If many of the band’s traditional fans jumped ship after the release of their previous album, most of their new found fans left after Know Your Enemy. The band’s sort-of return to a more abrasive punk sound alienated those expecting another If You Tolerate This while the hardcore fans were disillusioned by the lack of musical focus and new-found experimentation. I’ve typically been a supporter of the album, as I am of each, but I’m not so jaded so as to not recognise its many flaws. It’s just so damn long – its sixteen main tracks making it even longer than their debut. Many of the songs repeat the same sentiments, quite a few are interchangeable musically, while the more experimental moments often fail. Apparently it was supposed to be two different albums, something which likely would have been the better option, but the record company wasn’t playing ball. So we have sixteen songs, plus one hidden track, but thankfully a few B-Sides worthy of replacing what did make the cut. First, my ranking:
The Year Of Purification
Found That Soul
Let Robeson Sing
Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children
So Why So Sad
His Last Painting
We Are All Bourgeois Now
Miss Europa Disco Dancer
Then, a better edit of the album:
Found That Soul
So Why So Sad
The Year Of Purification
The Masses Against The Classes
Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children
We Are All Bourgeois Now
Finally, my ideal version of the album, restored to 17 tracks – it’s still a bit excessive and I’d probably drop Track 17 altogether, but it’ll do:
Found That Soul
So Why So Sad
The Year Of Purification
Fear Of Motion
Just A Kid
The Masses Against The Classes
Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children
We Are All Bourgeois Now
What is your ranking of the songs on Know Your Enemy? What songs would you drop or replace? Let us know in the comments!
As with all of the lists here, there isn’t much between my love for a lot of the songs here. Indeed, these preferences change over time and some songs may be replaced by others. I’ve split the songs into groups of 6- roughly there is some difference in love between each group but like I said, this is minuscule (but adds up over each group). Berate and praise, discuss and compare:
73: Christmas Ghost (Christmas Web Single): There are fewer more prolific bands than The Manics and as if 3 albums in four years wasn’t enough the group decided to release a few one off tracks. This one was an unexpected treat because A- it’s the Manics releasing a bona fide Christmas song and B- because it is genuinely joyful, nostalgic, and full of seasonal cheer. The track itself rocks and features some of Nicky’s best recent lyrics- ‘Sleep through the Queen’s Speech- cos it means nothing to me’. Aah, only The Manics could do it.
72: Automatik Tekniclour (B-Side): This track from the There By The Grace Of God release has a Lifeblood era smoothness and digitized sound. In other words there is lots of synth and not many guitars or drums, at least until the chorus. This one pays off blending both styles well with a crowd pleasing chorus and fluffy singalong melodies throughout.
71: Charles Windsor (B-Side Cover): The band show their love for McCarthy with this riotous cover. Lyrically and musically this could easily be a lost Manics track- anti monarchy, venomous, with punk chords and ferocious playing it symbolizes everything the band were at their inception. I love the harmonies, I love Bradfield’s yelps and screams, I love the closing solo.
70: Montana Autumn 78 (B-Side): This track is based on the Unabomber who abandonded modern life in 78 to live alone in a log cabin. Putting that aside this a straight rocker from the late 90s- edgy guitars, screamy vocals, some wonderful lyrics- all that’s missing was a massive string section.
69: Masking Tape (B-Side): This was sampled in Know Your Enemy and released as a B-Side. I think it could easily have pushed some tracks off that album and replaced successfully. This is one of their most underrated non-album tracks- it has a big sound, terrific riff, some sort of interesting experimentation, and a kick ass solo. It is one of a small selection of tracks where the band genuinely sound happy- and that is always a treat.
68: Epicentre (Know Your Enemy): The band don’t make many epics in the traditional sense, especially in their later albums. Epicentre stands out in an epic album perhaps packed with too many songs and words. If the album itself had been shorter I’m sure this track would be more highly regarded. Really, everything about it is perfect; James sings quite beautifully, there is a nice mix of acoustic and electric, the lyrics for once on the record don’t sound like a philosophy/politics student on speed, and it is backed nicely by piano and the competence we would expect from Moore. Surrounded by angry songs, this is much more mellow, yet gets it’s point across more clearly.
67: Imperial Bodybags (Send Away The Tigers): Send Away The Tigers was the band’s heaviest release in years with many of the songs returning to the band’s punk origins. Imperial Bodybags may be the best example of this- fast, angry, raw, it is the band’s remark on the ongoing futility of war. There are moments of lyrical brilliance coupled with the all too common moments of Wire losing his way, but the vicious music, speed, and vocals hide anything too shady.
66: Ain’t Goin Down (B-Side): An early acoustic effort, this is mostly James with guitar but some wonderful backing vocals raise this above the norm. Notable for a wonderful, soft solo, are the lyrics defiant, defeatist, or about oral sex? Who knows, but they do the job.
65: Journal For Plague Lovers (JFPL): A classic Richey lyric on religion, God, free-will, blind acceptance in the face of human horror. If this had been put to music HB era I imagine it being cold and terrifying in the vein of Archives Of Pain. The band aren’t so hung up on despair these days though and James turns this into a storming anthem with crunching guitars and a massive chorus.
64: 4 Ever Delayed (Single): This is another non-album track with a Lifeblood vibe to it- a sense of giving up, shrugging your shoulders to the world and giving in to the indifference which has been stalking you for years. However, the urgency James puts into the chorus vocals attempt a resistance. The title reminds us of Roses In The Hospital, possibly suggesting that when Richey left, that band became stuck in time while a second band emerged to take its place. The original band may return, but at the moment a return seems to be Forever Delayed.
