Happy 20th Anniversary, Six (Mansun)

It feels like only yesterday that this album came out. But it wasn't! Let's wish a very happy 20th anniversary to Mansun's Six, and revisit just what makes this such a special record.

Mansun was not a band that liked to play by the rules. On their audacious second record Six, the band turned breaking rules into an art form. As with the band's debut record, Attack of The Grey LanternSix was not your inoffensive, run-of-the-mill record full of three-minute songs with catchy choruses and the feel-good appeal of an anthem or two. But Six took things even further than its predecessor had, pushed even more envelopes.

This is a record that my teenage mind adored but really didn't know how to process, and it's a record that is still blowing my mind twenty years later. Unlike many records, Six has only gotten better with age. It still has the ability to surprise. As many times as I've listened to this record, there's always something new to hear, a subtle sound or a lyrical nuance/barb I hadn't quite noticed before.

Released in September of 1998 in the UK and April of 1999 in the US, Six was unlike anything any of Mansun's peers were doing. Case in point, the album's first track, the expansive and sinuous clamor that is "Six," clocks in at just a whisker over eight minutes long. Epic compositions were the rule on Six. Everything about this record is a sort of antithesis to pop music, a middle finger to chart position jockeying and the vapid carousel of hit singles that came from fair to middling records. This is a concept record, in a big way, though the conceptualizing comes across as, shall we say, a little on the nebulous side. But whether the band was taking their inspiration from Winnie the Pooh, Brian Jones, The Prisoner, Dr. Who, or any of the many other touchstones, the result was (and is) pure magic.

There's more than a little of the fantastical to this proggy treasure trove. The guest turn by the pied piper of the Dr. Who franchise Tom Baker is only a fraction of what leads down this startling sonic rabbithole. It's an album that at times is rather bombastic, at times ridiculous, but is constantly dynamic and full of the unexpected. Each song stands solid on its own, but the sum of these parts is incredibly impressive. Over the years my favorite song/s has shifted, from the gleefully cracked looking glass, Sugar Plum Fairy-sampling "Fall Out" to the bratty buzz of "Being a Girl" to the Paul Draper falsetto-led grime of "Television" and the smokey slink of "Special/Blown In (Delete As Appropriate)." The foursome goes above and beyond from an instrumental standpoint, and I dare you to find a rock record with a better harpsichord turn than this one. As far out as the band went on Six, there's thankfully still plenty of their spiky guitar to be had.

While the album's noise itself holds plenty of deserved attention, Draper's lyrics excel on Six. Tackling anything from social conditioning, religion, the banality of modern life as a whole, and more besides, Draper's biting sneer is constant both lyrically and vocally, tongue-in-cheek in varying degrees. At times Draper's withering tones are self-deprecating, proving not even the creator is safe from his own vitriolic creations.

Six is a brazen, unapologetic, incredibly special record. Six also isn't a record for everyone. It's a hell of an acquired taste, and it's sometimes challenging to listen to, perhaps especially so if you're unfamiliar with Mansun's style. But hand on heart, it's without question one of the best records I've ever heard, and it might even turn out to be one of the best records ever made.

[posted 12.31.18]


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