Manic Street Preachers 2021
Press photo by Alex Lake (2021)

A Reflective Hauntology: On the 2024 Reissue of Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Lifeblood’

Manic Street Preachers’ oeuvre indicates that one can only keep preaching manically if one lets oneself be haunted by the past to show the cracks in capitalist realism.

Lifeblood (20th Anniversary Edition)
Manic Street Preachers
Sony UK
12 April 2024

On 12 April 2024, Welsh band Manic Street Preachers released a 20th anniversary edition of their 2004 album Lifeblood. This essay focuses on this reissue, Lifeblood 20, which contains a remastered version of the original album, as well as B-sides, remixes, demos, outtakes, and live versions. That is done with the help of Mark Fisher’s notion of hauntology, which is not only applied to Lifeblood but also to the oeuvre of Manic Street Preachers as a whole, as well as to the idea of the reissue in general.

History and capitalism were dating. History was seeing other people, so capitalism really tried to look like the best of all possible worlds. Then they got married, and capitalism stopped trying so hard. And then history said, “Remember my vow, ’til death do us part? Well, do you think I was kidding, or not?” (McKenzie Wark, Raving, 10)

“No Future in England’s Dreaming

In his autobiographical and autotheoretical book Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, the English music critic and cultural theorist Mark Fisher discusses various forms of spectrality. Ghosts, he observes in the book, have haunted him throughout his life. One of these ghosts is his depression, which he describes as “the most malign spectre that has dogged my life…” (2014, 28). Fisher committed suicide in 2017. 

Characterizing his depression as spectral, Fisher emphasizes its ungraspability, sometimes thinking he got rid of it – like a ghost that he managed to repel or expel – to then suddenly realize that it had returned and permeated his existence again. As in Zoe Thorogood’s autobiographical graphic novel It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, in which the protagonist’s depression is depicted as a ghostly monster that follows Zoe almost everywhere she goes, this representation foregrounds how a depression has a certain autonomy and spectral inescapability.

The ghosts Fisher writes about in Ghosts of My Life also have a political and theoretical dimension. First of all, he argues that issues of mental health are politicized by definition in a country that does not prioritize health care services. Secondly, this political dimension is generated by Fisher’s employment of that which Jacques Derrida characterized as hauntology. In his 1993 Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, this French philosopher responded to Francis Fukuyama’s infamous 1989 statement that history would have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Fukuyama did not mean that time had stopped, but he claimed that no world-changing events would take place any more. Employing a Hegelian understanding of history, according to which historical progress is only propelled by the dialectical tensions between different ideologies, he observed that since the last remaining ideological alternative to capitalism had died with the Soviet Union, history had stopped “progressing”. The only remaining ideology, Fukuyama concluded, was that of free-market capitalism, which he linked to liberal forms of democracy.

It is within this framework that Derrida developed his notion of hauntology. Resisting the idea that there would be no alternatives to capitalism and neoliberalism anymore, he argued that the ideology of Marxism still lives on in the form of ghosts that are sparked by the concrete suffering – including depression – caused by capitalism’s various forms of exploitation and commodification. These specters would keep haunting our societies as alternative visions of how to structure our political and economic systems. After all, Derrida observed, had Marx and Engels not announced communism as a specter or phantom [ein Gespenst] “haunting Europe” in the opening line of their Manifesto of the Communist Party

In various of Fisher’s writings, Fukuyama’s diagnosis is both understood as an inescapable reality and as a situation that should be criticized and resisted. In Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, he argued that the ideology of capitalism had seemingly become inescapable. He characterized it as a dream from which we cannot wake up and of which we have forgotten that it is a dream. Driven by the claim attributed to cultural theorists Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, Fisher, therefore, observed that it indeed seemed that history had ended. This “temporal pathology” (2014, 16) was embodied, for him, by Thatcher’s infamous claim that there is no alternative to the neoliberalism championed by the likes of her and Ronald Reagan. 