63: Us Against You (B-Side): This has a HB guitar tone mixed with the youthful rage of GT. It’s a classic Manics rant against monarchy, politicians, celebrity, everything terrible they see in the London culture. James switches to banshee for the vocals in a wonderful performance and the guitar part in the middle is one of his best, growing progressively before bursting into a funky section accompanied by some Moore machine-gun blasts.
62: New Art Riot (Single): Aah, the young Manics were a funny bunch. From some truly awful garage recordings they suddenly, as if overnight discovered they could write, sing, and play. We have all the sloganeering, hatred, slut beauty, screams, and exuberant playing we would want right here. The intro is full of confidence, James sounds like he’s swallowed the leftovers from a Brown Bin, and there are catchy riffs and melodies to remember.
61: Everything Will Be (B-Side): As mentioned above, the Lifeblood era was more mellow but I always saw that as symbolic of boredom and resignation. Nothing better supports that notion than the title and lyrics here- nothing changes, no matter you or me or anyone does, all states remain constant and fixed; you light a fuse but the cord keeps getting longer; You behead one dictator only for the hydra to sprout another head. Luckily the music is so gorgeous with that lonely piano/synth feel that you can enjoy the sound rather than the sight of a revolutionary climbing into bed never to emerge again.
60: Door To The River (B-Side): And following on from that is a similar sounding track, with similar lyrics and themes. This one though seems more hopeful and can be read as Nicky apologising for getting wrapped up in any number of thing’s- the band’s ideals, the band’s success, but forgetting why he was there in the first place. The title is taken from a Willem de Kooning painting which doesn’t look like much but gives a sense of leaving, unsure of what is beyond.
59: Emily (Lifeblood): To continue the softer, most experimental phase in the band’s history, Emily begins ominously and with that slightly ‘something’s not quite right’ feeling. The song is both a dedication to Emily Pankhurst who did so much for women and humanity only to be replaced by empty celebrities or even royals as feminist or female icons. Aside from the tasty but cold verses, we are blessed with a storming chorus which has all the more impact when chanted by a crowd- ‘It’s what you forget that kills you’.
58: Patrick Bateman (B-Side): An infamous character deserves an infamous film, and he got that with American Psycho. He also deserves an infamous song- The Manics provide it. Possibly their most traditionally heavy metal song it is long, loud, angry, and punctured through with lyrical genius, from the eye-opening to the brain-expanding to the obscene. This is definitely not Phil Collins. If you haven’t heard it I don’t want to give it away, but the final minutes will go down in history as… something. Aside from the words there are genuinely strong melodies here- praise Jeebus that Bradfield has always had a God-like knack for putting wonderful music to lyrics which lesser musicians would cower away from. Sometimes it seems like Bradfield is a director who keeps having to make better and better film adaptations of Naked Lunch, of The Bible, or any number of seemingly unfilmable texts. Everything flows and sounds great, and everyone plays extremely well to top it off.
57: Ocean Spray (KYE): A dedication to James’ mum, this is the first song which featured lyrics from the guitar maestro. They are simple, but perfectly apt and set to melancholy music which has the occasional burst of angry noise. Moore whips out the trumpet again for a lovely solo, and this time it isn’t annoying but seems fitting. If it wasn’t for the truth behind the song this would be an entirely joyous experience; instead it is incredibly sad, especially when you through the video into the mix as the band look tormented, withdrawn, and in utter agony.
56: Nobody Loved You (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours): From one sorrowful dedication to another; this time it is Nicky on Richey, and as such it is incredibly personal with lyrics which I’m sure only have true meaning within the band. Opening with a terrific, despaired yell of a riff the song becomes quiet and questioning, giving all the hallmarks of guilt, remorse, and regret. This is at times tender, haunting, angry, and tragic throughout. When James sings- screams ‘like me!’ it is almost too emotional for words.
55: Sorrow 16 (B-Side): This early effort is the band again trying to mix punk ethos with stadium rawk. As such we have plenty of guitars, plenty of one-liners covering a wide variety of subjects some of which hit the mark, some of which don’t. There is a nice chorus, James sounds a little weird, and there is a classic spelling bee finish which always works well live. For the 12 fans who know the song.
54: Never Want Again (B-Side): Though this was a GT era B-Side, it doesn’t sound like anything from that album. There are no stadium guitars, no silly drums, no overt politics, but it retains the youthful attitude; it could almost be seen as a more laid back ‘You Love Us’. The lyrics are clean and clear, it’s wonderful on the ears, the chorus is exceptional. I can’t help but feel some sort of foreknowledge in ‘I smelt death all around our name’.
53: Morning Comrade (B-Side): A classic James acoustic effort in a time when it seemed such songs were a thing of the past. This is almost a solo effort with only James, his guitar, and some keyboard it is tinged with regret and sadness but a determination to keep moving. I always read it as a call to the fans, both tribute, apology, explanation, and reason for hope. The lyrics help with the overall mood, but it is the music, the main riff, and the melody which make this stand out.
