Mansun, or why I want you to listen to my favourite band   Leave a comment

Mansun. It’s a name that I always need to pronounce very specifically, otherwise people think I’m saying “Manson” and that I’m referring to Marilyn Manson. But behind this slightly annoying recipe for confusion lies my absolute favourite band throughout my entire life. And I’d like it if you checked them out too.

Now, I guess that the obvious thing for me to do is to request that you listen to the songs of this English band. Well, in that case, you should start with the full album Attack of the Grey Lantern, from beginning to end. Because while not initially seeming like a full concept album, there are things here and there that shows that these songs are most certainly put together in a certain order for maximum effect, and that there is a thread holding it all together, if you know where to look.

Each song mostly talks about different persons, whether obviously or more subtly referred to in the lyrics.  The vocalist Paul Draper once described the songs as “small town weirdo observations”, although it’s clear that most of the time, what he’s really doing, is talking about the passions of these small town “weirdoes”. As such, passion is the main concept of the album.

If you’re not prepared to listen to an entire album right away, then go with the song Stripper Vicar, a song that tells a story (in the forms of two letters being sent, a nice touch there) about a vicar that works part-time as a cross-dressing stripper in a nightclub. The “letter writer” is torn whether or not he should tell the cardinals about this sin, or whether he should tell the vicar to go for it and become a professional full-time stripper.

Not only is that song an embodiment of the album’s concept of passion, but I have never in my life liked the song lyrics more than I like the lyrics of this song, and I’m saying this more than 16 years after first listening to it. In particular, this little rhyme here is one of those things that are so simple that it had to have been written by a very intelligent person:

And he’s making wine from water
While he dresses like his daughter

Pure poetry.

Musically, the album is fairly consistent with a distinct sound that is mostly pleasing to listen to, with maybe the one low point being the last main song, Dark Mavis. While providing a nice alternate universe ending to Stripper Vicar where the vicar is accepted by his flock, it still feels a bit slow and sluggish compared to the rest of the album, with an ending that is rather Beatles-like, more the shame.

Apart from that, there aren’t many points where one particular part of the band strikes out, it’s more like they are working to making the whole of the sound flow together. Perhaps the main distinguishing feature is the quite flexible vocals of Paul Draper. And the lyrics, of course.

After this somewhat strange, yet fairly available music, Mansun then went on to make my absolute favourite album of all times: Six. I love Six to pieces, and have done so ever since I bought the album for a mere two dollars back in 2000. However, this album is not nearly as available as Attack of the Grey Lantern. Indeed, when I first listened to this album as a whole, I turned it on, and then 70 minutes later, I was all “What the hell just happened?” over and over again.

Because Six is an album that will wring your ears and your brains inside out, and I’ve described it for over a decade as “An album with 13 songs and 30 scores”, as they tend to change the score midstyle from one to four times, and use scores that was only merely hinted at in one song as the main basis for one of the other songs. Four of the songs have recognisable choruses, and even then, one of the song’s choruses are done in two different scores.

And it’s no surprise that this is so, because this album is, in all its apparent chaos, also a concept album of sorts. And if Attack of the Grey Lantern’s concept was passion, then the concept of Six is anger. If it’s not obvious from song titles like Negative, Cancer, and Blown It/Special (Delete As Appropriate); the song lyrics themselves will make sure that you’re not here to be uplifted.

And yes, that is the full title of that last song there. Choose whichever title you like the most. Says it all, doesn’t it? (I usually choose Blown It)

Going through the songs one by one, Six and Negative kicks the album with what appears to be a move away from the slightly odd Brit-rock of the first album, into something I’d describe as “melodious punk”. Already it is pretty clear that this isn’t the same thing as the debut.

And then Shotgun comes, and after an intense start, suddenly changes character completely, with lyrics that seems to be streams of conciousness. After which we get treated to a melancholic and piano-driven Inverse Midas… And then a variation of the score is immediately used again in Anti-Everything, jumping from one to the other so seamlessly, it’ll take a little while to see what’s going on here.

Before I move on, I must mention that at this point, Mansun’s drummer Andie Rathbone has already been given far more opportunity to shine than in the previous album, where he was really only noticeable in two songs. In this album, he’s clearly grown, and it shows.

Anyway, Fallout continues the trend of using several main scores, and Serotonin is short and angry… And then we get Cancer.

While I still maintain that you need to listen to the entire album at once to get the full effect, Cancer is nevertheless one of the two songs that stands apart (which is pretty damn difficult in this case). A song about loss of religion, and more importantly, about the Catholic Church as an institution; it starts out as extremely angry, lashing out with the lines

I’m emotionally raped by Jesus
I’m emotionally raped by Jesus, but I’m still here
Yeah, somehow I’m still here

This might seem quite overblown to many people, but then again, it was the time when the Catholic Churc was indeed starting to get knee-deep in their actual rape scandals. In addition to this, it was also getting clearer to the public how many of their customs and practices were, in short, emotional abuse (even without the sexual aspect to it); especially when employed against children. And being English, the author of course did put in a line about how the Vatican harboured escaping Nazis. England more than anyone never really forgave the Vatican for that.

