be hilariously subversive on account of him being the bassist in his band. But Wire picked the perfect sonical playground for his irreverent attitude. Musically I Killed the Zeitgeist is a love letter to his punk roots and love for 80s lo-fi indie and the C86 scene, and its collection of primal punk anarchy, introverted ballads and cacophonic noise is all glued up on top of another like a collage of clippings. The liner notes and artwork for the album consist of typewriter printouts of the lyrics with scribbles in the margins, typographical errors and hasty after-edits in multi-colour pens, surrounded by scruffy polaroids, puppy stickers and glittery stamps, and it's the perfect visual insight to the world of I Killed the Zeitgeist perfectly. It's a chaotic tumbleweed of whimsy and guts, a peak to the leopard print world of a man who has always straddled between a tortured poet and a provocative brat.
And it is good. The range of I Killed the Zeitgeist proves that Wire is a good songwriter, who has evolved leaps and bounds since his first songs. Much of the album operates on his trademark glam punk aesthetic, but there's plenty of surprises too - some successful (the finale gear change in "Stab Yr Heart" that's almost Bradfield-esque), some less so ("So Much for the Future" devolves into noise in a way that isn't as interesting or artsy as it thinks, the instrumental "Sehnsucht" isn't interesting enough musically to stop being more than a pleasant filler song). But besides the few dips, I Killed the Zeitgeist is remarkably consistent. "Break My Heart Slowly" is an absolutely classic pop anthem dressed up in rags and eyeliner and coming from the most unexpected source, "The Shining Path" houses some of the album's strongest hooks and neatest arrangements (love that sharp acoustic guitar playing the lead melody, flipping the album's general acoustic/electric roles) and shows that Bradfield isn't the only one in the band gunning for big rock anthems, and "Stab Yr Heart" is a low-key highlight even before it switches to its remarkably good extended instrumental outro full of elegance and style. In some parts Wire channels his old Generation Terrorists self, full of cheeky attitude, sardonic sense of humour and a borderline arrogant conviction in his own message as he plows through the livelier numbers like the sing-along happy "Withdraw/Retreat" and the cock rock of "Kimono Rock" (the former which features Bradfield in a vocal cameo, the latter in guitars). The rugged punk of the title track which may not be very intricate, but it latches onto the listener so well in so many ways (the big hook of a chorus, the gratuitous German, the DO DO DO) and its placer as the opener is the perfect introduction to the album as the song reveals all its quirks and traits right off the bat. They're carefully balancing on the border between entertainingly raggy and genuinely good, and come through full of swagger, point blank effective hooks and a sense of rock 'n' roll fun.
The biggest surprise is the number of songs where Wire conjures up something more poignant, and produces some genuinely lovely songs that run almost in antithesis of the image he projects elsewhere on the record. "You Will Always Be My Home", "Bobby Untitled", "(Nicky Wire's) Last" and "Everything Fades" are atmospheric, tender and sometimes flat-out beautiful songs, with melodies strong enough to work in a Manics album. "You Will Always Be My Home" and "Bobby Untitled" in particular could be called almost sophisticated compared to the rest of the album, the former showcasing one of the album's best vocal melodies and the latter coming across as the most fully-realised composition and arrangement of the entire record, and "(Nicky Wire's) Last" goes a great way to show just how well Wire's introspective lyrics can work when he's the one singing them for once. The general raw aesthetic around the album also suits the more tender songs perfectly, and that's including Wire's voice - because my mutant superpower is actually liking it. You honestly can't really call Wire's voice good and this album takes placebefore he got more confident with it, but there's a rough power to it that perfectly suits the soundworld he's chosen for the album. With the gentler songs it adds a layer of vulnerability; with the more explosive songs, his voice is perfect for their eyeliner and spraypaint aesthetic. It may not be a pretty voice and is absolutely an acquired taste, but part of me thinks these songs might be lesser if someone more polished sang them.
Secret success then? Much like Bradfield's 2006 solo album The Great Western is ultimately best enjoyed by people who are fans of the Manics already, so is I Killed the Zeitgeist and certainly even more so. In case of Bradfield this was because the inherent qualities of his solo album were ones already familiar from the Manics and thus unlikely to convert anyone new. Meanwhile Wire's solo album somewhat requires that you're so invested in the band you'd listen to anything related to them, because Wire's divisive (to put it kindly) voice and the album's rough exterior certainly aren't the kinds of things you'd be able to present around to any unsuspecting person. But where it's awkward on the surface it can be a genuinely lovely thing when you dig underneath, with a lot of genuinely good songs strictly in terms of their melodies and arrangements, and others that win over with charm where they might lack a little on other intricacies. Where the strengths of The Great Western are almost obvious, it's the unpredictability and whimsy of I Killed the Zeitgeist that makes it almost special. It's a little short of great but not too far - and while I still wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't a big fan of the band, this might just be one of the most underrated and misunderstood albums of the wider Manics universe.
Physically: Jewel case with a lyrics booklet.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS - REISSUES
The Manics have had erratic history of various anniversary issues, released in an incoherent order rather than following any kind of chronology. The reissue titles, the packagings, the format and the scope of the bonus content have all changed numerous times over the years. It's maddening! But here we are.
The reviews below are strictly for the re-issues and do not take into account the main album or its qualities - those are reviewed separately.
- 2004: The Holy Bible (10th Anniversary Edition)
- 2006: Everything Must Go (10th Anniversary Edition)
- 2012: Generation Terrorists (20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
- 2017: Send Away the Tigers (10 Year Collector's Edition)
- 2018: This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours (20th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
- 2020: Gold Against the Soul (Deluxe Edition)
- 2022: Know Your Enemy (Deluxe Edition)
THE HOLY BIBLE (10th Anniversary Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2004||9||Out of the bonus things... the entirety of the US mix?|
CD1: 1) Yes; 2) IfwhiteAmericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart; 3) Of Walking Abortion; 4) She Is Suffering; 5) Archives of Pain; 6) Revol; 7) 4st 7lb; 8) Mausoleum; 9) Faster; 10) This Is Yesterday; 11) Die in the Summertime; 12) The Intense Humming of Evil; 13) P.C.P. Bonus tracks: 14) The Intense Humming of Evil (Live); 15) 4st 7lb (Live); 16) Yes (Live); 17) Of Walking Abortion (Live)
CD2: The US Mix 1) Yes; 2) IfwhiteAmericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart; 3) Of Walking Abortion; 4) She Is Suffering; 5) Archives of Pain; 6) Revol; 7) 4st 7lb; 8) Mausoleum; 9) Faster; 10) This Is Yesterday; 11) Die in the Summertime; 12) The Intense Humming of Evil; 13) P.C.P. Bonus tracks: 14) Die in the Summertime (Demo); 15) Mausoleum (Demo); 16) Of Walking Abortion (Radio 1 Evening Session); 17) She Is Suffering (Radio 1 Evening Session); 18) Yes (Radio 1 Evening Session)
DVD: 1) Faster (Top of the Pops); 2) Faster (Butt Naked); 3) P.C.P. (Butt Naked); 4) She Is Suffering (Butt Naked); 5) 4st 7lb (MTV Most Wanted); 6) She Is Suffering (MTV Most Wanted); 7) Faster (Glastonbury Festival '94); 8) P.C.P. (Glastonbury Festival '94); 9) Yes (Glastonbury Festival '94); 10) Revol (Reading Festival '94); 11) Faster (US Video); 12) Judge Yr'self (Video); 13) Yes (New Film); 14) Band Interview); 15) Faster (Music Video); 16) Revol (Music Video); 17) She Is Suffering (Music Video)
The first of the re-releases, with the legendary alternative mix included. Three songs short of a perfect reissue, but close.
The Holy Bible was the first Manics album to get a splashy anniversary re-release, and if you're not planning to do these things chronologically, it's the logical starting point. It's the canonical fan favourite, the big critical darling, the band revere it and, not least of all, it has one of the most enticing potentials for a bulked up deluxe version by virtue of its hitherto unreleased US mix. And that's exactly what the band have brought out here.