52: Yes (The Holy Bible): If Genesis was all about creation, then Yes is all about destruction. This is the sound of a band imploding and taking a sick world with it. It is the sound of one man’s final shriek of despair, of anger, of disgust, a beckoning to join him in seeing the truth of the world if you dare. Lyrically punishing- how any musician found ways to add music to these words is one thing- but to make the music sound exactly correct is quite another. Every member is on top form here finding that rare moment in a band when everyone reaches the same perfect clarity together and release something which the rest of us could only dream of. This is an astonishing opener, funny, fast, yet ultimately horrifying it is only the sight of the gaping abyss- much more terrible sights lie within.
51: Repeat UK (Generation Terrorists): The first time I listened to the album I first encountered Repeat US, arguably the worst thing the band have ever done. I thought this was going to be more of the same. Nope, this is vicious punk at its finest. The Manics hate any powers that be, especially the monarchy and this is their national anthem. As close to Nirvana as anything they have done it is typical of the time- they were young, defiant, and confident that they could make a difference, or at least make a hell of an uproar trying. Chuck in a fantastic solo and we’ve got a winner even if the production is a bit damp.
50: So Dead (GT): Damp production was a problem which hit all of GT, but if you have ears you’ll notice the great songs and ideas underneath. This is a long forgotten track- some may see it as yet another overblown throwaway rock track on a huge album but that not only are those people missing the point, they’re missing some excellent stuff here. The music does chug along and in an album context it may not stand out, but it’s in the single listen where you see the talent. There are some perfect one-liners here and the song’s construction shows an ambition which would be fulfilled later. We weave through verses and choruses where lyrics change rather than repeat and end with a groovy section. It’s not quite Rocket Queen, but it comes as close as any band.
49: Elvis Impersonator Blackpool Pier (Everything Must Go). The band have always been good at writing great opening tracks- ones which grab us instantly but more than that give us a strong indication of the album’s purpose, sounds, and themes. For those fans who had been with the band up until this point, this was a surprise. Sampling of waves? Acoustic James warbling? Was that a harp? Now that the band had lost their main lyricist they appeared to have found a new direction rather than faded away. This is a statement of intent and is in many ways the song which shows that they were capable of playing with the big stadium boys after all. Naturally the band had matured and such ambitions no longer mattered. It seemed that they knew this album would be a mega-hit, but at what cost? It’s so fucking funny it’s absurd.
48: Are Mothers Saints? (B-Sides). Bands don’t make B-sides anymore. That’s because new music is shit and writers are happy to pen a half-assed hit and sit back on the royalties. True artists write and write and make because it’s something inside that they are compelled to release. The Manics have any number of glorious B-Sides and non album tracks which put most other bands’ album output to shame. Are Mothers Saints is a prime example of how the band’s non released stuff can be just as good as the stuff everyone else knows. This is as close to lyrical perfection as a write will get, and when you mix it with some winning melodies, emotional vocals, and fantastic musicianship you can’t go wrong. This has one of my favourite solos from Bradfield- many of my favourite solos from the great man come from B-Sides.
47: Further Away (EMG). Any number of songs from EMG could have been singles, not least this one. It has the big chorus, the lyrics are straight forward and sincere and it works as a simple love song. Naturally the melodies are strong too. It’s a simple structure put used well, it’s up-tempo, it sounds almost happy, and there isn’t anything offensive musically or lyrically. In other words, it’s as EMG as you can get as non-Manics fans can enjoy it without too much thought. On closer inspection the simplicity hides the malaise; Nicky is missing home, missing Richey, missing the band of old- everything has changed. It is Australia’s less enthusiastic brother, but I’ve always got more from this than that hit single.
46: Archives Of Pain (THB). Fewer songs have ever been this horrible. With an introduction sample of the mother of one of the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper, this song not only goes for the gut with intent, it’s intent is to drag your guts out, slowly, while you watch, and flop them all over the floor. If this was how Richey felt abut the Justice system (primarily for murder) then thank God he isn’t about now to see the state of the country. Richey here supports, or even begs for capital punishment for the monsters who live among us. He points the finger at the Government whose ‘rehabilitate, not punish’ credo has dragged Britain into a chaotic Bizarro World where killers are back on the streets a few years after destroying a family’s entire existence, only to start hacking at the next passer by. Regardless of your stance on the subject, this is horrific stuff- one man’s violent, honest belief, set in stone with bitter irony. Oh yeah, there’s music too- possibly the greatest intro the band has written- definitely Nicky’s best riff; one of the greatest solos of all time; melodies and vocals as cold as a murdered corpse on a mortuary slab; frantic chorus vocals which simply feature the names of serial killers; jagged guitars which tear like hooks under an eyelid; funeral march drums of inevitability. Listen and cry.
45: Locust Valley (B-Side). Released at a time when the band’s B-Sides were ate their most experimental, Locust Valley stands out as a straight-forward rocker. Nothing exciting then you may say, but you’d be as wrong as a man in a park with his trousers round his ankles. The song has swirling effects throughout as well as other digital trickery, but above all it is the stunning melodic quality of the bridge and chorus which force this so far up the list. Nicky accompanies James with some vocals and writes a simple enough lyric, Moore’s cymbals sound like dust scatterings, there is an excellent solo and the whole thing is packed with energy- should have made the album.
44: Anorexic Rodin (B-Side). From one B-side about an artist to another. This one is perfection. Everything there is to love about the musical quality of the manics can be found here, I won’t bother covering old ground again- just listen to it. Oh sweet Lord, those verses! That bridge! The chorus is okay, crashing and chaotic, but for once the focus is on everything up to that point.