Fisher, therefore, turned to Derrida’s hauntology, observing that we could, perhaps, still find glimpses of a different way of organizing our societies in visions of the future developed in the past, in the failed utopianism embodied by Marx’s specters. He wrote in Ghosts of My Life, “The power of Derrida’s concept lay in its idea of being haunted by events that had not actually happened, futures that failed to materialise and remained spectral” (107). Fisher applied this chronopolitical understanding of hauntology to various aspects of popular culture, pointing, for example, to the spectral aspects of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining or David Lynch’s films as depicting a time “pulled out of joint” (to use a Shakespearean phrase often employed by Derrida), making cracks in the seemingly closed simulacrum of capitalist realism and encouraging us to realize that there might be an “outside” to capital’s dreaming; an alternative.

Most extensively, Fisher applied the notion of hauntology to the realm of popular music. On albums released by Leyland Kirby (such as the aptly titled Sadly, the Future Is No Longer What It Was), by Kirby’s moniker the Caretaker (the name of which alludes to the haunted protagonist of The Shining), as well as by musicians like Code9 (Fisher’s academic colleague Steve Goodman), Burial and Tricky, we find ghost-like samples and eerie fragments, he argued, that give this music a hauntological quality.

Fisher listened to these albums as if they were transistor radios found in a post-apocalyptic landscape, picking up sounds from a lost and untraceable past in which it looked like the future could still be different on a political, social, and economic level. He understood the crackling sound of vinyl as spectral as well, making the listener aware of the fact that they are listening to a recording, to material grooves that summon specters of musicians that left these traces in the past. 

Influenced by the ideas of Kodwo Eshun and others, he understood Afrofuturism and retrofuturism in music as chronopolitical as well. Hauntological compositions, he observed, shape unreliable archives and alternative heritages of an ungraspable past that cannot be forgotten and that keeps haunting the present, like the material memorial traces encountered on the walk through the landscape of Suffolk that is described in W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. In the 2013 audio essay On Vanished Land, Fisher himself would make a walk along the coastline of Suffolk, together with Adam Harper, picking up traces of a lost past summoned by hauntological music.


Fisher, as well as music critics like Simon Reynolds and Ian Penman, mainly applied their understandings of hauntology to forms of electronic music and/or to music made with “outmoded” recording technologies and media (cassette tapes, vinyl, reel-to-reel). They highlighted the spectral qualities of musique concrète, samples of 1930s ballroom music, crackle, library music, and sounds produced in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. 

Fisher did not really focus much on guitar-based music made after the 1980s. He praised the intellectual, critical, and still danceable music produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s by post-punk bands like the Fall or Gang of Four for moving away from punk’s focus on the guitar. Strongly influenced by reggae, dub, and funk, these bands foregrounded bass, beats, and what Fisher called “texture” (Butt 2016, 98). He championed post-punk’s formal innovation and experimentation, which he characterized as popular modernist, and argued that the guitar-based sound of punk had ended up in a nostalgic deadlock. In his view, the rock produced after post-punk could, therefore, only result in unimaginative repetitions of what had been done before. He saw this pathological form of what Reynolds came to call “retromania” return in bands ranging from Oasis and Blur to Arctic Monkeys, who he understood as presenting empty postmodern pastiches of music made by bands like the Beatles, the Ramones, or the Kinks. The fact that the “laddism” of Britpop became entwined with the commodified nationalism of Cool Britannia and Tony Blair’s liberalized “New Labour” did not help either.

Given their focus on guitar-oriented music, it is, therefore, no surprise that Fisher was not very enthusiastic about the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers either. In a lecture on the Jam, published in the edited volume Post Punk Then and Now, he observes that, even at the beginning of their career, Manic Street Preachers “were already falling into a postmodern pastiche in their sound. The sound wasn’t at the cutting of anything anymore…” (116). Indeed, throughout their career, the Manics have mainly repeated styles that were developed before them: punk reminiscent of the Clash on their early singles; a Guns N’ Roses inspired glamrock on their first album Generation Terrorists (1992); an accessible form of dark glam on their second record Gold Against the Soul (1993); and post-punk elements on their nihilistic masterwork The Holy Bible (1994). The band then broke through to the mainstream with the accessible melancholic stadium rock of Everything Must Go (1996), propelled by the anthemic single “A Design for Life”:

Manic Street Preachers solidified their mainstream position with the even more accessible, tender, and melancholic sound of the 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, to then undermine their own fame with the rock ‘n’ roll-oriented but stylistically fragmented Know Your Enemy (2001), as well as with the 1980s synthpop of Lifeblood (2004).

