Somewhere at the arse end of Britpop, where record labels and the bigger bands had either lost the plot or were rapidly evolving to avoid the Britpop tag, there were some truly great albums released in that fag end; ‘Urban Hymns’ by The Verve or ‘Be Here Now’ by Oasis captured the decline of the Britpop years beautifully, while Radiohead’s ‘Ok, Computer’ set the controls for the heart of the sun. Meanwhile four-piece Mansun, who were lumped, unfairly to my ears, into the whole Britpop scene (well, they were British, and they made music!) took the top of the charts with ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’.
Despite the strength of the follow up ‘Six’, as well as ‘Little Kixx’, the band folded amidst much acrimony, leaving behind a collection of albums that, if you were there you’d get, if you weren’t then you would be amazed that you hadn’t heard them before.
Now signed to Kscope for his debut album and having achieved critical acclaim for his come-back and his tour supporting Steven Wilson, original Mansun frontman Paul Draper recently toured the UK selling out venues performing ‘Attack…’ in it’s entirety for the first time.
With the Mansun back catalogue now on Kscope, they have brought out a luxurious 21st anniversary edition. This pulls together demo’s, live tracks, unreleased material and, the holiest of holies, a shiny new 5.1 mix of the album.
Back in 2010 when the rights were held by EMI, they produced a triple disc edition of the album and while, inevitably, there is some cross over, the demo’s and 5.1 mix make this new package as attractive to new fans and older ones who want to relive their youth.
Astonishingly there are people buying music today who weren’t even born when this album appeared, and doesn’t that make me feel old?
Starting out as a concept about a superhero, The Grey Lantern, the band admitted there weren’t quite enough songs to complete the concept, but it doesn’t matter when the material on here is of such quality and style.
Anyone unfamiliar with the original album won’t know how it starts with the best Bond theme there never was, the dramatic string laden and powerful The Chad Who Loved Me, before leading into the sardonically titled Mansun’s Only Love Song (this quirky sense of humour and self-deprecation was to be a trade mark of the band) and, while they were put into the Britpop box, there was always more going on musically, as the brilliantly Beatles inspired, and pure festival singalong, Taxlo$$ proved. There were the brilliant single releases like the epic Wide Open Space and Stripper Vicar, the former being an absolute musical epic, and the latter being a very English piece of musical high-farce which could only have been made by an English band.
With a closing quartet of songs, She Makes my Nose Bleed, Naked Twister, Egg Shaped Fred and Dark Mavis, there is no bad track on this album. It is one of those organically produced records from the golden age of CDs where the sequence is everything and the album must be listened to in its entirety. This is no collection of songs to stream or put on as background, this is an album as art and, as such, is full of class, heart and soul.
Which is why it is perfect for the 5.1 treatment. There was always plenty going on musically with Mansun and the 5.1 mix enhances and expands this, giving the tracks real wide open space to breath. This makes it a completely immersive experience, taking it all back to listening to albums as they were meant to be listened to, you, a room and the sounds taking them over.
The fact that Mansun were so obviously head and shoulders above most of the Britpop crowd means they were more on a par with Pulp than Oasis, in that they have made timeless, classy intelligent rock music, music that wasn’t afraid to be a bit different from the norm. Listening back now it’s hard to imagine that if Mansun appeared from nowhere and released this today that it would get to number one. While it is easier to access music today, I have a suspicion that, looking at the demographic of the record buying youth 21 years ago, they were probably more accepting to trying something slightly different than the youth of today. So different, in fact, that they let, and actively encouraged Radiohead and Mansun to get away with blatant prog right under their noses in the depths of Britpop, the cheeky little scamps!
After seeing Paul Draper perform ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ live (a gig I’d only been waiting to see for 21 years) my interest in all things Mansun has been rekindled and, as Kscope have the full back catalogue, it appears that the follow up to ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’, the even more astonishing and out there ‘Six’, is being readied for 5.1.
If ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ was the gateway drug, ‘Six’ is where we hit the hard stuff. With Paul Draper promising to perform it in it’s entirety live next year, well, I am already eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Mansun story and, after immersing yourself in this well made, and well remastered set (the new mixes sound sublime and are really sympathetic to the original album) you will be too.
(As a note for those of you who aren’t into 5.1, there is a standard edition available as well, shiny and remastered for your pleasure.)
Released 8th June 2018
Band pictures by Pennie Smith.