43: Golden Platitudes (Postcards From A Young Man). This was the song everyone was talking about before I had heard the album. And it lives up to the hype as it really is quite gorgeous. Warm, cozy, yet utterly filled with desperation the song is basically the same few melodies repeated while the music swells, swirls, and builds around. Strings, choirs, ooh and aahs, this is the band at their most orchestral. Wire is on near top form here, cutting and tired, excited and bored. The instrumental conclusion feels like a goodbye, waving away the past regretfully.
42: Don’t Be Evil (PFAYM). The latest album ends successfully, joining the rock past with the pop present and telling us that ‘The lines have all been blurred’. Always a band of contradictions we have good lyrics (though some repetition showing Wire’s malaise continues) against some great music. This is overall celebratory and has a chorus which is great to sing along to, particularly in a group. It feels a lot like a better version of Underdogs.
41: To Repel Ghosts (Lifeblood). A jittery opening which always reminds of Christmas (?) this would be a traditional rocker had it appeared on any other album. Here it is given a lift thanks to the production values and the thought going into ‘how we make this good by taking out all the guitars’. Like much on Lifeblood it sounds otherworldly, but while many of the songs are cold this is an altogether different mood. I’ve no idea what it is though, possibly because it’s so otherworldly I’ve never felt it before. Don’t dismiss Lifeblood when it has songs like this.
40: I Think I’ve Found It (PFAYM). Along with Happy Ending this is the happiest song in the band’s career. It really is delightful. James plays a mandolin, Nicky writes of finding and experiencing that thing which had always been out of reach, finally. The music is not complex, the structure is simple, but it is the fun sounding nature of the song which really sticks in the memory. The band actually sound like they’re enjoying themselves, enjoying being a band without making a statement. Yes it is bittersweet at times, but any time I hear these melodies I can’t help but smile. Or smirk. It’s all the same.
39: Cardiff Afterlife (Lifeblood). A sombre ending then to Lifeblood, but one which still rocks. This sounds like another tribute to Richey with its gut-wrenching tones and upset lyrics. Structurally it’s as simple as everything else on the album, but the depth lies in the production skill and all the backing effects and semi-hidden notes and sounds. The verses are fast and impactful, the chorus comes close to falling apart upon itself, and to top things off we get harps, strange, fuzzy drum swirls and both a harmonica and guitar solo. I enjoy the sudden abrupt ending too, as though the band decided to cut the final second or two of sustain at the finish.
38: Me And Stephen Hawking (JFPL). Oh Richey, how we’ve missed you. Not all his lyrics were stark and horrible, or jargonned up political statements- he was actually extremely funny too. I think the band recognise this here and make the song light, fun, and bouncy- highlighting some of the excellent one-liners. Aside from a nice riff and crunching riffs, the music itself isn’t extraordinary but the melodies and the way James lets rip on certain words which count. He never gets credit for the way he sings, aside from his actual voice. The song itself is about the early 90s genetic experiments on humans with Richey warning we’re next. It’s not exactly Orwell, but it’s something to keep our 8 eyes on anyway.
37: From Despair To Where (Gold Against The Soul). Another stadium filler this, and unashamedly so. Get on someone’s shoulders, pull out your Welsh flag, and party on Garth. Lyrically this is great, moving away from the politics of GT and centering instead on the problems of the self. Richey and Nicky were never too happy to inhabit such bodies and were the first to realise and exploit their own shortcomings. Rather than keep it inside, why not put the thoughts to lyrics and put the lyrics to some sub-metal guitar trickery? With a whispery intro, the rest of the song is a mass of noise and some truly ridiculous vocals from James- some of the notes he reaches here, and the way he blasts them out are spectacular. We get strings used to excess here, they even get a section to themselves, but they help to add some heart and maybe even class to the proceedings. Also, the sssh ending is pure gold. Lesser vocalists should shy away now. As always, the video is terrible, sad for a band with such artistic intent. Worth watching once and then forgetting.
36: Glasnost (Lifeblood): I’ve always found this track to have the superior riff over say, Autumnsong which seemed to garner a lot of praise. Glasnost is jubilant throughout and doesn’t have the struggling to write lyrics of that other track. From the prancing into to the wonderful solo this is 3 minutes of pop joy and has that special blank, empty Lifeblood feeling where regret is oh so sweet. It’s all too lovely for words.
35: The Masses Against The Classes (Single): Their second number one and an ill-fated sign that the band were going to turn away from their chart success to their raw punk roots. They are back in political mode, back in guitar, angry, screaming mode, but not quite in sloganeering mode. They have learned a few tricks since hitting the big time and recognise the benefit of more finely tuned lyrical ideas, big choruses, and better production. There are quiet moments here in the midst of chaos, but it is the melodies, the screaming intro, and the chorus which butcher their way into our memories.
34: Jackie Collins Existential Question Time (JFPL): Opening with a glorious riff, this is Beatles-esque perfection; a track under 2 and a half minutes which seems like an epic, packed with glorious melodies and lyrics which show two conflicting partners to Richey’s psyche- the cynicism and the humour. Throw in wide eyed awe, innocence and disappointment too and you have a fleeting glimpse of a lost hero.
33: Tsunami (TIMTTMY): Another metaphorical journey for the group in the vein of Australia, this hit track from their fifth album has the big sound of their most commercial songs and features one of their most famous choruses. It would be nothing though without some beautiful sitar and strings (one of their great riffs), some emotive vocals, and a bunch of Nickey’s most heartfelt and effective lyrics. He really was on form on this album.