And then, halfway through the song, after a short session that includes what can only be described as a creepy, creepy laughter, the song completely changes character (fourth time so far in the album). From aggressively angry, it suddenly turns into resigned bitterness, with a piano score that seemingly starts off as a modulated version of the main score in Wide Open Space from the previous album… Yeah, that is what we’re dealing with here. The piano score is so simple, almost sounding like tears falling on the floor, and then the guitar joins in to weep like an angel looking at humanity’s “finesst” representatives for god. Just thinking about this part is enough to give a man goosebumps. And then the song finishes by repeating the lyrics in somewhat different order, before finally ending at nine minutes.

And after this song, how can one recuperate? Well, this is Mansun, so naturally we get an interlude instead of a new song. Because of course an album needs an interlude. Except that an interlude with opera and poetry is hardly an actual respite in between the intense moments; instead it is just one more of the many moments where you will think “What the everloving fuck is going on here?”

But be that as it may, it still fits. Once you re-listen to the album, you’ll know why it’s there. Because the next song, Television, puts the intensity level back up to ten, talking about something as mundane as television watching habits; but in a way that makes it seem like much more than it is.

The next two songs, Blown It/Special (Delete as Appropriate) and Legacy, are possibly the two most accessible songs on the album. Legacy’s using one of the scores previously found in Fallout, one that is quite catchy. Heck, it even has a normal verse/chorus routine. And both of the songs basically talking about how having a bit of success doesn’t mean you’ll actually have a good life. Especially compared to how much more success you think you could have had if you’d only tried harder.

But the end is soon coming, and Being a Girl is the second stand-out song to finish it all with style. Two different verse/chorus scores, a drummer that’s being allowed to go all out, and all in all seven minutes of spine-twisting music that is fitting the album so very well.

I used to love the lyrics on this particular song, and I guess I still do; but these days, it is shown to be… how shall I put it… somewhat naïve. See, in Being a Girl, Draper sings about how he wishes to experience being a girl (of course), but not necessarily because he’s transsexual per se. Instead, it seems like he wishes this because of curiosity, and for sociological reasons, thinking about it’s better to be a girl in today’s society (that is, in the late 90s).

Now, it’s not like he’s being all MRA about it, and he’s certainly not dissing women the way the average MRA does it. Instead, I’d say it’s a very typical product of the 90s. That short period when most Western countries hilariously tried to convince us that they’d achieved full equality between the sexes, before the internet woke us up and showed us just how deep the sexism really runs. This was the time when people unironically claimed that Disney’s Aladdin was being “equal to both genders” because the female lead was allowed to say “no!” to being married to someone she didn’t, while constantly wearing a costume that was clearly a fantasy product of the animators.

But anyway, Being a Girl ends the album with quite a bang. And after it was done, I was just sitting there in the silence, wondering if I could ever listen to any music ever again. It was like Queen and David Bowie had gotten kids that were then raised on amphetamines and music. It immediately became, and still remains to this day, the album I like more than any other album in the world. How could anyone top that? How could even Mansun top that?

Short answer: They couldn’t.

See, this album that was so intense, so without any compromise, so ever-changing, so spaced out… So naturally, it didn’t sell very well. It was a “commercial suicide” in Draper’s own words. And while he wanted to go in a different direction again in the next album, the rest of the band insisted on getting an outside producer, which forced them to sound far more commercial than at least Draper wanted.

Now, Little Kix is not really a bad album in itself (though unlike the previous two, it does contain some bad songs). It certainly has highlights, in Electric Man, Love is…, and the intensely, deliberately over-the-top Soundtrack 4 2 Lovers. But it was no longer Mansun as I’d come to know them. Apart from the aforementioned highlights, the song lyrics are either overly sarcastic without really working, or seemingly giving the impression of just not caring anymore. And sometimes both. And musically, it no longer had that edge to it that was previously found. In particular, if I’d been the drummer that helped make Six, I’d feel like my talents would be wasted on Little Kix.

And the final song, Goodbye, would turn out to be prophetic, as this was the last full album of the band. Cutting off without warning, it was most likely Draper’s final “Fuck you” to the producer.

Another album was attempted to be created, but between in-group disagreements and Paul Draper being treated for cancer (he survived and still lives, by the way), the album was finally cancelled as the group broke up. Hopes of reuniting is pretty damn low, but at least they still gave me two albums that I will forever treasure.

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Posted 04/02/2016 by Emperor Norton II in Challenging myself

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