These albums do not contain the eerie samples or sounds that Fisher linked to the music he called hauntological. And even though some of these records critically resisted the musical contexts in which they came out, such as shoegaze, dream pop, and Britpop, they were not driven either by the radical formal innovation that Fisher appreciated in post-punk. If we understand hauntology as a tendency or sensibility that can come about in different ways within popular music, however, instead of as a specific genre or a particular type of music or sound, the music of Manic Street Preachers contains more hauntological traces than Fisher suggested. Since the band have always had a conceptual and self-reflective dimension, these traces are mainly present, rather explicitly, in their lyrics and highlighted by the band members in interviews. 

That is most clearly the case with Lifeblood, of which a 20th-anniversary edition was recently released as Lifeblood 20. In a 2004 interview with Ian Watson, Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire stated about the album:

The main themes are death, solitude, and ghosts. Being haunted by history and being haunted by your own past. Sleep is beautiful for me. I hate dreaming because it ruins ten hours of bliss. I had a lot of bad dreams when Richey first disappeared. Not ugly dreams, but nagging things. […] Lifeblood doesn’t seek to exorcise Edwards’ ghost, though, just admits that there are no answers.

Wire here refers to two forms of haunting, which are not unlike the different specters that permeate Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: a haunting by Manic Street Preachers’ own past, which includes the ghost of their lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards as well as the various musical versions of themselves, and a haunting by specters of what he calls “history”.

A Paralyzed Future

Richey Edwards disappeared in 1995. His car was found close to the Severn Bridge, a suicide site. It was also discovered that he had systematically withdrawn money from his bank account before he disappeared, and unproven sightings of him were later reported in Wales as well as in India and Spain. He was officially declared “presumed dead” in 2008, but with the absence of a body to mourn and in light of these mysterious elements, his personal and intellectual presence/absence has haunted the oeuvre of Manic Street Preachers ever since. In Ghosts of My Life, Fisher turns to Freud and Derrida to describe a spectrality generated by failed mourning:

In Freud’s terms, both mourning and melancholia are about loss. But whereas mourning is the slow, painful withdrawal of libido from the lost object, in melancholia, libido remains attached to what has disappeared. For mourning to properly begin, Derrida says in Specters of Marx, the dead must be conjured away […]. But there are those who refuse to allow the body to be interred, just as there is a danger of (over)killing something to such an extent that it becomes a spectre, a pure virtuality. […] Haunting, then, can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or – and this can sometimes amount to the same thing – the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. (Fisher 2014, 22)

Derrida provides this idea with a political dimension by sketching the failed mourning of communism, which would result in a haunting by Marxist specters. A more personal version of this form of melancholy returns on Lifeblood.

The album deliberately does not “give up” on the ghost of Richey Edwards, instead summoning his specter and letting various songs be haunted by him. Most explicitly, this happens in “Askew Road”, the first song on the second disc of Lifeblood 20, which contains B-sides and remixes. Originally, this song was released as a B-side on “The Love of Richard Nixon”, the album’s first single. On “Askew Road”, we hear a sample of Edwards talking in an early interview about the group’s ideals. The song revolves around memories of Manic Street Preachers’ early days in the Askew Road house of their manager, Phillip Hall, and his wife, Terri. The former died of cancer in 1993. The first disc of Lifeblood 20, which contains remastered versions of the original album, closes with a song that refers to a place as well: “Cardiff Afterlife”. Its lyrics describe how the specter of Edwards lives on in a mnemonic afterlife, in-between presence and absence: “Your memory is still mine / No I will not share them / Acquaintance through denial”.

The same song adds a personal dimension to Fukuyama’s notion of the end of history with the following lines: “The paralyzed future / The past sideways crawl”. It is as if Edwards’ disappearance threw Manic Street Preaches into an existential emptiness, pulling time out of joint and making them into a band haunted by their own past. They became “split”, as it were, into a before and an after. But whereas the first three albums released after Edwards’ disappearance were still driven by the post-traumatic accelerationist adagio of Everything Must Go, it was only on the fourth record that came out after this rupture – Lifeblood – that its aftershock kicked in and forced the band to withdraw; to crawl “sideways”, and to reflect. 