32: All We Make Is Entertainment (PFAYM): An ironic track this which speaks of the collapse of pretty much every industry which once made British great, replaced by stupidity, the idle, the jobless, and the talentless. Britain is now know as the world leader in providing nothing. Only talent shows and empty entertainment light our skies, yet The Manics are still here, explosive and more important than ever if anyone would listen. Great lyrics by Nicky and overall a wonderful set of melodies conspire to make a modern classic by the band. It’s a brash rock song, but an anthem to pointlessness and a wake up call to a slipping world.
31: All Is Vanity (JFPL): This opens innocently enough before some bass and distorted guitar worries the ears; then all hell breaks loose as the song descends into one of the most evil riffs this side of The Holy Bible. Not only does this one make you want to chuck yourself about the room and punch stuff, but the vocals and guitar parts upon closer listening are brilliant- stalking along with potency. On even closer listening you realise that these lyrics have been heard before in the track ‘Picturesque’ That song is nice enough but you just know that these words are meant for this music and returning to Picturesque is like returning to a cardboard box after living in 5 star luxury.
30: Democracy Coma (B-Side). The album track that never was, a song which really should have appeared on Generation Terrorist in place of say Repeat US. This is fantastic from start to end, fueled by a demonic urgency, screaming with youthful outrage. It also features a wonderful solo, some quality political rhetoric, and better melodies than many bands ever aspire to. We even get one of those interesting bridges that featured frequently in many of the tracks from this era, an interlude which stands strongly alone, and makes the surrounding parts all the more interesting.
29: Mausoleum (THB). By this point in The Holy Bible you know things are not ok. A broken, veiny riff is joined by a military beat while Bradfield sings of carcasses, rotting flesh, and a general disgust at no matter what your eyes pass over and through. A mammoth bridge with breathless words which sound more like guttural moans than vocals gives way to the painful shriek of the chorus as we realise that there are no birds, that the sky is turning black. Rather than a simple solo and repeat we are treated to a lovely quote ‘I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit and then force it to look in the mirror’ leading into one of the most urgent, frightening, harrowing, and condemned song endings in history.
28: Crucifix Kiss (GT). To many this may be just another rock song from a bloated album, but this is one of their best. Lightning quick and surging with urgency. It has that fast palm muted style I love, and while the lyrics don’t always come to together in total coherence, as one liners there are some classics here dealing with religion and hypocrisy. No choruses here, just a series of pumping verses like a sermon, an action packed instrumental break, and an ooh ahh finish. With stronger production this would have been bigger.
27: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (TIMTTMY). After all the trials and tribulations the band had been though we reached this turning point. Gone was the anger, gone was the glory, and we were left with a more hollow, void looking threesome. Even in these depths of despair and nothingness though the band are capable of writing dome of the best songs of the decade, and with Tolerate they got their biggest hit to date. From the empty video to the drooping drums, from the doleful clanging chords to the mournful vocals, this is tinged with sadness in every second. Surprising then that it turned into such a commercial smash, unsurprising though when you consider it features some of Wire’s best, clearest lyrics, and some of the best, most memorable melodic moments Bradfield has birthed; think of the chorus, those strings, that solo, the ‘old man’ section which is guaranteed to cause shivers every time, and of course the aah aah come down- it may be unutterably sad, but that is only matched by it’s astounding beauty.
26: Interiors (EMG). On an album of hits it’s often easy to forget those tracks which weren’t singles and were rarely played live. Beginning with a gasp (Bradfield will need all the breath he can muster for some of those vocals towards the end) this could just as easily have been a hit along with, or instead of Kevin Carter and Australia. The verses have an unusual style, all jarring guitars, funky bass, and no drums, but once the bridge closes in with sublime vocals and work from the whole group you know that this is something special. The greatest moment comes though after the quiet instrumental break which builds up perfectly to a final bridge- Bradfield unleashes one final ‘SAY WHAT YOU HAVE!!’
25: Virginia State Epileptic Colony (JFPL). Yet another smash on Journal, this one dealing with a specific instead in America’s medical history that they won’t be proud of. Edwards gives us floating lyrics which cover some old ground but come with greater clarity and less aimless rage; it’s all very Orwellian. Luckily Bradfield does that magic trick again and puts not only a melody to jumbled, near structure-less words, but puts a great melody to it. Throw in yet another background quotation which works as well as any guitar solo ever could and a perfect chorus and we get the icing on the cake for a triumphant return to form.
24: The Everlasting (TIMTTMY). You don’t get many 6 minute top 40 hits anymore (well you don’t get many 4 minute singles these days either) and this may be one of the last. As an opener to the new album this tells us everything we need to know- after the quest for success that the band so dearly wanted, after only reaching it after an irreversible loss, we get the fallout- we made it, but for what? The song is the sound of defeatism, ironic as they final got to the point they wanted to reach only to find that it was just as empty as they had feared. Musically the band had never sounded so unlike themselves, the sound being so rich and large, but as this is an epic the strings and vocals match the scope. If you want a huge chorus to shout and cry to then look no further.
23: La Tristesse Durera (GATS) Which takes us back to one of the band’s first outings with a wider sound. A funky beat opens with ever so gentle, almost comically so vocals. Given that this appears on their most over the top rock album you know that this soft quality won’t last, and sure enough just over a minute in we get an arms held high power chord. However, this is all to it’s credit, an ironic salute to the fools who patronise misery, to those who just don’t get it, to those archaic systems which reward our greatest heroes by near mocking farce. It gives us one of their greatest riffs, some of the most perfectly screamed vocals, one of the few piano sections, and one of their best songs.