As the legend goes, in early 1995 the Manics were planning to tour US. The early Manics sound wasn't seen particularly commercial in the US and the previous albums already had had some partial remixes and rejigging done with the transatlantic audience in mind, and the raw and jagged The Holy Bible was absolutely nothing the band could have had any success with in the States. So, the band agreed that the entire album was remixed for the US release, ready to be in record stores as the tour started. When Richey Edwards disappeared right as the tour was about to start, all plans were understandably cancelled - including the release of the remixed album, which would never make it to the shops. Except, in a few stores in Canada who broke the release date. By the time they had pulled the album off the shelves, enough copies had been sold to turn the then-nicknamed "Canadian Holy Bible" into the Holy Grail of collectibles. Rips existed, but even with them the alternative mix of The Holy Bible was still considered a rare and elusive beast.
The 10th anniversary deluxe edition of The Holy Bible finally brought the alternative mix out into the daylight. Unlike so many alternative mix works tacked onto re-releases, the US mix genuinely has an impact on the album. The original was almost thin in its mix: its sound is dry and skeletal, its harshness working in tandem with the lyrical content and mood of the record. The US mix first and foremost gives the record a veritable backbone. The bass is thick, the drums thunder and everything has more depth. Where the original was almost withdrawn in its cold misanthropy, the US mix is an aggressive force kicking down doors. It's great. It doesn't polish The Holy Bible or turn it any more commercial, but rather it makes it sound all the more fearsome. The US mix gives the album's anger the muscles to do damage with, and it does it to such great effect that in practice, I never listen to the original anymore. The US mix is the definitive version of the album in my opinion, and the other small but important changes further drill down on that opinion: the additional synthwork on "She Is Suffering", the full ending of "Yes" instead of a fade-out and the creepy additional vocal samples haunting "The Intense Humming of Evil"all improve their respective songs, with only the more audible vocal filters on "Faster" landing in the questionable territory.
The rest of the bonus material isn't as exciting or even interesting. The live cuts are fine, but the only really interesting one out of them is "The Intense Humming of Evil", simply for the novelty of hearing it being tackled live. The Radio 1 session cuts are largely identical to the other live material but in better sound quality, but you do get to hear the awkward censored version of "Yes". The two demos have some minor variations to the studio versions but nothing you'd really call attention to. What's genuinely baffling is that the album's three original studio b-sides aren't here. Together they run for under ten minutes, two of them are rare and they would have so much more to offer than any of the other live material. They did eventually get a release on the (incredibly cash-grabby) second re-release on the album's 20th anniversary but there is literally no reason why they should not have been here. And thus, with the band's first deluxe re-release, the great tradition of them always somehow stumbling with begins.
Beyond that though, this is a stellar package and one of the very few anniversary reissues I would recommend that people pick up instead of the original even if they're new to the band, simply because of the US mix's existence. It's amazing how different the same album and the same songs can sound when the production is tweaked, and both versions have entirely different tones to them. There's also a DVD with a suitably interesting interview on the album and the era around it, and various supplementary video material from the official music videos to TV promotional appearances and live performances as well as brand new films created specifically for this box - all which work well to get you deeper into the album's world from a more visual perspective. The whole package does feel celebratory, like a deluxe reissue should - shame it's three songs short of being the perfect anniversary re-release, but it's still pretty close.
Physically: Hefty big box with roughly the dimensions of a jewel case but obviously much thicker. Comes with a sleeve that wraps within the big boy digipack. The new liner note material is decent, even if more heavily oriented towards era-specific imagery than written word beyond the introductionary essay by Keith Cameron. I also appreciate how it has a replica of the original booklet, separate from the reissue booklet.
EVERYTHING MUST GO (10th Anniversary Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2006||9||Of the bonus material and across the various types of it, "Sepia", A Design for Life (Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix), "Australia (Stephen Hague Production)"|
CD1: 1) Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier; 2) A Design for Life; 3) Kevin Carter; 4) Enola/Alone; 5) Everything Must Go; 6) Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky; 7) The Girl Who Wanted to Be God; 8) Removables; 9) Australia; 10) Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning); 11) Further Away; 12) No Surface All Feeling Bonus tracks: 13) Enola/Alone (Live); 14) Kevin Carter (Live); 15) Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning) (Live); 16) Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier (Live); 17) Everything Must Go (Live); 18) A Design for Life (Live); 19) A Design for Life (Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix)
CD2: 1) Dixie; 2) No Surface All Feeling (Demo); 3) Further Away (Demo); 4) Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky (Demo); 5) No One Knows What It's Like to Be Me (Demo); 6) Australia (Acoustic Demo); 7) No Surface All Feeling (Acoustic Demo); 8) Interiors (Song for Willem de Kooning) (Acoustic Demo); 9) The Girl Who Wanted to Be God (Acoustic Demo); 10) A Design for Life (First Rehearsal); 11) Kevin Carter (First Rehearsal); 12) Mr. Carbohydrate; 13) Dead Trees and Traffic Islands; 14) Dead Passive; 15) Black Garden; 16) Hanging On; 17) No One Knows What It's Like to Be Me; 18) Horses Under Starlight; 19) Sepia; 20) First Republic; 21) Australia (Stephen Hague Production); 22) The Girl Who Wanted to Be God (Stephen Hague Production); 23) Glory, Glory
DVD: 1) The Making of Everything Must Go (Documentary); 2) Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky (Later with Jools Holland); 3) Australia (Later With Jools Holland); 4) A Design for Life (TFI Friday); 5) No Surface All Feeling (Reading Festival '97); 6) Everything Must Go (Saturday Live); 7) A Design for Life (Brits Performance & Speech); 8) Enola/Alone (Live from Nynex); 9) Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky (Live from Nynex); 10) The Girl Who Wanted to Be God (Live from Nynex); 11) Further Away (New Video); 12) Home Movie; 13) A Design for Life (Video); 14) Everything Must Go (Video); 15) Kevin Carter (Video); 16) Australia (Video)
Good remastering, all the b-sides, loads of other nice bonus material, no tracklist edits...
The Manics catalogue reissue series is a chaotic journey with twists and turns around every corner, the teasers for each new addition being met with concerned anticipation from fans. You never know what format they might go for, how they’ll treat the bonus material, and with the later releases how they’ll even treat the track list to the original album. And with all that in mind, the 10th anniversary reissue of Everything Must Go is the closest they’ve gotten to a perfect fan-pleasing deluxe re-release.
Most importantly, all nine of the original b-sides have been included, which is arguably the most important aspect of these re-releases given the Manics' strength as a b-sides band - only the three covers from the "Australia" single have been dropped. Some of the b-sides bear a similarity to the mother album's anthemic elegance, and the stadium ode to mundanity “Mr. Carbohydrate”, the melancholy and drop-dead gorgeous “Sepia”, and the flute-driven "Dead Trees and Traffic Islands" could have all slotted finely to the album, including from the quality perspective - with "Sepia" being one of the standout Manics b-sides. The brooding and moody "Black Garden" is like a reverse-transitional bridge to the dark mindscapes of The Holy Bible, nudging the idea that despite the gigantic transformation between the two albums they were still only two years apart. As per usual the b-sides offer a little bit of a ground for experiments and the band's first instrumental (and still among the best of its ilk), the suave "Horses Under Starlight" is a prime example, gliding along smoothly with its trumpet and ba-ba-bas; on the other end of the spectrum "First Republic" and "Dead Passive" are b-sides primarily because of how scathing their lyrics are, the former bringing down the government with some good ol' fashion riff-rocking and the latter making an elegant death march out of its litany of celebrity couples. The only real weaker b-sides are "Hanging On" and "No One Knows What It's Like to Be Me", which are rather uneventful and somewhat boringly straightforward three-minute rockers which sound like they took fifteen minutes to write, together. But, this reissue also contains the original demo for "No One Knows What It's Like to Be Me" and what seems like a weird inclusion at first turns out to be a brilliant one: the song actually sounds so much better in its original demo form, with a bit of a kick to it that got lost on the way to the final version.