This was emphasized by the quote from Descartes printed in the album’s booklet – “Conquer yourself rather than the world” – that also figured in the Lifeblood 20 trailer:

Even those aspects of the album that do not refer explicitly to Richey Edwards indicate how the withdrawal generated by this post-traumatic aftershock turned Lifeblood into a meditation on specters, ghosts, and phantoms. For example, this meditative atmosphere returns in the white and sterile design of the album’s booklet, which reminds of the glacial landscape surrounding the snowed-in haunted Overlook Hotel in The Shining; in the ghost-like presence/absence of the naked body on its cover, its contours only visible where it is covered by blood; and in the light grey capital letters printed in the album’s sleeve booklet. The need to withdraw is emphasized as well by song titles like “Empty Souls”, “A Song for Departure”, “Fragments”, “Always/Never”, “I Live to Fall Asleep”, “Solitude Sometimes Is”, and B-sides like “Antarctic”, “Everyone Knows/Nobody Cares”, “All Alone Here”, and “Failure Bound”. These phrases sketch an atmosphere of silence, emptiness, reclusion and nostalgia, as well as one of failure, passivity, fatality and standstill; of a “paralyzed future”. 

The title of the sixth song on the record, “To Repel Ghosts”, alludes to the name of a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The phrase later returned as the title of Kevin Young’s poetry collection about the American artist’s oeuvre, as well as a 2014 experimental film by Philippe Lacôte. Not unlike in Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life, the ghosts that permeate this painting, poetry, and film refer to the depression and the traumatic memories that haunted Basquiat his whole life. The album’s first single, “The Love of Richard Nixon”, refers to another famous figure. It depicts the titular president as a Shakespearian character whose legacy, half-forgotten, still haunts American politics and culture:

The song takes its cues from Oliver Stone’s 1995 film Nixon, in which the president’s ghost is summoned by Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins. 

This meditative and spectral atmosphere is also generated by the sound of Lifeblood. In the booklet of Lifeblood 20, Manic Street Preachers singer James Dean Bradfield observes that the album made it possible for them to chase “other versions” of what they were “trying to do”. Indeed, the record is rather different from the assemblage of styles, most of which are based on a noisy guitar sound, of the record released before Lifeblood: 2001’s Know Your Enemy. Its music comes close to the genres of synthpop and synthrock, catalyzed by producer Tony Visconti.

The album’s sound indicates that Manic Street Preachers were haunted by these alternative versions of themselves, letting these ghosts pull them in a musical direction closer to the kosmische Musik of Tangerine Dream, David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, or Brian Eno’s ambient minimalist soundscapes, than to the Clash or Guns N’ Roses. Again, this nostalgic tendency is emphasized on a lyrical level as well, for example in the song “Glasnost”, which encourages listeners to make their “own Glasnost”. Like the album’s sound, the usage of this term points to the 1980s, as if the paralyzed future forced the band to turn backward.

Forever Delayed

Still, this musical shift should not be understood as an overly radical break with the band’s past: throughout their career, they have explored a surprising variety of musical genres. Indeed, it could be argued that, from the start, Manic Street Preachers agreed with Fisher’s claim that guitar-based music had nothing new or original to offer anymore after the 1980s. However, whereas Fisher, therefore, turned to musicians like Tricky or Burial, Manic Street Preachers decided to do something different and to make this observation into a characteristic of their music explicitly: in various ways, they have continually emphasized that it has become impossible to be original anymore within the realm of popular music. The cover of their first single, 1988’s “Suicide Alley”, already presented a pastiche of the cover of the Clash’s debut album:

Fisher, in other words, accused the band of presenting postmodern pastiches of past music, but this was precisely their idea. Even the looks of the band members were haunted by the past, as indicated by the photograph used for their 2005 EP “God Save the Manics”. The cover displays an old photograph of their bass player, Nicky Wire, emulating the snarl and looks of Sid Vicious.

Manic Street Preachers, this suggests, have always already been “Forever Delayed”, to use the title of the best-of album they released in between Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood, which contains a song of the same name that announced the latter album’s synthpop sound. They have always been haunted by the past, pulled back to musical genres already developed. By emulating these genres they have continuously aimed to make a critical point about the death of originality and authenticity within the commodified realm of popular music, which paradoxically enabled them to do something new, mainly within the realm of lyrics. 

