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Back Beyond The Barricades - The Irish Times, 14th January 2000

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Title: Back Beyond The Barricades
Publication: The Irish Times
Date: Friday 14th January 2000
Writer: Brian Boyd

Of the new Manics' single, Nicky Wire says: "We started the 1990s with Motown Junk and we wanted to start the new decade with The Masses Against The Classes. It's a separate entity, a complete one-off and has nothing to do with the new album." Fair enough, but surely what's more significant is that they're nailing their anarcho-street poet-syndicalist colours to the flag at an opportune time.

If it wasn't break-up rumours, a muted reaction to their last album or ongoing spats with other bands, the going has been a bit rough for the Welsh trio over the past few months, and this one-off single is a bold attempt to reaffirm all the principles that led to forming a band in the first place.

A blustery rock epic with Old Labour lyrical sentiments, the song's release is, contrary to reports, not limited to 10,000 copies - that only applied to initial orders. It's perhaps no coincidence that Nicky Wire alluded to Motown Junk when talking about the new work, because it's just that sort of feel that the band is after on this one and, as rabble rousing as it is, it's still more Albert Camus than Sham 69.

Written as a direct response to bitter accusations that the last album, This Is My Truth, was a stodgy, MOR rock album, Masses Against The Classes sees the Manics back beyond the barricades, turning the punk rock volume button up to 11 and flinging literary quotes like they were petrol bombs ("A slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown" - Camus). Musically it's more like You Love Us than anything they've done over the last few years, and the blistering guitar attack that kicks off the single (complete with a lift from The Beatles' Twist And Shout) augurs well for the ensuing racket.

"We're the only thing left to believe in," screams James Dean Bradfield before telling us that "Our hate is yours to feed upon". Certainly one of the most invigorating things they have done in a long, long time, it remains to be seen if this new (or rather re-found) approach is replicated on the new album; or will they instead opt for an assault on the American market?

Whatever you may think about the band, there's no denying their commitment to, and interest in, more resonant lyrical concerns, especially in relation to the Route One approach favoured by most bands within the genre. As a reflection of this, an art exhibition has just opened in Cardiff which has been inspired by the Manics' lyrics. Called Unconvention, the organisers say it is "an exhibition that examines revolution as both a political and personal act". Gosh, how very untrendy in these "Third Way" days.

Bringing together artists, photographers, poets, musicians and political activists who have been name-checked by the band, Unconvention features the works of Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville, Pollock, Munch and Warhol as well as photographs by Robert Capa and Kevin Carter and work by the original Situationists (who Malcom McLaren claims first inspired punk rock).

This sort of thing may or may not float your boat, but you'll have to agree it's a bit better than a Britney Spears doll and Steps bubble-bath. The exhibition is in Cardiff for another week, and after that may well travel around Britain and Ireland.