The other demos offer interesting little insights to the process with melody and lyric changes, and the acoustic solo versions prove that Bradfield's melodies stand up strongly even when the guitar walls are stripped away. The live versions are a good mix of hits and deep cuts (I particularly appreciate how much the generally underappreciated “Interiors” gets wheeled out across the two discs), and the Stealth Sonic Orchestra remix of "A Design for Life" is one of the band's best remixes and iconic in its own little way by way of its appearance in various segues and interludes along the years, so it's great to have it here. It's a shame the Stealth Sonic Orchestra remix for "Everything Must Go" hasn't been included and it probably would have been better to have than the rehearsal versions of "A Design for Life" and "Kevin Carter", which are neat to hear once but too shoddily recorded to warrant for repeated listens. The two Stephen Hague mixes are the best part of the alternative takes and are genuinely fascinating: the band started the album sessions with Hague but soon realised it wasn’t just working, and you can hear why through the versions of “Australia” and “The Girl Who Wanted to Be God” but as fan fodder they are incredible. His take on “Australia” is incredible for all the wrong reasons, as the song is driven through a happy-go-lucky Britpop filter with handclaps and tinny horn sections - but it’s so interesting.
From a general perspective, the remastering is generally really well done. Everything Must Go didn’t necessarily need a touch-up job, but to my ears the original sounds a little flat at places (mostly in the drums); this reissue doesn’t tweak the mix as such, but it does give it a little extra boost that adds to the anthemic volume of the songs. As per usual for Manics re-releases the liner notes are more visually oriented so rather than track-by-track breakdowns or interviews (beyond a guest essay on the album serving as the introduction), the focus is more on showcasing various artwork and photography from the period. The DVD features a talking heads documentary with the band on the album, the music videos and various peripheral performance material - all which make for a decent evening’s viewing. It all comes together into one particularly strong reissue, with little to actually criticise. The only real complaints are that the three covers would have been nice to have been included for the sake of representing the complete the era (and unlike the covers of "Velocity Girl" and "I Can't Take My Eyes Off You", the original 1996 version of "Take the Skinheads Bowling" never made it to Lipstick Traces), and the intro to "Black Garden" has been chopped off and given its own track ("Glory, Glory") which makes no sense.
The thing is, those two points have already been addressed on the later 20th anniversary reissue, which arguably is the better version - it lacks the demos and other unreleased alternative versions, but it's more complete in terms of all the official non-album releases and gathers every single b-side (remix, cover, live or original) that appeared during the era. So, the main issue for this one becomes the simple fact that the band decided to outdo it when cashing out on this album again and thus this version has basically outlived its usefulness. But I can’t say I’m too bitter about it - this is still a fantastic reissue of a great album, and the bonus material is enough to kick the original's rating up a notch.
Physically: Similar kind of a big box as with The Holy Bible, including a cover sleeve. Once again two booklets as well, one mimicking the original and the other dedicated to all the new artwork and photography, and other content.
GENERATION TERRORISTS (20th Anniversary Legacy Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
CD1: 1) Slash 'n' Burn; 2) Nat West - Barclays - Midlands - Lloyds; 3) Born to End; 4) Motorcycle Emptiness; 5) You Love Us; 6) Love's Sweet Exile; 7) Little Baby Nothing; 8) Repeat (Stars and Stripes); 9) Tennessee; 10) Another Invented Disease; 11) Stay Beautiful; 12) So Dead; 13) Repeat (UK); 14) Spectators of Suicide; 15) Damn Dog; 16) Crucifix Kiss; 17) Methadone Pretty; 18) Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll Bonus tracks: 19) Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)
CD2: 1) Slash 'n' Burn (House in the Woods Demo); 2) Nat West - Barclays - Midlands - Lloyds (Marcus Demo); 3) Born to End (Marcus Demo); 4) Motorcycle Emptiness (House in the Woods Demo); 5) You Love Us (Heavenly Version); 6) Love's Sweet Exile (House in the Woods Demo); 7) Little Baby Nothing (House in the Woods Demo); 8) Repeat (Marcus Demo); 9) Tennessee (House in the Woods Demo); 10) Another Invented Disease (House in the Woods Demo); 11) Stay Beautiful (Marcus Demo); 12) So Dead (House in the Woods Demo); 13) Repeat (House in the Woods Demo); 14) Spectators of Suicide (House in the Woods Demo); 15) Damn Dog (Live); 16) Crucifix Kiss (Marcus Demo); 17) Methadone Pretty (House in the Woods Demo); 18) Suicide Alley (South Wales Demo); 19) New Art Riot (South Wales Demo); 20) Motown Junk (London Studio Demo); 21) Motown Junk
DVD: 1) Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair (A Film About Generation Terrorists); 2) Unseen Super Eight Montage; 3) Home Road Movie; Official Videos: 4) Motown Junk; 5) You Love Us (Heavenly Version); 6) Stay Beautiful; 7) Love's Sweet Exile; 8) You Love Us (Columbia Version); 9) Slash 'n' Burn; 10) Motorcycle Emptiness; 11) Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless); 12) Little Baby Nothing; 13) Repeat (New Film); 14) Nat West - Barclays - Midlands - Lloyds (New Film); At the BBC: 15) Snub; 16) Rapido; 17) Band Explosion; 18) Rapido; Top of the Pops Performances: 19) You Love Us; 20) Motorcycle Emptiness; 21) Theme from M.A.S.H. (Suicide Is Painless)
An alternative glimpse into the debut album without its infamous drum machine.
If all the deluxe versions and anniversary re-releases have proven anything, it’s that the Manics are 1) hell-bent on recording every song draft they every write and 2) that they are obsessive archivists. The standard version of the 20th anniversary reissue of the debut Generation Terrorists comes with fully-fledged demos of nearly all the songs on the album, and more - which, like the parent album itself, is bordering on excessive.
This is where I’d normally complain about the lack of everything else that I’d personally deem more important, like all the b-sides (if you want those, you’ll have to had fork out for the super deluxe box set which I as a university student at the time was too poor to do) or even the US remixes of the six-odd songs that got redone for the stateside release of the album. And I do complain, but for a band who will one day very likely have released the original demo for nearly every song in their discography, the bonus disc here is arguably the best set of demos the band have ever released. Lest we forget, Generation Terrorists is a victim of its own production: slick yet somehow incredibly cheap, with a drum machine replacing Sean Moore’s own drumming in an ill-fated attempt to make everything sound bigger. The demos, then, give a chance to hear these songs as actually played by the band, more organically tying together the pre-album singles and EPs and the material that ended up on their debut. Most of the demos have been remastered pretty well to the point that they could just be slightly scruffy studio recordings from an indie act, and that means you nearly have the entire record presented in an alternative way. There’s only a few gaps and exceptions: “Condemned to Rock ‘n’ Roll” was entirely a studio creation so no demo exists, “Damn Dog” was literal studio filler so there’s a completely pointless live version instead, and a few of the demos rely on the same drum machine approach as the album, most predictably “Motorcycle Emptiness”. There’s also no demo for “You Love Us”, and instead you get the original single version released via Heavenly Recordings. I’ve actually grown to prefer the Heavenly version over the years: it’s a lot more whimsical and ridiculous, with some hilarious backing whoops and the singalong outro is far better than the shredding finale of the Generation Terrorists version.
Besides, some of the demos are also intriguing in other ways than just from the production perspective. Many have changes in their lyrics or structure (missing second half of the chorus on “Born to End”, various changes across “Love’s Sweet Exile”, etc) and others almost feel like alternative versions. “Spectators of Suicide” is closer to the original Heavenly Recordings version than the radically different album version, so already quite different in that respect, but it’s also a much peppier and almost pop-like take that’s fascinating on its own. “Little Baby Nothing” is brilliant even in its demo form where the more acoustic-lead approach shifts it away from the glam rock power ballad it would eventually become - and it’s not only got the guest vocals in already, but the take is so different I’m not even sure if it’s Traci Lords or someone else (the credits are glaringly absent with any info). There’s also demos of some peripheral material, which neatly ties the entire early years of the band together. The band’s real debut single “Suicide Alley” never gets acknowledged anymore so its appearance here is a good inclusion (and given the original’s sound quality, it’s not like it was much more than a demo to begin with), and the demos of the title track of the New Art Riot EP and the non-album single and Manics classic Motown Junk pave the path towards the actual album. They are a really good bunch of demos that actually feel like they’re worth the price of admission, much more so than the clear majority of the early takes on the other anniversary reissues.