But it is also Manic Street Preachers’ own, more particular, past that haunts and delays them. That is most clearly embodied by the form of the reissue. At the time of writing, Manic Street Preachers have released reissues of most of their albums. These reissues, as it were, fold into and haunt each other because they are not completely alike. The 20th-anniversary edition of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, for example, replaced the song “Nobody Loved You” with “Prologue to History”, originally a B-side. The song “Underdogs” suffered a similar fate on the 10th anniversary edition of their 2007 album Send Away the Tigers. The 2022 reissue of Know Your Enemy, furthermore, translated the original record into a double album with an alternative cover. Each disc on this “reimagined” Know Your Enemy revolves around a different theme – “Door to the River” (named after a Willem de Kooning painting) and “Solidarity”. For this reissue, the band changed the order of songs and included various B-sides as well as two unreleased tracks. 

These changes generate specific listening experiences. Having listened to the 2001 Know Your Enemy countless times, for example, one expects the song “Ocean Spray” to play after “Found That Soul”. On the 2022 Know Your Enemy, however, “Found That Soul” is followed by a cover of McCarthy’s “We Are All Bourgeois Now”, which was a ghost track on the 2001 Know Your Enemy. In this way, it becomes difficult to determine which is the “original” version of the album; instead, both versions fold into each other, with “Ocean Spray” playing in the “background” of “We Are All Bourgeois Now”, pulling time out of joint and disrupting linear forms of temporality.

This effect is catalyzed as well by alternative versions of songs that are included on most reissues released by Manic Street Preachers. Lifeblood 20’s third disc includes demos, outtakes, and live versions, such as mixes by Tony Visconti that did not end up on the original album. The third disc also contains an “alternate version” of the song “1985”, which has almost similar lyrics but a rather different melody, played on a ghost-like piano that would not be out of place in the haunted ballroom of Kubrick’s The Shining. Like “Voodoo Polaroids” – the title of another B-side on “The Love of Richard Nixon”, included on Lifeblood 20’s second disc  – this makes these versions into snapshots that haunt each other, not unlike the Bootleg-series has shaped an alternative Bob Dylan catalogue.

The various remixes included on the second disc of Lifeblood 20, such as Steven Wilson’s “extended 1980s mix” of “1985”, again present alternative versions of songs. In these remixes, recognizable traces turn up at unexpected moments, constituting a sonic texture haunted by the various versions of the remixed songs.

Left Melancholy

This same song – “1985” – points to the historical ghosts that, besides their more personal ones, have always haunted Manic Street Preachers. Growing up in Wales in the 1980s and having a strong working-class background, their music is permeated with the labourist spirit that drove the Miners’ Strikes, as well as with the realization that these same strikes were eventually crushed by Margaret “there is no alternative” Thatcher. In a way, their oeuvre can be understood as an ongoing struggle with and against what Fisher called capitalist realism, steeped in the realization that this oeuvre itself is part of the capitalist spectacle of popular music. 

This political hauntological aspect seeped most explicitly into the band’s catalogue after the disappearance of Edwards. Now that they had a before and an after, their music came to be driven by a nostalgia that had not been there before, and that had both a personal and a highly political dimension. The albums released after their guitarist and lyricist’s disappearance can, therefore, be understood as different attempts to summon various specters of Marx. What makes these records particularly fascinating is that, on these same records, the Derridean hauntology they embody is constantly thwarted by that which Fisher, in Ghosts of My Life, describes as “Left Melancholy”. He takes this term from Wendy Brown’s essay “Resisting Left Melancholy”, which targets…

…a Left that operates without either a deep and radical critique of the status quo or a compelling alternative to the existing order of things. But perhaps even more troubling, it is a Left that has become more attached to its impossibility than to its potential fruitfulness, a Left that is most at home dwelling not in hopefulness but in its own marginality and failure, a Left that is thus caught in a structure of melancholic attachment to a certain strain of its own dead past, whose spirit is ghostly, whose structure of desire is backward-looking and punishing. (Fisher 2006, 23; Brown 1999, 26)

Fisher argued that his own Derridean hauntological form of melancholy should be distinguished from Left Melancholy since it “consists not in giving up on desire but in refusing to yield. It consists, that is to say, in a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality’ – even if the cost of that refusal is that you feel like an outcast in your own time…” (Fisher 2006, 24).

