Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Good Ship Rediscovery: Mansun - Attack of the Grey Lantern

We all forget about the older stuff from time to time, in our quest to stay up to speed with the latest and greatest. But one should always respect their elders. So don’t forget about them, y’hear?

I fell in love with Chester, England's Mansun many, many years ago. At the time, I was obsessively, compulsively, unstoppably digesting anything and everything Brit in music that I could get my hands on, and studiously devoured the pages of my favorite music mags every month, in an effort to keep up with the latest music from across the Atlantic. For a while, the foursome enjoyed the benefits of being critical darlings, this first record of theirs, Attack of the Grey Lantern, nabbed them plenty of attention from the music press, and I lapped up feature after feature on the boys with the frilly shirts and kohl-lined eyes. It is important to note, boys, that a boy in frills to this day gives me no shortage of thrills.

Attack of the Grey Lantern was, and is, like nothing I've really heard before. I've said it before, but I believe Mansun was leaps and bounds ahead of their time. They seem to have been inspired by anything and everything, the kookiness of Brian Eno's classic Here Come The Warm Jets, the deft creation of caricatures that The Kinks did so well, the over-the-top theatrics of T. Rex and, naturally, David Bowie. Across the record is an air of something sinister, the curl of a lip hovering somewhere between a smile and a snarl, a nasty glint in the eye. With Mansun, something wicked this way came indeed.

Opening track "The Chad Who Loved Me" begins rather bombastically, with a fanciful sweep of strings giving way to the rich lull of guitar as played by lead Mansunite Paul Draper and Dominic Chad, Draper's creative foil, a man I'm still convinced is one of the best British guitar players ever. Second song "Wide Open Space" was their "hit," if you will, the one that got them noticed enough to get on MTV's 120 Minutes once upon a time. It's a catchy as hell, poppified terrible song, full as are most Mansun songs of Draper's anxieties and neuroses and given a glossy coating to make the pill easy to swallow. Draper's slightly nasal yet warm tones give the perfect dramatic air to his lyrics. The band wasn't above a little campiness, as evidenced by the silly titles "She Makes My Nose Bleed" and "Mansun's Only Love Song," to name just a couple.

An all-time favorite, for now and ever, is the divine "Take It Easy, Chicken," featuring a Stone Roses jangle gone dark in the guitar riffage and Draper's nasality shining through in rare form. "Mansun's Only Love Song" is a little sonically ostentatious, sweeping and more than a little melodramatic. The epic "Taxloss" is both amusing and impressive, with those subtle jabs at modern British life working well with the large scale of the band's instrumentation. Draper's vocals get a little Mott The Hoople, and to me that's never a bad thing. "Come back to me/we want your money," Draper sings cynically in the seven-minute monument to the 90s. "Just remember that we said we deliver," and that the band certainly does.

I listened to this album so much that I'm lucky if the CD plays properly these days. For those of you who enjoyed the second installment of the British Invasion but missed Mansun, I'd advise you to make things right. While the band is sadly no longer with us (which still makes my heart ache), at least one member (the splendiforous Paul Draper) is still recording.

m4a: Wide Open Space (Mansun from Attack of the Grey Lantern)

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