Elsewhere, the other audio bonuses include the actual “Motown Junk” and the non-album single “Suicidal Is Painless”, both great songs and an integral part of this period of the band so their inclusion is a solid choice. The remastering across the main album can’t fully save its production woes given how baked in they are, but it still lifts the sound up and gives some well-needed care to the original - it still sounds very artificial, but at least it has a little bit of life to it now and out of all the Manics remasters, this is the album that needed it the most and benefits the most from it. The liner notes have a bunch of artwork, photos and article clippings from the era, and the DVD has the token ‘making of’ interview, music videos and live performances - all a decent watch (and I have a soft spot for the mixture of bravado and silliness of the music videos for this album cycle).
Would I, as a completionist, have wanted something more than just demos? Well, yes, but let’s put it this way: this is the only collection of demos from the Manics that I enjoy listening to beyond just the initial geekish exploration. It’s a genuinely interesting set of early takes that do what a good set of such things should do when released out in the public, and provide an alternative view of the songs you're already familiar with. In other words, it's something you can put on just to enjoy it - and that's a feat no other Manics demo set has achieved.
Physically: The last of the big boxes in line with the first two reissues, with the same formatting i.e. a cover sleeve, two booklets, etc. It's such a shame they gave up on this format after this album as it's the best reissue packaging format they've had.
SEND AWAY THE TIGERS (10 Year Collector's Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2017||7||"Welcome to the Dead Zone", "Boxes & Lists", "Anorexic Rodin"|
CD1: 1) Send Away the Tigers; 2) Welcome to the Dead Zone; 3) Your Love Alone Is Not Enough; 4) Indian Summer; 5) The Second Great Depression; 6) Rendition; 7) Autumnsong; 8) I'm Just a Patsy; 9) Imperial Bodybags; 10) Winterlovers; 11) Working Class Hero; Bonus tracks: 12) Send Away the Tigers (Faster Studios Demo); 13) Underdogs (Faster Studios Demo); 14) Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (Demo - 60's Jangle); 15) Indian Summer (Cassette Home Acoustic Demo); 16) The Second Great Depression (Faster Studios Demo); 17) Rendition (Cassette Home Acoustic Demo); 18) Autumnsong (Faster Studios Demo); 19) I'm Just a Patsy (Cassette Home Acoustic Demo); 20) Imperial Bodybags (Faster Studios Demo); 21) Winterlovers (Faster Studios Demo)
CD2: 1) Leviathan; 2) Umbrella; 3) Ghost of Christmas; 4) Boxes & Lists; 5) Love Letter to the Future; 6) Little Girl Lost; 7) Fearless Punk Ballad; 8) Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (Nina Solo Acoustic); 9) Red Sleeping Beauty; 10) The Long Goodbye; 11) Morning Comrades; 12) 1404; 15) The Vorticists; 16) Autumnsong (Acoustic Version); 17) Anorexic Rodin; 18) Heyday of the Blood; 19) Lady Lazarus; 20) You Know It's Going to Hurt
DVD: Live at Glastonbury 2007: 1) You Love Us; 2) Motorcycle Emptiness; 3) You Stole the Sun from My Heart; 4) Faster; 5) Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (with Nina Persson); 6) Everything Must Go; 7) From Despair to Where; 8) Autumnsong; 9) Ocean Spray; 10) If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next; 11) La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh); 12) Imperial Bodybags; 13) Motown Junk; 14) A Design for Life; Extras: 15) Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (Video); 16) Making of Your Love Alone Is Not Enough Video; 17) Autumnsong (Video); 18) Autumnsong (Alternative Video); 19) Indian Summer (Video); 20) Track by Track; 21) Rehearsals, Cardiff March 2007; 22) Practice Sessions
B-side manna for the collectors, but they retrospectively mess up the actual album even more than during the original release.
In case the previous entries haven't made it clear, the Manics reissue series has been... erratic in its schedule. Rather than sticking to a chronological order, the band’s deluxe re-releases have followed a somewhat more random pattern, finding an anniversary year as and when it suits them. There is some logic to it: the critical favourite The Holy Bible got its turn first, then the popular classic Everything Must Go. Rather than make the logical and chronological step to re-release the international hit This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours next, the more cult-favoured debut Generation Terrorists got its turn first - but then, it’s also the one Manics album that actually needed a genuine remaster. Everyone was expecting This Is My Truth to get its due next but suffice to say it was a bit of a whiplash when out of nowhere, the 10th anniversary edition of Send Away the Tigers got announced.
Which speaks a lot about the band’s opinion on the album’s importance to them. Following a couple of intentionally less crowd-pleasing records, Send Away the Tigers was their first taste of mainstream success in several years and gave them their last genuine hit with “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”. It did spawn a new generation of fans and the band consider it a motivational booster, but I don’t think anyone was clamouring for a celebratory reissue for it over some of the historic albums. And that’s without the personal bias, i.e. that Send Away the Tigers was more or less the band’s nadir and giving it the big box treatment over the actually great records is akin to putting makeup on a pig and trying to prop it up as your hot new date.
Which brings us to the most controversial aspect of this reissue. One of the bigger flaws of Send Away the Tigers is the obvious laziness that’s all over the record, from songwriting to production. “Underdogs”, the album’s unofficial lead single, became the poster boy for this at the time of its release: intended as a tribute to the fans, the fanbase was less than thrilled to have a hackneyed old man punk cut directed at them, calling them freaks, dodgily insisting that “people like you need to fuck people like me” and having a copy/paste edit so bad it became infamous. And so, on the tenth anniversary reissue, it’s just gone. Off the track list. There’s no mention of it in the liner notes and the promo material made little to no mention of its absence, like it had never existed. It has been replaced by the b-side “Welcome to the Dead Zone” and had they made an argument that ‘this is how the album was originally intended’ it may have flied, but “Underdogs” isn’t even included in the bonus material. A demo of it exists in the original’s place in the demo section of the record, and that’s it.
I’m not a big fan of “Underdogs” either, but there’s still something awkward about tampering with the tracklist of the original record to this extent. You can understand why the band would want to pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s replaced one disingenuous problem on the album with another. It doesn’t help that, true to the album, even the switch-up has been lazy. “Welcome to the Dead Zone” is a great song and actually one of the best songs of this entire era, a starry-eyed mid-tempo anthem with a glimmer in its eyes and more heart than most songs on the album itself - but it’s not track 2. Swapping the songs one-to-one has been the easy way out but the album basically grinds to a halt right off the start because the flow is so, so bad now - a shining example of why sequencing does matter. So not only is there the problem that the reissue effectively blocks you from listening to the album as it was actually released, but the substitute version that’s given is too clunky to work as a listening experience as well.
At least the bonus material is good. The obligatory album demos offer little of interest beyond the mysterious “Underdogs” suddenly making an appearance (for what it’s worth, it sounds identical to the original version, just a little scruffier and without the edit blunder), and are mostly either slightly less produced versions of the album takes or James’ acoustic versions. The only item of major interest is the “60’s jangle” version of “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” which actually works well as an alternative version of the song and in some ways, is more interesting than the album version. The real treat is the second disc, which gathers together b-sides and non-album material from this period. Even though I'm lukewarm about the album, the single bonus tracks for this period somehow managed to keep up with the band's usual standards in most parts and you could have made a much, much stronger album if some of these had been included. Of particular interest are "Boxes & Lists" which does the whole 'back to rock' shtick of the main album with actual conviction, the impassionate and almost angrily wistful "Anorexic Rodin", the atmospheric acoustic piece "Morning Comrades" and the "Disarm"-esque bombast of "Fearless Punk Ballad". The two instrumentals "The Vorticists" and "You Know It's Going to Hurt" showcase the band's growing fascination with wordless songs and how much their treatment of such has changed, the former coming in with some particularly jaunty angular guitars and the latter acting almost like a try-out at post rock. There's also the novelties of the band's cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" (actually rather good and excellently Manics-ified) and their suitably cheesy Christmas song "Ghost of Christmas" (now a regular jaunt in my Christmas playlists), and the charity compilation cut "Leviathan" which dates a few years before the actual record but which signalled the return to guitars, and which has the stems of a really good song but which ends way too quickly.