22: Die In The Summertime (THB). After the ‘nice’ interlude of This Is Yesterday we get back to business with an almightily evil riff, vocals squeezed through machines as if machines not people made them, and lyrics about the loss of innocence, the realisation that there is no turning, going, or coming back, and more tirades against the everyday hypocrites who influence every part of society but must be crushed at all costs. The vocals are screamed with power, the chorus is packed with even more power, and as a whole this has the ability to knock you on the floor and keep you there.
21: Your Love Alone Is Not Enough (SATT). And so the band return to the duet, adding Miss Cardigan herself to the mix. Nina’s voice suits the song well but it’s wise to make sure for most of the song that they take turns singing lines as Bradfield’s voice is one of the strongest in the world and could easily drown out anyone else. Arguably their greatest pop song, we are treated to a simple structure, wonderful verses, massive choruses, a classic solo, strings to kill for, even Nina has a go at the oohs and laas, but Wire steals the show with (shock) a vocal part as he steps out of the shadows to add with genuine emotion ‘I could have written all your lines’.
20: Sleepflower (GATS). I always say that an opening track should set the tone for an album, to let the listener know what is in store for them. Sleepflower is bombastic, riff led, guitar based, has a pumping pace, and gives a chorus with ridiculously strained vocals to the point of creating a new religion to worship them. That’s the second album as a whole then, though this first track does not get bogged down by some of the flaws of the second part of the album. A miner evoking, industrial-esque musical middle gives way to an excellent solo before we fly through a final chorus. This is one for guitar fans the world round.
19: No Surface All Feeling (EMG). And an album closer should feel like an ending. This opens with stadium riff to fit with the rest of the album while the verses are quiet and feature studied, self deprecating, ultimately humourous lyrics. The chorus is on of the best on the album as the intro riff returns and we all raise our heads to the sun. The lyrics speak of conclusions, of the final point having been reached, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if this had been the bands last song off their last ever album. In one final bow we get a clashing outro of guitars and drums, a goodbye to all the fans from every side. Luckily for us though, they came back for more.
18: Too Cold Here (B-Side). One of a select bunch of B-sides which really should have made it onto the album, this is as cold as the title suggests, opening with a Spaghetti Western style whistling. The verse is led by a memorably bleak riff, the lyrics are polished beautifully, while the bridge and chorus come together to create one of their ultimate emotive moments. If you’re a fan but aren’t aware of some of these earlier unreleased songs, put this near the top of your list to hear.
17: Peeled Apples (JFPL). Yes it’s another one of the first track miracles where the tone for the record is so serenely conveyed. The album was meant to hark back to the early days where the band was mostly led by the force of Richey’s angry, articulate, artistic lyrics. Opening with only the second most evil riff of their career James comes crashing in with some angry shredding before screaming at us like it was 1995. The band hadn’t sounded this raw since those mid nineties days, and in truth neither had they sounded so revitalized- it’s like they’ve remembered what made them how they were in the first place and they are both ecstatic to be back, and unrelentingly rage filled about forgetting it. Once again the band to the business at putting astonishing music to Richey’s obtrusive words and we are left with both melodies, emotion, and chords ringing in our ears long after the slamming end.
16: You Love Us (GT). Probably the song that started it all and undeniably one of the greatest rock/punk/anti/whatever anthems of all time. With us against the world lyrics punctuated by vicious wit, humour, and with targets firmly in their sights, this bunch of young upstarts were clearly on their way to the top so they could self destruct and take the world with them. Massive riffs, anthemic chorus, eternal lyrics, and one a Paradise City-esque throwdown with some of the best guitar playing you’re ever likely to hear, this is a classic for a reason.
15: Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky (EMG). A largely loud and celebratory first side comes to a close with this much softer, much darker song. The harp is employed here to fill the song with sadness and pity, the lyrics are as shockingly bleak as anything on The Holy Bible, and James sings as if at a funeral, stifling back grief with anger. It stands out as a sombre moment in the dead centre of an album which otherwise shouts at the world in defiance of everything thrown at it.
14: 4st 7lbs (THB). While we’re on the subject of bleak and angry songs, why not have a look at any single line from this song. Crying? Shriveled up in the corner rocking back and forth? This is a song about anorexia, both the psychology behind it which sees a near addiction to the syndrome, a cherished desire for it, and the sheer horror of what it does. This is David Cronenberg’s body shock in music. It wouldn’t be so bad if the music wasn’t terrifying, but it is- that fuzzy riff bashing us on the head over and over and over; it wouldn’t be so bad if the lyrics were delivered with pity, but they’re not- they’re either banshee shrieked at as at full volume and at a billion miles per hour, or whispered seductively to us so that we all want to join the party; it wouldn’t be so bad if it ended on a lighter note, but it doesn’t- instead we are treated to an extended coma dream of cloud bursting softness where James invites us in his most yearning voice to understand, to the the world from a caved in point of view, and to realise that it’s better down there if only you would look in your own navel and never return.
