REVIEW BY TYRION PERKINS
Louder Than War: the Manic Street Preachers Live in Cuba
DVD featuring the Manic Street Preachers
Know Your Enemy
Manic Street Preachers
"I suppose we're making history because of the trade sanctions against Cuba. And who knows, hopefully we might make some sort of inroad", said drummer Sean Moore before the Manic Street Preachers left for Havana, the first stop of their 2001 world tour.
The Manics have become successful in the British music scene and worldwide over the past 10 years with personal and left-wing lyrics that deal with numerous aspects of the pain and alienation of people trying to live in capitalist society. They are probably best known in Australia for "If You Tolerate this Your Children Will Be Next", a song dedicated to those who volunteered to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
When recording their sixth album, Know Your Enemy, the Manics realised they had a number of references to Cuba, including the song "Baby Elian" about the six-year-old boy who was taken to Miami in 2000 against the wishes of his Cuban dad. The band decided it wanted to show its support for Cuba by doing a concert in Havana.
The Louder Than War DVD not contains film of that concert, it includes a documentary shown on British TV as well as a more in-depth version.
Before they left for Cuba, lyricist/bass player Nicky Wire explained that "[Know Your Enemy] is about reaffirming our roots a bit and I guess the gig is as well... If you still believe in [communism] after all these years then it must mean something".
Wire says he is most interested in the "Cuban spirit which everyone says is so different". The DVD shows this most starkly with the band's interview with Radio Progresivo. Unlike the band's experiences with the British media (which wants "to nail you to a cross". a band member observes), the Cuban interviewer had done thorough research about the Manics' history, and in between the conversation, plays a song from each album. Singer/guitarist James Bradfield plays "If You Tolerate This" live in the studio.
The Radio Progresivo interviewer is interested in the subjects of the band's songs as well as the evolution of their musical style. With sensitivity, he asks if it is alright to talk about Richey James, the band member who disappeared in February 1995 and has not been seen since.
At the end of the interview, Bradfield comments: "Robert Plant and even Paul McCartney came to Cuba but their visits were private... The Cuban people give love, but the Cubans need love too and [that's] the reason the Manic Street Preachers came."
Louder Than War reveals the band's pre-concert nervousness about playing in front of an audience that has never heard of them and have grown up in a society that has such excellent musicians. Before going on stage, the band chats with Fidel Castro.
The concert includes many of the Manics' old favourites, such as "Motorcycle Emptiness", "Design for Life", as well as about half the songs that appear on Know Your Enemy.
Know Your Enemy includes a number of more overtly political songs, including "Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children" and "Baby Elian". "Let Robeson Sing" is a song about Paul Robeson, the great US African-American singer, actor, civil rights activist and communist.
Of all their albums, Know Your Enemy has the widest variety of musical styles: fast and gentle; disco and folk; and, of course, rock. At first, I only liked about half of the 18 tracks but, as with their other albums, the rest later grew on me. This album projects more of a sense of fun and experimentation, and I think it is their best.
Although politically clearer than their last two albums, much of the politics is hard to grasp if you don't know the names and events mentioned. If they spike your curiosity enough, a visit to the Manics' web site will explain what the songs are about.
Accused of "selling out" because of their lyrics' alleged vagueness and their commercial success, the band released "Masses Against the Classes", a song which samples Noam Chomsky. This song rose to number one on the British charts without promotion.
Visit the Manic Street Preachers' web site at <http://www.manics.co.uk>.
From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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