Elsewhere, there’s also a DVD that features interviews, music videos, performances, behind the scenes footage and the other usual material, as well as the band’s 2007 Glastonbury show. I had somewhat tuned out of the band around this time and none of the live footage from this period particularly excites me as a result, but in terms of amount of material it’s a solid offering. The packaging has changed from the thick boxes of the previous reissues to a thin book format that's akin to the standard deluxe versions they've been releasing alongside their later studio albums, and the larger format is mainly used to present the original lyric sheets in the liner notes - as per usual, the new liner notes place more emphasis on visuals than any text beyond the obligatory introduction essay. It’s not as flashy as the previous re-releases just because it’s so like the band’s normal deluxe releases but that’s not really a criticism per se (apart from how this began the band’s decision to change the physical format for the reissues each time, ensuring none of them fit next to each other in one’s shelf) and in terms of bonus material, this is exactly what I personally seek out from a reissue - i.e. b-sides, accompanying additional studio material and if possible, some demos (even if they're not that interesting here). Which means that I do actually rate this a few notches higher than the original release - and why wouldn't I, because so much of the additional studio material beats what's on the album? The album itself is in a worse shape than ever ironically enough thanks to the sudden tracklist twists, but given it never needed a remaster to begin with, it ends up being almost like an afterthought on its own anniversary release. This is a completionist's dream for b-sides and so disc 2 will be a great addition to any Manics collection. Or your self-made digital rip compilation which throws away the superfluous acoustic versions (literally just the original album vocal and guitar tracks but with most other layers muted) and adds in "Welcome to the Dead Zone". Send Away the Tigers isn’t an album I particularly enjoy and I’m one of the people who think this was perhaps an unnecessary release at its point in time, but beyond that this is nonetheless a really good reissue.
Physically: As mentioned in the body of the review, the band has moved onto their favourite tall book box packaging they had been using on the normal deluxe versions of their studio albums in the recent years. It's less exciting than the old boxes. Just a single booklet this time, bound to the book, but rather than replicating the original it features a ton more of the Valerie Phillips artwork that was used throughout the era and the printed lyrics have been replaced by photos/scans of Wire's handwritten or typed lyrics.
THIS IS MY TRUTH TELL ME YOURS (20th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2018||10||"Prologue to History", "Valley Boy", "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (David Holmes Remix)"|
CD1: 1) The Everlasting; 2) If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next; 3) You Stole the Sun From My Heart; 4) Ready for Drowning; 5) Tsunami; 6) My Little Empire; 7) I'm Not Working; 8) You're Tender and You're Tired; 9) Born a Girl; 10) Be Natural; 11) Black Dog on My Shoulder; 12) Prologue to History; 13) S.Y.M.M. / Nobody Loved You [hidden track]
CD2: 1) The Everlasting (Live Rehearsal Demo); 2) If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (Dave Bascombe Mix); 3) You Stole the Sun From My Heart (Live Rehearsal Demo); 4) Ready for Drowning (Live Rehearsal Demo); 5) Tsunami (Studio Demo); 6) My Little Empire (Live Rehearsal Demo); 7) I'm Not Working (Home Recording Demo); 8) You're Tender and You're Tired (Studio Demo); 9) Born a Girl (Alternative Version); 10) Be Natural (Live Rehearsal Demo); 11) Black Dog on My Shoulder (Live Rehearsal Demo); 12) Prologue to History (Live Rehearsal Demo); 13) S.Y.M.M. (Studio Demo); 14) Nobody Loved You (Live Rehearsal Demo)
CD3: 1) If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (Massive Attack Remix); 2) If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (David Holmes Remix); 3) The Everlasting (Deadly Avenger's Psalm 315 Remix); 4) The Everlasting (Stealth Sonic Orchestra Remix); 5) You Stole the Sun From My Heart (David Holmes Remix); 6) You Stole the Sun From My Heart (Mogwai Remix); 7) Tsunami (Cornelius Remix); 8) Tsunami (Stereolab Remix); 9) Montana/Autumn/78; 10) Black Holes for the Young; 11) Valley Boy; 12) Socialist Serenade; 13) Buildings for Dead People
They’ve messed around with the tracklist again, but otherwise the album gets the re-release it deserves.
This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours is one of my favourite albums of all time. I absolutely love the albums before it and they all feel personal to me, but this is where it gets really intense in the chronology of the band's discography. Manics' reissue strategy has been haphazard and borderline random in how they choose which albums to re-release in fancy boxes (and what kind of boxes...), and it took This Is My Truth a long and winding road before it got its turn. Five deluxe box sets into the "series" and the album finally got a fancy anniversary set in time for its 20th birthday - and it's the first time where the re-release features an album that I fawn endlessly over and actually want a big fancy box set out of. The good news is that if you love the album like I do and you subscribe to the idea that there's more to these than just getting more money off fans, they really did do it justice for most parts here.
But to tackle the controversies first, the Manics have once again messed around with the tracklist with one of their reissues and this time with even less logic behind it than on the Send Away the Tigers reissue. "Prologue to History", the b-side to "If You Tolerate This..." has long since been canonised by the band and the fans as the great lost single that somehow ended up as a b-side: it's a powerful, impassioned tour de force that breaks down the band, Nicky Wire and the world around them piece by piece, set to a thrill ride of a rock backing, with James' most intense guitar-revvings of this particular time period. It was originally left off the album because it would have stuck out like a sore thumb amongst its layered, introspective melodies - a fact which is adequately proven here as for the album's 20th anniversary, it now makes an appearance in the official tracklist. Even more bizarrely, it has replaced the fan favourite "Nobody Loved You", a decision that's one of the least obvious changes to make if you were to touch the original record. While both songs count among the most guitar-heavy cuts of the era, it's not a smooth replacement. "Nobody Loved You" may also be loud and serves as the album's last burst of sound before its somber ending, but it's also an emotional purge much like the rest of the record; the more sardonic "Prologue to History" on the other hand is a really awkward fit musically between the orchestral finale of "Black Dog on My Shoulder" and the ambience of "S.Y.M.M.", and tonally even worse. At least "Nobody Loved You" gets to cameo as the hidden track at the end, rather than being erased from history like "Underdogs" on the Send Away the Tigers reissue, but messing around with established tracklists in such a clumsy fashion really isn't doing wonders with these reissues.
Everything else about this reissue is exactly the kind of treasure chest this record deserves, however.
Disc 2 does the Manics reissue standard of providing various alternative archival recordings of the entire album. For This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours these are actually really interesting, given the album was the first time the Manics truly used the studio environment to its full extent. The demos then give a glimpse to a rawer version of the record, with a sound closer to the preceding Everything Must Go where you can really trace the lineage between the two albums. Most of the demos are "live rehearsal demos" i.e. the band playing it in their practice space, and the songs are played through with less whistles and bells, louder and more prominent guitars and in some cases alternative vocal melodies and arrangements. "The Everlasting" and "Be Natural" are particularly interesting in this regard, appearing in a more dynamic rock anthem form, and "Nobody Loves You" alternates between incredibly sparse verses and apocalyptically crashing choruses. The studio demos are more polished in sound but are just as fascinating, particularly "You're Tender and You're Tired" which has some notable arrangement changes. We also finally get the famous "Tsunami" demo that Wire always referred to as one of his most treasured archive cuts, and while Wire's overhyping of it has also oversold its difference compared to the final version, it does present a more dynamic, rocking version of the song which they've effectively adopted as their live arrangement these days. Finally there's a neat barebones home demo of "I'm Not Working" featuring James experimenting with an electric sitar and some alternative lyrics, proving that even the album's most production-heavy song can work hauntingly with all that left out.
