The Ian Broudie-produced Defeat Your Enemy brought out the band's varying influences in different ways, resulting in a varied record touching on everything from funk to folk. But as successful as earlier works? Yes and no. Unquestionably, the band's knack for big, uplifting but not hollow performances was still in fine flower, as the smash single "Understanding Jane" showed. A quick, fierce rocker with an instantly catchy pop vibe and a brilliant chorus, it's a '50s tearjerker filtered through the Ramones with fantastic results. Another winner is the opening cut, "Evangeline," with a lovely chorus consisting of overdubbed vocals from the band and guest singer Alison Limerick and a quick, Motown-touched rhythm supporting McNabb's powerful singing. Then there's "Up Here in the North of England," a slow, string-touched waltz winningly sung while bitterly ripping into the political state of the nation line for line. McNabb's vocals throughout the album are deeper than before, but still with the same general sense of control and projection; if anything, he was doing a better David Bowie croon than Bowie himself could do at the time. However, elsewhere the elements are in place but the performance isn't quite there. Part of this can be laid at Broudie's feet as well as the various mixers on the record, who bring things to a too commercially ready punch and sheen. Consider the arena-level pound of Sharrock's drums on "Hope Springs Eternal," where earlier his performances wouldn't need such overamping to make their impact. It's not just a technical question, though; McNabb's guitar here aims for a classic rock style that the band doesn't really need. Other songs like "When You Were Mine" bury a good song and performance with technically accomplished but cold results. In the end, Defeat Your Enemy half defeats itself, but not without some blazingly brilliant results on the way.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett