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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 09:27 GMT
Manics aim to break mould
Manic Street Preachers
Manics: Gritty lo-fi sound
By the BBC's Nigel Packer

For all their fiery rhetoric and rebellious swagger, the Manics have always been a musically conservative band.

From the punky thrash of their early days to the bombastic anthems of recent years, they have taken a tried and trusted musical path which seems strangely at odds with their radical agenda.

New album Know Your Enemy sees them making a belated bid to break this mould.


The sloppy funk of Miss Europa Disco Dancer shows a much-needed glimpse of humour amid the vitriol

It is no Kid-A style transformation - more a remixing of old ingredients - as the band face up to the problem of trying to maintain some integrity while filling football stadiums around the world.

Spread over 16 tracks, Know Your Enemy is a sprawling and uneven album - with a gritty, lo-fi sound designed to sweep away the cobwebs after the over-produced This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

Self-parody

This time around they are in more adventurous mood, although the attempts to revisit the "combats-and-eyeliner years" prove to be a mistake.

Found That Soul and Intravenous Agnostic are among the more typical blasts from the past, yet both sail dangerously close to self-parody.

And it is not until the album is well into its stride that things start to get more interesting.

So Why So Sad - a faithful reproduction of the Beach Boys circa 1966 - hardly represents the future of rock and roll, but it does mark a genuine change of direction for the band.

The same applies to the ragged post-punk groove of Wattsville Blues, a song with a passing resemblance to The Fall.

The sloppy funk of Miss Europa Disco Dancer shows a much-needed glimpse of humour amid the vitriol, while the reverb-drenched Royal Correspondent is equally double-edged.

The band's lyrics have often proved more original than the leaden rock which accompanies them, and Know Your Enemy is no exception.

Determination

Subjects tackled range from a tribute to actor, singer and political activist Paul Robeson to an uncompromising commentary on the Elian Gonzalez controversy.

"America - the Devil's playground," sneers James Dean Bradfield on the latter - thus putting paid to any faint possibility of an invite to next year's Grammys.

Any group in The Manics' position is in danger of being labelled as little more than a stadium rock band with a conscience.

Know Your Enemy signals their determination to avoid such a fate, although in any meaningful sense it may already be too late.

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