There's also a couple of alternative takes. "If You Tolerate This" was a studio creation to begin with so no demo exists, and so what you get here is an alternative mix. It's mostly the same but a little shorter and snappier, with the only big difference being a repetition of the chorus over the wordless vocals of the outro. It's not a patch on the original but "If You Tolerate This" is still my favourite song of all time and even in this form it's as close to perfect as a song can get. The alternative version of "Born a Girl" is mainly just a rougher take, but it does have a more noticeable rhythm; a metronome (or a programmed snare rim tick) appears a few times to keep count and James sticks to its beat with his guitar and melodies even when it fades away. Neither are mindblowing, but they're different just enough to keep your interest - and together with the particularly intriguing set of demos, it's a set of rough takes that does genuinely act as a small treasure trove for the big fans of the album, showing sides previously unseen.
The third CD is the real treat, though - especially the further five b-sides located at the end of it. "Valley Boy" is a drop-dead gorgeous melancholic anthem with one of James' greatest ever guitar solos, and "Black Holes for the Young" is a suave, organ-lead duet with Sophie-Ellis Bextor that exudes class and elegance atop its swirling melodies - and the two are the closest to their mother album's sonical landspace. "Montana/Autumn/78" is another grade-A rocker that was left out because it just didn't fit sonically with the album but which is a veritable beast far beyond simply a b-side, especially with that pogo-inducing chorus. "Socialist Serenade" and "Buildings for Dead People" take a turn towards more extroverted politics away from the introspective touch of the main album, while also hinting towards the rawer sound of Know Your Enemy: the former drips with sarcastic venom as it brashly stomps around with its looped drums, and the latter is a gritty, distortion-heavy and devilish riff-monster. All five are great and far, far beyond in quality to what you'd expect from album outtakes. Manics had launched onto their golden period, and it affected even the discards.
The long list of remixes wouldn't otherwise be too exciting but this particular era was actually pretty good with them, and among them is the title holder of the best Manics remix i.e. the David Holmes remix of "If You Tolerate This", which turns the song into a ten-minute instrumental, dreamy epic that retains the original version's wistfulness and melancholy but moves it into a more cinematic territory. The Stealth Sonic Orchesta remix of "The Everlasting" is another winner, as the Stealth Sonic Orchesta remixes tend to be in their synth-orchestral ear bliss. The Cornelius remix of "Tsunami", the Deadly Avenger remix of "The Everlasting" (the better out of the two they did, the other which is the only non-inclusion on this reissue) and the David Holmes mix of "You Stole the Sun From My Heart" are also of note, and there isn't a single bad rework amidst these which is a rarity for remix sets.
You may note that the set doesn't include the DVD which the prior reissues have, but I honestly don't miss it either - they were always a neat one-time watch but otherwise left unused, and I'm much happier that we got more audio material in its place. The packaging is is a gorgeous coffee-table sized big book which just about leans on the acceptable side of filling up shelf space - and the grand size makes all the additional photos and artwork within really stand out. If you're into the physical feelies side of these kinds of reissues, then you can't really be disappointed by this, because it simply feels good to hold and own. And given the personal significance of this album to me, it's suitably celebratory. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours is one of Manics' most significant albums and while they took a long time to get around giving it the reissue treatment, it is absolutely worth it. Even with the tracklist tampering, I'm not hesitant to award it the same points as the original album, because of just how good a fan package this is on top of a still-phenomenal record.
Physically: As alluded to, the formatting's changed again. The issue I own is the big super fancy edition with all 3 CDs (they also released a slightly more truncated version), and it's a very gorgeous coffee table book design. There's no introductionary essay and none of the original booklet's design has been retained, and besides the lyrics most of the new liner notes consist of hi-res period photographs (studio and live) in glossy paper. It's suitably pretty.
GOLD AGAINST THE SOUL (Deluxe Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2020||8||"Donkeys", "Are Mothers Saints", "Hibernation"|
CD1: 1) Sleepflower; 2) From Despair to Where: 3) La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh); 4) Yourself; 5) Life Becoming a Landslide; 6) Drug Drug Druggy; 7) Roses in the Hospital; 8) Nostalgic Pushead; 9) Symphony of Tourette; 10) Gold Against the Soul; Bonus tracks: 11) Donkeys; 12) Comfort Comes; 13) Are Mothers Saints; 14) Patrick Bateman; 15) Hibernation; 16) Us Against You; 17) Charles Windsor; 18) What’s My Name (Live)
CD2: 1) Sleepflower (House in the Woods Demo); 2) From Despair to Where (House in the Woods Demo); 3) La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh) (House in the Woods Demo); 4) Yourself (Live in Bangkok); 5) Life Becoming a Landslide (House in the Woods Demo); 6) Drug Drug Druggy (House in the Woods Demo); 7) Drug Drug Druggy (Impact Demo); 8) Roses in the Hospital (House in the Woods Demo); 9) Roses in the Hospital (Impact Demo); 10) Nostalgic Pushead (House in the Woods Demo); 11) Symphony of Tourette (House in the Woods Demo); 12) Gold Against the Soul (House in the Woods Demo); 13) Roses in the Hospital (OG Psychovocal Remix); 14) Roses in the Hospital (51 Funk Salute Remix); 15) La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh) (Chemical Brothers Remix); 16) Roses in the Hospital (Filet-O-Gang Remix); 17) Roses in the Hospital (ECG Remix)
Got the b-sides, got the demos, got everything you could have from this era plus some fancy photos - not much to complain for once. Maybe a little less volume...
Gold Against the Soul is a LOUD and HARD album, with lots of BIG RIFFS and SOARING SOLOS and CRUNCHY BASS and BELLOWING VOCALS. When preparing for the, uh, 27th anniversary reissue of the album (because by this point the Manics team isn't even pretending to have any reason or rhyme to their reissue schedule), this seems to have been the leading thought behind the project because rather than the subtler remaster job favoured for the prior albums, for this one they've turned the volume to the max. The deluxe edition of Gold Against the Soul is loud, so that you barely need to touch the volume knob to get that full-on cranked-to-11 hard rock effect reverberating through your entire apartment. Sure, the album could maybe have used a little bit of a volume boost because as with many early 1990s releases it doesn't have the most volume, but the extreme lengths taken with this reissue are ridiculous. There is a pretty solid remaster job underneath there somewhere too, but it's sometimes hard to appreciate when the music is pummeling out of your speakers.
It's kind of hilariously apt for the album's flirtations with hair metal and 80s hard rock, but it's honestly a little too much. But at least they've not touched the album's tracklist this time.
But the fans are here for the bonuses anyway, and in that regard the band have started to settle well into a standard format of b-sides on one disc, a demo runthrough of the entire record on the next and filling the gaps with miscellaneous material where apt - and it's honestly a good format. The most important part i.e. the b-sides all follow the main album in reverse chronological order, and are a great side companion to the main disc, showing the band trying out some new ideas in this generally transformative era. The melancholy torchlight song "Donkeys" and its wonderfully metallic bass as well as the dark, jagged and anxious proto-The Holy Bible roadsign "Comfort Comes" are the two fan and band favourites, and both are classics. "Are Mothers Saints" and "Hibernation" are my favourites of the lot, with the latter's effortlessly melodic nature coming across practically breezy compared to the heavy-hitting main album, and the latter not only being the era's sole primarily acoustic song and full of a gentler kind of beauty as a result, but it's also a curiously atypical piece of storytelling lyricism from the Manics that even now stands out. "Patrick Bateman" is a ludicruous chugga-chugga metal attempt that marries some genuinely great melodies to ridiculous attention-baiting lyrics ("I fucked God up the ass!"), what sounds like a children's choir backing James and a headbanger finale - it's a ridiculous song, but I love it in all its daftness. The Generation Terrorists -esque "Us Against You" is the obvious runt of the litter and sounds like a left-over from the previous sessions still awkwardly clinging around, and the two covers at the very end are serviceable but not particularly exciting.
