The Greatest Bands of All Time: Mansun j k
The Greatest Bands of All Time: Mansun
How can a four-peice band from Chester, England whose three albums were released over the course of four years before they silently disappeared into the midnight be considered one of the greatest bands of all time? Such a question can be raised only by those who never heard or understood the bands story--and more importantly--their music. Mansun is a tale of success, self-sabotage and ultimate failure woven through approx. three hours of beautiful, ambitious, original, daring, pretentious music.
An Unexpected Rise to Short-Lived Fame
It all began in 1997 with the release of Mansun's debut album, Attack of the Grey Lantern. It shot straight to the UK number 1 spot knocking down Blur's self-titled album - a band which was at their peak at the time. It was praised by critics, fans and other British bands - Radiohead were quoted as saying that the album was "a real musical achievement". And that it was. In a time when Brit-pop was all the rage, Mansun came in with something completely different and were actually a great success in every way imaginable. From the haunting and harmonious orchestrations of the album opener "The Chad Who Loved Me" to the fantastically ambitious 9-minute epic "Dark Mavis", Attack of the Grey Lantern never ceased to offer something new and unique to the listener at every turn. It didn't matter if it was a stroke of pop genius that was "Wide Open Space" or a rock-anthem-turned-club-banger "Taxloss".
Mansun also showcased their lyrical genius. Attack of the Grey Lantern is somewhat of a concept album with re-appearing characters such as the mysterious Mavis, it also contains jabs directed at faith and religion. "Stripper Vicar" revolves around Paul Draper (vocals, lead guitar) writing a series of letters to Mavis discussing their local vicar and his publically unknown weakness ('Should we lie while he's still alive? Cause when the vicar strips, he gets away with it'). The topic is further addressed in "Dark Mavis" ('His tights are nylon, his nails by Revlon, he's got high heels on...and his flock don't care now').
The Fall From Grace and Why It Couldn't Have Gone Any Other Way
Only a year later, Mansun released their sophomore effort, Six. By this time, the band already had a reputation of changing musical styIes as fast as changing their image. Their live performances were drastically different from anything recorded in the studio and they regularly changed outfits. In the wake of the Six review, NME put the band on the cover with the headline - Mansun: The Changing Men - Who Do They Think They Are Now? This time, Mansun weren't critical darlings, Six was dismissed as being a prog rock mess. What they missed was its sheer and utter brilliance. It's certainly not in any way accessible nor does it ever attempt to be. Whereas Attack of the Grey Lantern treated the listener with something new with every track, Six did it almost every minute or two for over an hour. Songs like "Six", "Shotgun" and "Cancer" literally changed direction and styIe multiple times. "Cancer", in particular, goes on for 9 minutes and changes as often as six times ranging from loud, repetetive guitar riffs, mellow singing to a piano solo. The albums' lyrics are extremely self-aware and pretentious with "Cancer" once again being the prime example ('I'm emotionally raped by Jesus...what now of my faith? Just a desperate exercise to limit pain...uninformed, you have harboured those who nurtured Europe's war').
The remarkable thing is, with all its extremes - it works. Only a handful recognized its excellence. Six made critics and the mainstream fall out of love with Mansun and Mansun wouldn't have had it any other way. On "Special/Blown It", Draper prophetically notes 'Just one more Greatest Hits Tour for the devotees, the same old faces came, they loved their Summer spectaculars...they could've bought me a brand new car and a house in France...I've really blown it now, blew it all away on a whim...I could've been somebody special' which does nothing but indicate that Six was, in fact, a deliberate attempt of a commercial and critical sabotage. Remarkably, the song is followed by another painfully prophetic affair - "Legacy" ('I wouldn't care if I was washed up tomorrow, you see...I feel so drained, my legacy...a sea of faces just like me...nobody cares when you're gone'). In a yet another prophetic take, "Legacy" truly turned out to be Mansun's biggest legacy, it is by far their best song and one of the best songs I've ever heard.
A Time To Say Goodbye
Two years later, after a hard creative and recording process, the band released their third and final album, Little Kix. Of course, they did a complete 180 yet again, this time going in a straight pop/rock direction. The result wasn't nearly as amazing as their first two efforts and despite a few truly superb tracks ("I Can Only Disappoint U", "Electric Man", "Until The Next Life"...), it was a merely "good" Mansun album. It was a critical and commercial disaster. The closing song of the album is entitled "Goodbye".
Mansun probably remained nothing but a brief encounter or a complete unknown for the vast majority of people, but for me, it's one of the most interesting and amazing stories in music. Their music marked my teenage years unlike any other band and for that they will have my eternal adoration and gratitude. They may be long gone, but as long as the sounds created by their genius keeps blarring from my stereo, they will live on.
Thank you for reading.