Several songs that Manic Street Preachers released after the disappearance of Edwards embody a struggle between this critical form of nostalgia and Brown’s “Left Melancholy”. The 1996 single “A Design for Life”, for example, formed an attempt to capture the pride, but also the ambiguity, of working class consciousness and existence in a political and economic context determined to stereotype and undermine it. The sleeve booklet of the album on which the song appears – Everything Must Go – indicates that the record was inspired by the Welsh deep coal mine of Tower Colliery, which miners managed to buy out after it was closed by British Coal in 1994. Summoning Marxist specters like these, which inspired various forms of labourist resistance in the past, but accompanying them with melancholic music hinting at the idea that this resistance was eventually crushed, the album embodies a struggle between a productive hauntology on the one hand and a paralyzing Left Melancholy on the other.

Manic Street Preachers’ 1996 single “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next”, taken from their fifth album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, again entwines these two forms of nostalgia. It does this by combining reflections on Welsh volunteers who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War with musings on the disappearance of the socialist spirit that drove their anti-fascist plight in the 1930s. 

Inspired by Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, the song’s title was taken from a propaganda poster displaying a child killed by Franco’s fascists, encouraging people to join the war. The single’s cover includes a 1938 photograph of Welsh Volunteers of the XV International Brigade before the Ebro offensive. Crucial is that this cover shows a Polaroid picture – a “Voodoo Polaroid” – of this photograph, emphasizing the idea that the song forms a reflection on the past, on half-disappearing memories that are haunting the present. Indeed, it opens with the following lines: “The future teaches you to be alone / The present to be afraid and cold”.

Other lines, such as “I’ve walked Las Ramblas / But not with real intent”, indicate as well that the song’s lyrical subject is haunted by Marxist specters – the spirits of the Welsh volunteers whose ghosts still roam Barcelona’s Las Ramblas – that are at the same time expelled by a crippling Left Melancholy that forces this subject to give up. The song’s music video channels these ghosts by opening and closing with a music box playing “The Internationale”. Again, however, it then expels them by depicting a family whose eyes, noses, and mouths gradually disappear, as if to say that the specters of Marx are repelled forever in a present in which history has ended and in which we are forever trapped in capitalist realism. A world in which Marx is successfully mourned, Leftism has died, and the ghosts of these Welsh volunteers have become part of a dead history.  

In 2000, however, Marxist specters started haunting the band again with the release of their stand-alone single “The Masses Against the Classes”. Fully embracing the power and energy of rock ‘n’ roll again, the song declares: “I’m tired of giving a reason / When the future is what we believe in”.

Opening with a sample in which we hear Chomsky critically analyzing the capitalist foundation of the United States, the song presents a sonic break with the introspective musical Left Melancholy that seeped into This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.

On their 2001 album Know Your Enemy, this anti-capitalist spirit fragmented again, however, this time into a postmodern kaleidoscope of references, both musically and lyrically. The music video of the single “So Why So Sad”, for example, shows how various timelines entwine, not unlike in the lyrics of the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs”. The song’s musical style can be described as a Beach Boys pastiche:  

Again, past and present fold into each other here, leaving a self behind that does not really know what to do or think anymore, existing in a postmodern perpetual present with a “paralyzed future”. The album’s titular “enemy” can, therefore, be understood as the Left Melancholy that continuously tries to undermine Manic Street Preachers’ ideological leanings. 

After releasing two compilation albums – 2002’s Forever Delayed and 2003’s Lipstick Traces (A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers) Lifeblood came out in 2004. “Emily”, which forms an anthem to the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, as well as the album’s opening song “1985”, can again be understood as attempts to summon Marxist specters. Now, going through the aftershock of Edwards’s disappearance. However, the album embraces a nostalgic mode that, more than on earlier albums, is at the brink of completely giving in to Left Melancholy. “1985” looks at this year through a highly personal, musical and cultural lens steeped in nostalgia: “Morrissey and Marr gave me choice”, “Torvill and Dean’s Bolero / Redundant as a sad Welsh chapel”. It combines these personal ghosts with historical ones, alluding to the defeat of the miners: “In 1985, Orwell was proved right”. The song might refer as well to Anthony Burgess’s 1978 novel of the same name, which in various ways explores the question of whether Orwell was “proved right”. 

