Mansun – Attack of the Grey Lantern (21st Anniversary Remastered Edition)

Posted: 8 May 2018 in Albums
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KSCOPE – 8th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mansun’s Six stands as one of my favourite albums of all time. It came at a particular time of life and in an era where anything remotely proggy was so out of vogue that it was amazing a major label would even release it. While not nearly as outré by comparison, it’s predecessor and the band’s debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern was a long way out of step with the rest of the indie / Britpop scene. It probably achieved success – and a reputation which has endured remarkably, as this reissue which marks its twenty-first anniversary attests – because of its idiosyncratic nature, rather than in spite of it. Its hitting the top of the charts seems as remarkable now as it did then: it’s a mixed-bag mish-mash of ideas, an oddball half-attempt at a concept album that collects a bunch of singles / EP lead tracks with material that was penned specifically for the all-important debut album. It shouldn’t work. It should never have worked.

It perhaps goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this is very much one for the fans, and lovely as it is, does come with a whiff of cash-in, especially as it’s not even the first reissue the album’s been subject to. You may be forgiven for thinking the 2010 3-disc ‘collector’s edition’, which gathered all of the B-sides from the various attendant EPs and a bundle of acoustic versions, etc., had it more than covered, especially in the wake of the 2004 3-disc retrospective Kleptomania did a fair job of gathering EP B-sides and rarities alongside the material tat had been in development for the band’s fourth album, which was abandoned prior to completion.

Having kept Six on (albeit infrequent) rotation over the last (mumble) years (being inundated with material for review means I often struggle to find time to listen to my own collection. This has, over time, created a strange separation between music for work and music for pleasure, despite the fact the two very often become one and the same. I would also add that not only have I developed an unquenchable thirst for the new, but my difficult relationship with notions of nostalgia often keeps me away from the albums I played the grooves off in my more formative years, not necessarily because they’re painful or even because they’ve dated, but because they’ve become so ingrained in my psyche, I don’t actually need to hear them for them to be floating around in my head on spontaneous recall), I only revisited Attack of the Grey Lantern a few months back for the first time in a good five years.

From the bond-inspired string intro to ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’ through the brash indie-pop of ‘Egg-Shaped Fred’ to the instant classic that was ‘Wide Open Space’, it still stands up as a great album. The aching, soaring strings and unusual arrangements set something of a template, and if the rolling piano and orchestral layers of ‘Dark Mavis’ sound somewhat cliché in 2018, it’s important to remember that songs simply didn’t sound like this in 97 – and in terms of execution, they remain leagues above of those who attempted to emulate them. It was all in the extraneous and sometimes quite unusual details, the quirks and kinks that Mansun showed themselves to be different.

Did it need remastering? Listening to an MP3 promo doesn’t reveal a world of difference from the original. And that’s ok: there wasn’t anything wrong with the original. It just means that the remastered aspect is perhaps less of a purchase incentive than the additional unreleased material.

The demos are interesting: the drum-machine led version of ‘Dark Mavis’, which borders on goth stands as one of the most ‘in progress’ recordings, although many aren’t radically different from the final versions beyond being a bit rougher. As for the radio sessions… going back to the band’s October 95 Peel session proves informative, and contextualises the ban’s evolution, as well as demonstrating just how rapidly they developed from brash, bratty indie into a different kind of beast altogether. Draper’s at his most nasal and whoopy on ‘Skin Up Pin Up’ and melodic signatures which would resurface in later songs are evident here. Songs like ‘Naked Twister’ are delivered in classic session style – recorded quickly, they’re less polished but more direct than their official studio counterparts. And then there’s the fourth disc, the DVD…

With 21 years elapsed, the timing feels right, and seeing Paul Draper’s solo return being positively received, there’s a sense that the Mansun revival is well under way, and deservedly so. This, however, is unlikely to win any new converts: the mere cost and overwhelming volume of material on a four-disc version of an album is simply beyond the casually interested or the passing fan. Whether it’s satisfying a need or milking the existing fan-base I wouldn’t like to say, but as reissues go, this one is at least comprehensive and well-assembled.

AA

Mansun - Attack

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