Meanwhile the demos are once again interesting in their own way, as earlier Manics demos are wont to be. One of the key recording cues for Gold Against the Soul was emphasising the band's live sound after the clinically produced Generation Terrorists, and so not only are all the demos here full-band run-throughs rather than acoustic James solo spots, but they're all pretty close to their album versions in arrangement. The band arrived to the sessions with a clear idea in their heads, and so there aren't really many surprises in that regard: the biggest difference is with "Gold Against the Soul" having a bit more of an obvious swagger, and the somewhat hilarious Impact Studios demo of "Drug Drug Druggy" with woah-woahs, piano and handclaps in the verses giving it an almost baggy kind of feel (as an aside, the two demo versions of "Drug Drug Druggy" and the alternative tracklist found in the liner notes where it's pushed right near the front of the album give an intriguing perspective on the band obviously thinking this was one of the key tracks of the album, which is a wild idea). But it's the details where the differences lie. There's a lot of alternative lyrics throughout, and while the final album would have some orchestral embellishments and ongoing hammond organs throughout, on the demos James sticks some additional vocal harmonies in their place to some really good results for us fans of both James' vocals and vocal harmonies in general. It's a neat set of demos once more, doing what demos at their best do for the fans - they give some additional insight to the album, even if they're clearly more interesting from a contextual perspective than as something you'd actively want to listen to.
(A special shout-out goes to the demo of "Sleepflower", where the band clearly raided the nearest kitchen for its cooking pot percussion breakdown)
The remixes that take up the final section of the second disc aren't much to write about. The Chemical Brothers remix of "La Tristesse Durera" is a fairly throwaway generic 90s rock band remix, and that's about as much as anyone can say about it. The four "Roses in the Hospital" remixes are a creature onto their own: for some reason a group of remixers all decided that what the song needs is a little bit more funk and groove, and we end up with four nearly-identical remixes heavy on early 90s hip hop beats and funky swagger. They are incredibly dated time capsules, and for that reason alone there's something endearing to them even if they're hardly among the band's best remixes.
The big talking point with this particular re-release was its hard-cover, coffee table book format which gives access to countless high resolution prints of previously unreleased behind-the-scenes photos from the band's court photographer Mitch Ikeda. I'm not entirely sold that they're worth the bother that I can't fit the box in my actual music shelves, but they are a genuinely cool little visual diary of this particular period: not just the recording sessions but the moments in-between and the band's (in)famous first tour in Asia. Listening to the bravado of the album it's easy to forget that these were a group of young friends getting a taste of rock star life, and the casual and candid shots are a great contrast to the posing of the official promo footage. I still would prefer some track-by-tracks and wider written insight, but I'm more positively surprised by the photo-heavy approach for this one than I initially expected to be.
It's definitely an overpriced package (but that's my fault for buying new) and I'd ideally not want to blow my speakers up whenever I play it, but after a lot of trials and tribulations the Manics are finally hitting a comfortable groove with these reissues in their content. For the kind of fan who's even remotely interested by the ins and outs of Manics recording periods, this is absolutely worth it to get the b-sides and to some extent the demos. Gold Against the Soul itself remains one of the band's most underrated records and a flashy re-release isn't going to change the minds of those who aren't already converted, but despite its non-canonical stature this set has been treated with enough care and attention that it makes for a good appendix in a completionist collection - even if, as per usual, there's a caveat or two.
Physically: I discussed the packaging in the main review as it was one of the big selling points of this reissue. But just to reiterate, it's a big boy - definitely commands attention. For what it is it's really lush as well, even if my tastes would've been just as happy with something more compact...
KNOW YOUR ENEMY (Deluxe Edition)
|Release year:||Rating:||Key tracks:|
|2022||8||"Rosebud", "My Guernica (2022 Remix)", "Fear of Motion"|
CD1 (Door to the River): 1) The Year of Purification; 2) Ocean Spray; 3) So Why So Sad (Sean Penn Remix by The Avalanches); 4) Door to the River; 5) Rosebud; 6) Just a Kid; 7) His Last Painting; 8) Let Robeson Sing; 9) Groundhog Days; 10) Epicentre; Extra Tracks: 11) His Last Painting (TLA Mix); 12) Epicentre (TLA Mix); 13) So Why So Sad; 14) Royal Correspondent
CD2 (Solidarity): 1) Intravenous Agnostic; 2) Found That Soul (TLA Mix); 3) We Are All Bourgeois Now; 4) Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children; 5) The Convalescent; 6) Baby Elián; 7) The Masses Against the Classes; 8) My Guernica; 9) Studies in Paralysis; 10) Dead Martyrs; 11) Wattsville Blues; 12) Miss Europa Disco Dancer; Extra Tracks: 13) Fear of Motion; 14) Pedestal; 15) Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel; 16) Locust Valley; 17) Masking Tape; 18) Ballad of the Bangkok Novotel; 19) Little Trolls
CD3 (Demos): 1) Ocean Spray (Studio Demo); 2) So Why So Sad (Cassette Demo); 3) Door to the River (Cassette Demo); 4) His Last Painting (Air Version Home Cassette Demo); 5) Let Robeson Sing (Home Cassette Demo); 6) Groundhog Days (Home Cassette Demo); 7) Epicentre (Cassette Demo); 8) Intravenous Agnostic (Home Cassette Demo); 9) Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children (Studio Demo); 10) The Convalescent (Studio Rehearsal Demo); 11) His Last Elián (Studio Demo); 12) The Masses Against the Classes (Studio Demo); 13) My Guernica No. 1 (Home Acoustic Demo); 14) My Guernica (Studio Demo); 15) Dead Martyrs (Home Cassette Demo); 16) Wattsville Blues (Home Cassette Demo)
Not really a reissue, so much as it is a piece of alternative history.
The Manics are no strangers to revisionism with their past reissues, whether it's because a song was so bad it was deleted out of existence (Tigers) or so good it was shoved in(Truth). The Know Your Enemy reissue makes the retcons its main selling point however, to such an extent that it's hard to even call this a reissue anymore - instead it's an alternative reality re-enactment of things that could have been. The original album was a wildly disjointed and maddeningly diverse album by design, intended as a shake-up after the band were concerned they were becoming a safe stadium act for the masses and achieving its brilliance through its intentionally alienating chaos. Part of that ultimately only so because the band got cold feet about their original idea of releasing two separate albums at the same time: instead the raw and rowdy Solidarity and the calmer and composed Door to the River were condensed into one sixteen-song record, with the rest of the songs getting scattered across b-sides or saved for future releases. The 21st (!) anniversary deluxe edition resurrects the old idea, to correct what was once abandoned. Or at the very least, gives some food for thought on what could have happened and how this particularly creative period of the band could have acted out in a different reality.
That said, the idea of this being any kind of a historically accurate throwback can be abandoned almost immediately. The Manics, true to their nature, take the opportunity to fix things up where they've thought some extra changes were needed and those extra touch-ups are enough to underline that this is more of a post-mortem director's cut than a documentary of two "lost" albums. Some changes are innocuous like using a little edit magic to make sure Bradfield says J. Alfred Prufrock's name correctly, others are more blatant: the non-album prologue single "The Masses Against the Classes" was never meant to be on this album but now their second #1 single has found a place on Solidarity, while the band-preferred The Avalanches remix of "So Why So Sad" has replaced the original. Many of the songs have had major mixing changes to clarify details once buried in the raw one-and-done production of the familiar versions, and on top of it all there's two previously unreleased and unheard songs straight from the vault which according to the band were simply forgotten so strongly on the shelf that they fell down the back of it, now given a prominent slot on their respective albums. The final result is somewhere between a giant archive job, a full-on remix and an (almost) all-encompassing reissue for the completist, done in a way that is probably going to leave all parties slightly unhappy - unless you have a particularly perversely curious mind and just let yourself get thrown into this brand new kind of turbulence. Any chance of this being a way to experience the actual album is long gone though and woe betide whoever is just casually discography-digging through the Manics back catalogue on whatever streaming service they use: by its very nature this is a thing of wonder and puzzlement for the hardcore fans who know the lore, rather than necessarily the best way to experience the Manics ca. 2000-2001.