13: Motown Junk (Single). A distinct change of tune now, back to a time when the band were just about to explode onto the scene and change the world forever. This has all the raw punk gore would could ever wish for, all the youthful exuberance that makes you wish for your glory days or tear society apart if you’re still living them. My personal favourite version of this is the Live B-Side to A Design For Life but really they are all powerful. Opening with a myriad of samples about revolution and carnage, the band strut onto the scene proclaiming all that went before as waste, and all that was yet to come as a watered down version of themselves. With rhetoric aimed directly into your eyes and riffs and melodies to slice apart your marrow, Motown Junk stands tall as one of the great punk singles and call to arms that the world has ever known.
12: Little Baby Nothing (GT). It may have a cheesy 80s sound to it but it never fails to put a smile on my face. Gorgeous vocals set to the bestest melodies you can find, and with the sort of lyrics ever songwriter wants to create when they first decide they want to write a song about prostitution, everything about this is bliss. It stands out as a classier number among the rocking hordes of Generation Terrorists even though much of the subject matter is sleazy, but for an all male band to sing about female empowerment and not sound like a bunch of twats is something remarkable. You should all know the story about Kylie Minogue and Traci Lords if you’re reading this, if you’re only a casual fan, go check out the video as it is one of the band’s better efforts, ie- not a half-assed standing in front of camera looking sad show.
11: This Is Yesterday (THB). Once you reach this point in The Holy Bible you’ll be begging for something with a slither of light. Imagine reading 40 books of Revelations just to get to The Song Of Solomon. What? We finally get the light we were hoping for, and it is glorious. From the first note you know that this will be joyous and although it only lasts a few minutes, every second counts and you’ll want to hold onto it for the final few songs of the album. From the wispy lyrics about golden memories and innocent youth, all is not quite as it seems but it’s still such a sudden contrast to everything else that the lyrics often don’t hit you till afterwards, to the transcendent guitar solo and buoyant chorus, This Is Yesterday is endlessly mesmerizing as a shining beacon in an endless mire of doom.
10: Suicide Is Painless (Single Cover): We kick off the top 10 with one of their earliest releases. There’s something warm and epic here, all the more surprising given that it is a cover. The original is a decent song, perfectly fitting for MASH, but here it gets a blasting of sheer force and it feels like the song was written just for the band. With the stirring intro, James’s affected vocals, the eerie background guitar scrapes, the infrequent strings and piano parts it’s all perfect; and then it gets better as we speed up for a balls out finish with galloping guitars and drums. The production isn’t great, but the feeling behind it mixed with the technique means this one is forever.
9: Prologue To History (B-Side): The single that never was, PTH is one of the greatest unreleased songs ever. A mighty piano intro, some of Wire’s best lyrics, some wonderful screaming by Bradfield, the usual Richey references, and of course stirring melodies which will stalk your every move. Check out some of the live versions as the band usually go all out at increasing the volume and the urgency. The slight changes in the final verse send shivers everytime, the backing vocals orgasmic, and for once in a long time, the band sound like a tight-knit family against the world.
8: Condemned To Rock And Roll (GT): What better way to end a stadium rock monster of an album with one of the band’s most over the top gargantuan rock songs. Luckily this one pays off totally thanks to some inspired writing, musically and lyrically, and it is as close to G’n’R as the band has ever come. We get an awesome intro riff (James standing high with cheesy spotlight on him alone) leading into the main riff- some of the hardest playing the band has ever recorded. James unleashes his trademark screams to give the vicious words some extra venom, and we get some great guitar pieces between verses. The song isn’t anything original structure wise and many will just see it as another rock song, but they miss out on the passion and ability. James lets a truly bizarre scream out as we enter the chaotic instrumental section which is both chilling and hilarious depending on my mood, but then we get a few minutes of glorious guitar destruction. They have never packed in as many riffs to another song and most of them are excellent, giving us a breathless finale. They haven’t really sounded like this again and as such it feels like a resounding conclusion to that young band who first started out with intent- our final words from them ‘there’s nothing I want to see, there’s nowhere I want to go’. When we next see them they are still rocking, but that joy is gone.
7: Motorcycle Emptiness (GT): This is the song which both put the band on the map commercially, and made some of the critics truly sit up and take notice. For all the nonsense and slogans, for all the announcements and bravado the band still needed t prove they could write, play, and be credible. So they pasted together a couple of old songs and added on their greatest rock riff- voila! One of the best singles of the decade was born. The lyrics which told us what we needed to know about the band were still there- culture sucks down words- only now everyone who didn’t believe before was being converted. It’s difficult to listen to such wonderful melodies and vocals and not be swept along, in time you will focus more on the words and realise that maybe these young upstarts are right. The song is timeless, impressive, packed with early strings for the band to give that huge feel, and we get plenty of solos to work with the riff. It’s a song to play to those who aren’t yet impressed by the band as most will admit the genius.
6: Ready For Drowning (TIMTTMY): This one would have made a terrific single as it has all the stirring strings and buckets of emotion which made their biggest hits so popular. My favourite song of the 5th album is also oddly one of those songs which non-fans know and love, again strange as it wasn’t a single. There are so many special moments here- the way the false gentle intro becomes a string behemoth and then turns again into the off centre verses, the collapsing guitar part that leads into the chorus, and of course the chorus itself- one of the biggest and best in the band’s history. But we save the best for the middle section- some ooh and aahs, some strings, some clanging chords, and a spoken word sample which for some reason becomes one of the most awesome things ever put on record. I’d also like to nominate this as the most balanced song ever as everything closes as perfectly and seamlessly as it started.
