In 1997, as Oasis’ gluttonous Be Here Now euthanised Britpop, a mutation occurred in the UK rock gene that has since yielded great things. Two events signalled that leery lad anthems and Wellerdom were to take a back seat in favour of art, perversity and tension. Radiohead’s OK Computer was one. Attack Of The Grey Lantern knocking Blur off the top of the charts was the other.
It’s hard to pick what was strangest about Mansun. Was it the chain of frantic, over-cooked EPs that preceded AOTGL? Maybe it was the lyrics about cross-dressing vicars, small-town deviants and the smut behind kitchen-sink England. And what the feck was this precocious mix of glam, goth and groove doing on a debut (a concept album if you don’t mind) by a bunch of nobodies from the UK’s armpit? The Beatles were an influence, but so were The Bee Gees, Prince and The Carpenters (or so they told us). Nevertheless, bombast and weirdness may be two-a-penny in today’s rock charts, but in 1997 it was only to be mocked, and Mansun’s bravery remains unsung by a music press who chose to throw stones at them for not fitting in. This re-release – including extra discs of B-sides and rarities – may go some way to addressing this injustice.
In 2010, AOTGL resounds with relevance and weight. There’s no doubting that the quartet’s embrace of rock’s absurdities – concept albums, segueing, silly song titles – was leader Paul Draper’s artistic defence mechanism. In him, they had a dark-hearted pop writer, able to bleed swooping classicalisms (glorious opener -The Chad Who Loved Me’) into icy smoothness (-Mansun’s Only Love Song’) and on to hard-nosed, arena-courting rock (the evergreen -Wide Open Space’). Elsewhere, -Disgusting’ layers clacking drumsticks over washes of synth and Draper’s softly spat accusations (‘You’ve been disgraceful / it’s so regretful’). Melodically, it’s as strong as pop gets, but then Dominic Chad’s acrobatic guitar will haunt the ominous fringes alongside sequencers and samples. Hard to categorise, let alone describe, even all these years later.
The release of the progged-up Six in 1998 was proof Mansun were as talented and exciting as they were awkward and detached. Band relations disintegrated and they split in 2003. But they’ll always have AOTGL. Like Television, they seemed to hover in when they were most needed, drop an essential record down to us earthlings before crash-landing spectacularly.