These personal and historical dimensions return in the song’s video clip, made by Welsh poet Patrick Jones (brother of the band’s bass player). The video combines grainy archival footage of Manic Street Preachers and of the phenomena discussed in the song’s lyrics: Thatcher, the Miners’ Strikes, the ice-skating duo of Torvill and Dean, and the Smiths. Again, the song’s melancholic 1980s synthpop sound emphasizes the need to give up and withdraw.

In “1985”, Manic Street Preachers seem to want to give in to Left Melancholy, replacing the idea that things could still be better in the future with a nostalgic lament for labourism and Leftism as they existed in the past. Indeed, the passage in Descartes’ Discourse on Method explains Lifeblood’s Stoic motto – “Conquer yourself rather than the world” – as follows: “This alone seemed to me sufficient to prevent me in the future from desiring anything but what I was to acquire, and thus to make me contented” (Descartes 1998, 15). 

Acid Communism

But there is an often overlooked critical undercurrent in Manic Street Preachers’ songs that continues to prevent the band from withdrawing completely. Again, this undercurrent can be highlighted with the help of Mark Fisher: unlike Descartes, the English theorist was driven by a desire for change and, towards the end of his life, developed a socio-political theory that enabled him to visualize a different political and social future. He dubbed this theory Acid Communism and again provided it with a hauntological dimension. He referred in this context to the libidinal energies liberated within utopian forms of thinking in the 1960s, described in the Freudo-Marxist writings of theorists like Herbert Marcuse and Jean-François Lyotard. As concrete examples of these alternative futures as imagined in the past, he pointed to the Marxist Autonomism of the Italian Autonomia movement of the 1960s and to Salvador Allende’s “democratic-socialist project” in early 1970s Chile, which he understood as an alternative to Soviet communism (Fisher 2021, 154).  

It is not a surprise that Fisher looked for different ways of structuring our societies by turning to a socialist postcolonial experiment in a country in the Global South. In Ghosts of My Life, he not only distinguishes his own understanding of hauntology from Left Melancholy, but also from a tendency that he, with Paul Gilroy, characterizes as “postcolonial melancholia”. Fisher writes:

Gilroy defines this melancholia in terms of avoidance; it is about evading ‘the painful obligations to work through the grim details of imperial and colonial history and to transform paralyzing guilt into a more productive shame that would be conducive to the building of a multicultural nationality that is no longer phobic about the prospect of exposure to either strangers or otherness.’ (Fisher 2014, 24; Gilroy 2005, 99)

In various ways, the Left Melancholy that at places seeps into the oeuvre of Manic Street Preachers is countered by such a postcolonial “productive shame” as well. And it is precisely this element that produces a critical undercurrent in their oeuvre that, at places, suddenly rears its anti-colonialist head to summon Marxist specters. 

Paul Gilroy was already referenced by Manic Street Preachers in their anti-imperialism song “Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart”, on The Holy Bible. The song’s lyrics allude to Gilroy’s book There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack with the following lines: “There’s not enough Black in the Union Jack / There’s too much white in the Stars and Stripes”, approaching American consumption culture and British colonialism as similar forms of imperialism. However, this critical alternative undercurrent manifests itself most concretely within the oeuvre of Manic Street Preachers through references to Latin American forms of anti-imperialism. The cover of ‘The Masses Against the Classes’, for example, shows a Cuban flag without a white star, and Know Your Enemy includes various references to Cuban politics in songs like “Baby Elián” and “Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children”. At concerts, the band have often draped Welsh and Cuban flags over their amps as well. 

In 2001, Manic Street Preachers were the first Western rock band to perform in Cuba. The concert, which took place in Havana’s Teatro Karl Marx, was released on a DVD called Louder Than War:

In Cuba, Manic Street Preachers even met with Fidel Castro, who attended their concert and identified their Welshness as an anti-English resistance to imperialism. The band later expressed doubt and regret about their flirtations with Cuban totalitarianism (for example, in the song “The Next Jet to Leave Moscow” on 2014’s Futurology), suggesting that this episode in their career was mainly driven by the attempt to explore any alternative to capitalist realism. 

In 2020, Manic Street Preachers singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield referred to the same socialist project that Fisher saw as an inspiration. This year, he released Even in Exile, a solo album about Víctor Jara, the Chilean activist and singer who was tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime in 1973.