5: Roses In The Hospital (GATS): One of the more underrated riffs from the band is one of the many standouts on this track, a wah inspired climbing riff which gets better with every listen and suits the glory and desperation of the song. We get the juxtaposition of ‘stub cigarettes out on my arm’ and ‘heroin is just too trendy’ with ‘all we wanted was a home’ with ‘we don’t want your fucking love’. Of course the melodies are top notch throughout and the passion grows with every word until that screamed announcement at the chorus end. A drum intro may sound out of place but without it the song seems lacking, we get a brilliant solo in the middle, and the outro is possibly their best with slogans toppling over each other and big stadium drums knocking ever word into the sky.
4: Faster (THB): As horrific as The Holy Bible is as a whole, there are a few moments of defiance; against the sense of failing, raging against the closing ring of despair. Faster is one of the best singles of all time and remains a punk anthem for the ages. Opening with a suitably grim quote from 1984, spoken by John Hurt, and accompanied by an unearthly screeching, Faster quickly explodes in a spiky, bleak noise assault. The lead riff tears through each verse while Bradfield triumphantly yelps and howls the perfect, juxtaposed lyrics. Played at a sickening pace to echo the visceral and often gruesome words, the verse melodies are almost anti-melodic statements, sounding more like military orders barked into the ear; the chorus contrasts this by being wonderfully tuneful while the chorus lyrics counter the ideas of weakness presented elsewhere in the song. In the chorus we see someone with total self control, pushing past the chaotic thoughts of the verses. Of course the solo is a personal favourite, absurdly fast and wavey, although the ending brings things back to earth with the lurking thought (even in the mind of someone peerless) that control can so easily be lost, that the self is fleeting, and how can there even be a sense of self when all around is horror ‘so damn easy to cave in/man kills everything’.
3: PCP (THB): The obvious partner to Faster, PCP is one last rally, a final, primal, dying cry for life. While Faster questions it’s own optimism and grapples against darkness, PCP blows all concerns to the wayside with a furious barrage of venom and sound. As a song on its own merits, it is largely about extreme liberal views regarding Political Correctness- how some supposed liberals can become just as ignorant in their arguments as right wing extremists. Taken within the album context though, it’s the last song after pretty much 12 nightmarish songs, and it’s as if the band just said ‘fuck it, lets go out with the biggest bang possible’. A quiet enough intro begins the lie but this soon gives way to scorching guitars and metal chords. With words spat out at a rate of 3000 per minute, Bradfield is a man possessed, channeling all the pain of the writers and a few hundred years of Welsh dismay, and unleashing like a Dragon’s last flaming breath. Another fantastic, simple solo connects the bulk of the song, the melodies are like manna, the chorus takes all the worries that the band had felt their whole life, rolls it up in a snotty ball, and flicks it away with disdain, while the ending lists the few clinging concerns, tramples all over them with mocking harmonies, and we finish with the ironic quotation “227 ‘Lears’ and I can’t remember the first line”. As a partner to Faster, this goes down as the greatest double single ever released.
2: A Design For Life (EMG): Although I was aware of the Manics, it wasn’t until this was released that I really took notice – I wish I had been there beforehand as the emotional impact of hearing this song for the first time would have been so much greater. Listening to it every night on the Mark and Lard show, I was instantly smitten, and thus The Manics became the first band I followed religiously, hunting down every previous release and waiting for the Record Store to open any time something new was released. If you’re reading this list, you’ll likely know the story; this comeback song of sorts proved that the band could go on without their pseudo-leader, and not only that, showed that they could now hit the heights of the charts. The song acts as the bridge between old and new Manics- the angry punks of yore taken over by the sober, reflective, reluctant stadium fillers. Musically, it is a perfect single- every second is drenched with beauty and it’s melodies invite all comers to enjoy, from existing fans, to crusty rockers, to young upstarts like me, and top 40 attentions seeking crawlers. Everything Had To Go, and this song catered to all. The band was baring it’s soul, throwing off the self imposed rules of the past, and saying ‘here we are, have a slice’. Lyrically the song is fairly basic, but insightful- again it was the music which drew me in, but the lyrics which entranced me as finally I’d found a band who could actually fucking write rather than rhyme. The strings, oh, the strings are achingly perfect, the chorus is… perfect, the perfect is perfect. Seriously, if you’re reading this and have no clue who or what I’m talking about, go Youtube this now and let yourself get sucked in by the best British band of the 90s.
1: Life Becoming A Landslide (GATS): As you will see from my lists, my favourite song from any artist is typically never the same as anyone else’s list. Why this is I don’t know. I can only assume that everyone else is an idiot. I see that most of my number ones are rarely singles or ‘big’ tracks, or if they are singles they probably didn’t sell well. Life Becoming A Landslide was a signal, though hardly a hit. Moreover, it is about as far from a typical Manics song (if such a thing exists) as you can get. It is clearly a GATS track with it’s arena, US oriented sound, but it is a precursor to their later successes with it’s massive string section, big chorus, and radio friendly tunes. Lyrically the song doesn’t have the politics of the other albums, instead focusing (like much of GATS) on the self, humanity, the body, the brain. There are touches of such fragile beauty here that any poet would dream of capturing, yet there is the always constant hint of foreboding, anger, and near, sheer hatred lingering in the background. My words can’t come close to evoking the wonder of the melodies, just listen, while musically there is a ballad feel which I am a sucker for, as well as the growing from quiet acoustics to overblown power chord outrage. This is not the typical Manics song; this is THE Manics song.
Where’s Australia!!? As always, feel free to leave any comments on my list and please share your own.
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.