[A119] ‘The Masses Against the Classes’

Released on: The Masses Against the Classes (Single #25) Epic Records, 10 January 2000
Peak UK Chart Position: #1
Band Ranking: #7

Later to be released as the Manics’ second (and to date, last) UK #1 single, ‘The Masses Against the Classes’ was first heard on the European festival circuit in late summer 1999. According to Wire, the song was deliberately written “as a response to the supposed bigness and blandness of This Is My Truth” and as such takes the form of the most raging, out-and-out rocker the band had made since at least 1996. While This Is My Truth is a highly impressive album and went over well with both critics and the record buying public, the criticism of its mid-paced nature was (and remains) significant – and the band could hardly have made a better case for their continued relevance as a rock band than the song often affectionately known as ‘Masses’.

It wasn’t just aggression and loudness that Wire wanted to return to (Bradfield and Moore, he says, were less enthusiastic about his quest to become or remain “one of the biggest bands in Britain”) but also the politicised nature of their early work, which had taken a relative backseat since 1994. This commitment is obvious from the song’s title, which is part of a quote from 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone (“all the world over, I will back the masses against the classes”) and from the opening quote, the very presence of which recalls The Holy Bible. That the quote is such an excellent one from hugely influential American dissident and linguist Noam Chomsky only adds to the impact.

Musically the song is relatively straightforward, but Moore’s drumming is particularly savage and arresting. Also, a clever trick is played with Bradfield’s wordless “ah” vocal parts; at different times they are twisted into a calm pause in the song (after the first chorus) and as a crowd-pleasing build-up to a chorus (towards the end). Indeed, becoming a huge live favourite seems to have been so inevitable for ‘Masses’ that it is easy to imagine the band had this in mind when the writing.

While on the face of it the song is primarily a kind of socialist manifesto of sorts – especially given the quotes used – Wire said that the song was actually about the band themselves, which might be reflected in lines like “we’re the only thing left to believe in” (the political interpretation holds that “we” means the general public, as opposed to political parties or movements). Still another theory could be that the band is about the band’s fans or the outside world in general. A couple of lines delivered venomously by Bradfield (“our love is unconditional…”) bring to mind [A20] ‘You Love Us’, which is in a similar vein.

The decision to use the Cuban flag on the cover of the ‘Masses’ single is an interesting one which hints at events still to come. Cuba would be a significant theme during the then-forthcoming Know Your Enemy era, which would see the band release a song specifically about that country and its relationship with the US ([T139] ‘Baby Elian’) and indeed play an infamous gig in Havana.

‘Masses’ was released less than two weeks after the Manics’ momentous “Manic Millenium” show at Cardiff Millennium Stadium on December 31st 1999, during which thousands of fans saw in the new millennium as the band played. The show was the largest indoor music event in the world that night, and combined with the success of ‘Masses’ reaching #1 it cemented the band’s status. It could in fact be argued that these two events represent the absolute apex of Manic Street Preachers in terms of their scope and reach.

Oddly, no “proper” video was made to support this single. Instead, live footage from the Millenium show was used, directed by Chris D’Adda.

Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“our love is unconditional / our hate is yours to feed upon”

Opening Quote
The country was founded on the principle that the primary role of government is to protect property from the majority… and so it remains.
Noam Chomsky, American liberal activist and linguist (1928 -)

Closing Quote
The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown.
From The Rebel by French-Algerian writer and philosopher Albert Camus (spoken by James Dean Bradfield)

Video
‘The Masses Against the Classes’ Live at Manic Millenium

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