But perhaps “Let Robeson Sing”, the fourth single taken from Know Your Enemy, embodies this critical undercurrent of the band’s oeuvre the most concretely. The song forms an elegy to Black activist, actor, and author Paul Robeson, adopting a propagandistic lyrical style accompanied by a folky acoustic guitar.

Again, the group’s critical anti-colonialist undercurrent, as it materializes in this song, is entwined with references to Welsh history: Paul Robeson explicitly expressed support for the Welsh volunteers fighting in Spain against Franco’s fascism. Furthermore, after his political views and activities resulted in a travel ban under McCarthyism, he sang over the phone to an audience of thousands in Wales. “Let Robeson Sing” ends with a sample of this audience’s applause, and its title refers to the name of the series of concerts performed in this way.

The single’s sleeve includes a statement that was part of a message Robeson recorded to commemorate Welsh volunteers who died in the Spanish Civil War: “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery – I have made my choice – I had no alternative”. It is with hauntological claims like these, rooted in critical resistance generated in the past, that Manic Street Preachers continually battle the Left Melancholy that haunts them as well.

“The Graffiti You Left on Me”

The musical hauntology embraced by Mark Fisher focuses on sounds that would generate affective energies and allude to an alternative form of being that Kodwo Eshun, in More Brilliant Than the Sun, characterizes as “sonic fiction”. Eshun claims that sonic fictions come about precisely when popular music has no lyrics, and foregrounds Afrofuturist jazz and electronic music as imagining alternative forms of existence. Manic Street Preachers, on the other hand, present a hauntology that is more conceptual in nature and that is generated to a large extent in their lyrics. Their oeuvre, in other words, is permeated with a reflective hauntology that is accompanied by music that is “forever delayed”.

In “The Soulmates”, which originally appeared on the Japanese version of Lifeblood and is included on the second disc of Lifeblood 20, we hear Bradfield sing: “The graffiti you left on me / Means every part is still bleeding”. This metaphor alludes to the various hauntological traces that permeate the band’s catalogue. These traces can be intertextual; the band is famous for scattering countless references to authors, artists, films, politicians, and more throughout their songs. Even Jacques Derrida would turn up again in their catalogue: “Complicated Illusions”, on their 2021 album The Ultra Vivid Lament, couples references to the French philosopher’s deconstructivism with descriptions of Left Melancholic self-doubt. The metaphorical graffiti can also be intratextual, generating links within the band’s oeuvre: the reference in “Cardiff Afterlife” to a past that “crawls sideways”, for example, recalls the lyrical subject “crawling sideways” in The Holy Bible’s song “Die In the Summertime”. It could also refer to the personal spectral traces of ghosts of lost loved ones, such as Richey Edwards, of whom various lyrics, left behind in 1995, eventually turned up on the 2005 EP “God Save the Manics” and on the 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers. On these releases, the trauma or wound caused by Edwards’ disappearance is indeed “still bleeding”.

But for Manic Street Preachers, this graffiti is also always political and historical in nature. Their oeuvre is driven by an ongoing struggle with capitalist realism and Left Melancholy, embodied by the various ways in which their releases attempt to revive the specter of Marx. Often, this is done by describing forms of leftist resistance shaped in the past, such as the legacy of Tower Colliery, the Miners’ Strikes, or the Welsh volunteers who fought against Franco’s forces. Sometimes, this is done by entwining references to Welsh resistance with descriptions of the anti-colonialist and anti-fascist plight of figures like Paul Robeson and Víctor Jara, rejecting postcolonial melancholy as well.  

In this way, the band’s oeuvre indicates that one can only keep preaching manically if one lets oneself be haunted by the past; if one realizes that the realm of popular music might still be able to show us the cracks in the ideology of capitalist realism.

Works Cited

Brown, Wendy. “Resisting Left Melancholy”, boundary 2, 26:3, Autumn 1999.

Butt, Gavin, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher [eds.] Post Punk Then and Now. Repeater, 2016.

Descartes, René. Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Hackett, 1998.

Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. Zer0 Books, 2014.

Fisher, Mark. Post Capitalist Desire. The Final Lectures. Repeater, 2021. 

Gilroy, Paul. Postcolonial Melancholia. Columbia University Press, 2005.

Wark, McKenzie. Raving. Duke University Press, 2023.