After bursting forth from Wales with a punkish attitude and an unhealthy Guns'n'Roses obsession in the late '80s, the Manic Street Preachers have endured what can certainly only be described as a rather tumultuous history. After the disappearance of their figurehead, guitarist and main lyricist Richey James following the release of their third long player, years later it still seems nobody knows what ever happened to him. A few years on the three remaining members, plumber-like singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, Dyson-obsessed cross dressing bassist Nicky 'Wire' and quiet as a lamb drummer Sean Moore, made the decision to soldier on without a replacement. Arguably they became even more successful than ever before after the release of their comeback single, the awe-inspiring A Design For Life, and its truly epic accompanying home, the album Everything Must Go.
Whilst never having garnered other than limited alternative success on these appallingly commercially orientated shores - even their single entitled Australia didnít do the trick - they have a simply massive following in the UK, regularly selling out huge stadium shows and headlining festivals. Still, when they made it here a few years ago we lucked out by getting to see them play pub gigs - a truly phenomenal experience.
So, come the launch of their sixth studio album Know Your Enemy, the Manics wanted to do something a bit special. With the band's rich politically aware history, staunch anti-American stance and in this case a strong Cuban flavour to a number of tracks on the disc, most notably Let Robeson Sing and the self-explanatory for those with any current affairs knowledge Baby Elian, a plan was hatched to hold a gig in Havana, a place few rock bands have ever ventured. Come February 17th, 2001 it happened - complete with attendance by Cuban leader Fidel Castro himself.
The abruptly starting and ending main feature here (no credits - just straight in and out) disappointingly contains only 14 of the 20 songs from this rather historic gig. A curious mixture of back catalogue and new tracks is featured - early classics such as Motown Junk, Motorcycle Emptiness and You Love Us rub shoulders with later hits such as Found That Soul, Australia and the incredibly un-succinctly titled If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next, however fans will no doubt be disappointed at the compete lack of anything from their albums Gold Against the Soul or The Holy Bible.
The Manics manage a pretty good performance, especially considering that the whole occasion could have easily left other bands over-awed and floundering. Some of their long adhered to conventions are even thrown to the wind - Nicky sings live for the first time on Wattsville Blues, confirming once and for all why he should just shut up and play bass, and they even come back for an encore - something this band usually steadfastly refuses to do. A Cuban trumpeter is brought out to great effect on Kevin Carter and Ocean Spray, James' regular acoustic spot is taken up by an understandably poignant rendition of Baby Elian, and they even end with a ramshackle assault on The Beatles' Rock'n'Roll Music - well, the choruses at least, as James couldnít remember the verses!
With many recent UK-sourced DVD music releases truly starting to push the format's boundaries, this disc's claim of featuring almost three and a half hours of entertainment would surely have any fan of the Manics drooling in anticipation. Sadly it's an incredibly misleading proclamation - read on and discover why...
Anamorphically enhanced at a ratio of 1.78:1, the main feature doesnít present the greatest live vision you'll ever clap eyes on. This is mainly because it is so over-processed with effects that grain and other gremmies are introduced to swim about with the occasional speckles. Detail isnít fabulous, and colour tends a little towards the washed out side of things. Still, at least it is of reasonable quality, unlike many of the extras...
Other than an ever-so-slight tendency towards shrillness at times, there's really little to complain about as far as the 5.1 mix is concerned. Surround usage is reasonably good and the subwoofwoof gets a steady and subtle workout that adds to the sonic atmosphere superbly. There is no PCM mix as stated on the packaging, however the 2.0 mix that is included does a reasonable job in its place, even if it is nowhere near as atmospheric as the 5.1 version.
To simply label this release a disappointment would be one of the world's greatest ever examples of understatement. Seemingly cobbled together with little attention to detail, thoughts about quality, or indeed honesty when it comes to the blatantly misleading quoted running time (over three hours my buttocks!), there is some stuff here that diehard fans will definitely delight in, whilst otherwise it reeks with the evil stench of corporate exploitation. Whilst such things could be expected from many other bands, I'd never have though that the Manics would stoop so low.