But before we dive deeper into that, let's get the less exciting but just as important things out of the way first. For all the pick 'n' mix that the band do across the board, the reissue still aims to be a complete collection of this era and thus importantly all the b-sides are presented, haphazardly collected at the end of each disc together with any of the album tracks that didn't make it in the revised tracklists (including the original "So Why So Sad" which hasn't been Underdogs'd this time around). The Know Your Enemy period was a wonderfully inspired and fruitful era for the band and it's one of their best periods for single bonus tracks: that includes the swirling, insane and alluringly creepy "Pedestal", the heartwarmingly warm hidden pop song gem "Masking Tape", the spewing punk of "Ballad of the Bangkok Novotel", the dense and explosive "Locust Valley", and the autumnal "Just a Kid" and slowly raging "Groundhog Days" (with a stand-out rant interlude from Wire) which are now part of Door to the River. Above all that includes the hilariously caustic and comedically vindictive "Little Trolls" (included as a hidden track on Disc 2 for whatever reason) and the ethereally soaring "Fear of Motion", released widely available on CD for the first time and finally getting the HQ treatment these two songs have so badly deserved, especially "Fear of Motion" which has been a big personal favourite of mine for decades and which, until this reissue, I had only ever heard as a vinyl rip mp3. About the only thing you could complain here is that the b-sides for "The Masses Against the Classes" haven't been included even though the A-side itself is now part of the selection. All the bonus tracks have been given a straightforward but effective remaster job so they don't pale in comparison to the more visibly tweaked "album" tracks, and couple of the songs also get an alternative mix job by Tom Lord-Alge that offers a different different re-envisionment of the tracks. Disc 3 is entirely devoted to demos, which at this stage of the band's lifetime still weren't practically perfected by James even before they went to the studio and so you get to enjoy a number of slight melodic tweaks, alternative lyrics or generally fun little work-in-progress experiments (shout-out to the rudimentary organ solo of "So Why So Sad" which sounds like interval music from a 70s East-European stop motion animation), and they're actually quite interesting at times. The most fascinating artifact on the third disc is the cryptically titled "His Last Elián", where the lyrics of "His Last Painting" are on top of a rough draft of "Baby Elián"'s music, together with a completely new chorus - a missing link of a song literally no one had any idea of before this. "His Last Painting" in general is getting a wonderful amount of time in the spotlight with this reissue with this demo, another more straightforward demo, a Door to the River mix and a separate Tom Lord-Alge mix; giving a personal favourite deep cut that most people usually ignored all the respect it deserves.
Of the two "new" albums, Door to the River is the one that most benefits from the creative exercise. It's a concise ten-song run through some of the more melodically elaborate, introspective or generally less hectic material from the sessions and to some extend makes a decent argument about being a strong album in its own right. One of the best things it does to existing material is highlighting some of the richer songs from the old album that sometimes didn't get a fair shake thanks to the record's sprawling length and twisty tracklisting: The R.E.M.-influenced "The Year of Purification" opens the album with powerfully (which, as a song about the band's creative process going into the album, also makes perfect thematic sense), "His Last Painting" gets its already-mentioned day in the sun and "Epicentre" - one of my favourite Manics songs for the longest time - is finally getting its due appraisal as its closing position has highlighted to many just how strong a song it is after being buried into the original album's back-end so deeply. "Let Robeson Sing" gets a facelift which reveals brand new melodic details and backing vocals from Wire, and it makes the song ring even more beautifully than it did before. The brand new archival find "Rosebud" continues in the line of the band's strong bonus tracks from this era and it's maddening that it was plain and simply forgotten, gripping the listener with its slowly twisting groove right from the get-go and rushing through into an immediate stand-out chorus. The way Door to the River has been realised is done so well that you could genuinely believe it could have been an actual Manics release in its own right - at least, if it wasn't for the Avalanches remix of "So Why So Sad" which has no place on the tracklist. It's a great remix - a favourite of both the band and the fans for a reason - but completely out of place with the rest of the album and still not superior to the dazzling OG version in its beefed-up Beach Boys-on-steroids glory. The other controversial choice is the title track itself, which originated from these sessions but was ultimately kept off and eventually released on Forever Delayed. Instead of the hauntingly gorgeous studio-layered and string-adorned arrangement of the familiar version, the version here is stripped down to its skeletal core to match the ruggedy and unadorned visage of the rest of the album; while the melodies, the lyrics and performance are still beautiful (and this version highlights some of the intricacies of the guitar parts), to me this naked version just doesn't work as powerfully and sounds like a shadow of the Forever Delayed version.
Solidarity, meanwhile, replicates the original Know Your Enemy's messiness and in a way that feels only half-intended. It acts as a catch-all for all the more fire-bellied punk rockers, jagged riffs or absurd asides of Know Your Enemy and is effectively a miniature version of what we ended up getting, but without the balancing nature of the more graceful songs - and thanks to some random tracklisting choices - it's more like a set of random songs on shuffle. "Baby Elián" probably would have worked better on Door to the River, the McCarthy cover "We Are All Bourgeois Now" has moved from a hidden track to one of the first things you hear and I'm not sure a cover has a place here (as good a cover as it is), the most stylistically abrupt songs "Miss Europa Disco Dancer" and "Wattsville Blues" have been awkwardly lumped in the end like an afterthought, and not only does "The Masses Against the Classes" not really belong on the album in the first place, the band have edited out its affably narmy ending yelp. The self-censorship is generally prevalent throughout the disc and is one of its worst aspects: alongside the yelp the band have also cut off a minute off "The Convalescent", an exhiliratingly ravaging stomper that gets part of its power precisely from its extended finale acceleration which is now cut short, and "Wattsville Blues" chops off Wire's final burst of misanthropy, castrating its ending. None of those changes feel like they needed to be done and in fact only serve to weaken songs that were already strong - and just to add insult to injury, Solidarity on the other hand also offers some of the most exciting rejigs of the whole package. "My Guernica" was once a rough garage demo and now packs a more focused punch to such an extent it's almost a different song; elsewhere you can actually hear Kevin Shield's guitar textures on "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children", "Miss Europa Disco Dancer" boasts a seemingly new guitar solo towards the end and "Dead Martyrs" sounds even fiercer with its guitars and background textures mixed louder. The album is a frustrating see-saw of unexpected brilliance and unnecessary stumbles, equal parts the premise of the exercise demonstrated most perfectly and almost an afterthought. The new song, "Studies in Paralysis", is in appropriate company: it's a very good song with dirty riffs and a great call-and-answer chorus, but with its repetitive structure and lyrics it's also clearly either a work-in-progress or an early cast-off, and the final proof that in no way does this Solidarity represent what the original plan might have been. It would have made for a good b-side among the others, but it never belonged on the album or albums.
So where does that leave us, how do you rate it? Know Your Enemy is one of my very favourite Manics albums and this is never going to replace it - nor it really intends to either, as it's so clearly a thought exercise more than a reclamation of intent. As an archival package it's got pretty much everything you want with all the b-sides, a plentiful amount of fascinating demos and a lengthy retrospective by Robin Turner about the album's history and the context behind this deluxe reissue, and with some brand new songs as a cherry on top (and they're good!). The remix work is at its best genuinely brilliant and in some cases offer perhaps the definitive versions of these songs, which only have my 21 years of personal attachment to the original recordings to unfairly compete against; but the fact that some of these songs are actively harmed by the tweaks done to them is plain frustrating. As listening experiences both new albums are a mixed bag and unlikely to ever become anything I'd outright seek out, but despite its warts there's something compelling about Door to the River and how it highlights some of my favourite aspects of the original sessions. It's not better than the original but it's also too different to be considered worse; and because it's not a straightforward reissue I can't just lazily give it the same score as the original and call it a day. It's an absolutely fascinating and certainly a truly unique way of approaching a reissue, though. Other artists have sometimes presented the "true" versions of albums when repackaging them but usually that just means a minor tracklist tweak or lightly changing the production aesthetic, but Know Your Enemy gives us practically a completely new approach towards the familiar material. Like said before, calling this a "reissue" feels like a misnomer and while in some way I would have preferred a more typical deluxe packaging (and I've made a makeshift "KYE 2022 Mix" album for my music library), I can't but admire the sheer extent that this goes for: if the band back in the day were afraid to go with their instincts, they're confidently undertaking this exercise with gusto. A whirlwind of an album getting an equally ramshackle re-release is only appropriate and this alternate timeline has some flaws that ultimately make it ever so much of a mixed bag that the rating drops slightly in comparison to the 2001 edition, but the songs remain brilliant regardless and if anything, this box is a testament to just how fearlessly inspired the band were during these sessions.
Physically: We're back to classic book-shaped long boxes, with the booklet attached into the rest of the packaging once more.
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