on 15 October 2005
I'm not overly familiar with the entire creative output of Mansun - save for a few singles that have stuck in my mind from the final days of Britpop - but this particular album is one that I know quite well, and is a record that probably should be listed amongst the most interesting indie-pop/rock albums of the 1990's. It's certainly a major departure from the sound of certain other indie acts of the era, particularly bands like The Verve, Blur and Oasis, with the sound of Six owning more to Radiohead's classic album OK Computer... and, to a lesser extent, the records they released thereafter. It also nods to the sound of the seventies and eighties too, with Bowie style glam-rock references (in the guitar playing and the way in which the vocals have been treated), Pink Floyd style progression (lots of longer songs that seem to have different parts and sequences) and a post-punk-Magazine-style noise (the sense of attitude and the song-themes that never become entirely clear) all cropping up within the mire of disparate musical ideas.
As a conceptual piece it's a definite epic, both in terms of sound and content, and is a record that seems to have been somewhat lost within the recent shuffle of 90's indie-rock (...albums like Definitely Maybe, Common People and The Great Escape become unarguable classics, whilst albums like New Wave, Promenade, Seamonsters and England Made Me drift off into the background. Why?). Like those albums, Six deserves to be mentioned more often, as it best illustrates what happens when a band gets bored with the generic and decide to take a few risks... resulting in a number of songs that seem to mutate from minute to minute in the possible hope of destroying everything the previous incarnation of the band had stood for.
Many of the songs here start off as straight rock, before surging ahead into unexplored realms of sound and rhythm. As a result of this, most songs are really two or three songs merged together, with the eight minute opening title-track beginning with a subtle burst of piano, before moving off into something heavier... only to pull back again into a stuttering alien-like burst of processed noise. Many songs follow the same blueprint, but never to the point where the whole thing becomes predictable... so, just when you think you've got an aural pattern worked out, suddenly a juddering guitar solo will come in, or a burst of drum and bass, or a soundtrack reference, or a nursery rhyme motif... all set to disarm the listener and prove to us that this is a record that demands our attention. Further more, the album is broken up into two parts, with an interlude (Witness to a Murder - Part Two) that incorporates classical piano scales, operatic vocals and a monologue recited by former Dr. Who/Little Britain narrator, Tom Baker. So, is there a concept then? Well, perhaps... although nothing is clear; the album works in a similar way to the abovementioned Radiohead classic, with the band here returning to various ideas and themes throughout (there seems to be an obsession with the media, pop-culture, religion, biology and social preconceptions...but that's perhaps just my interpretation), without feeling the need to bludgeon the listener with an overall message.
Thus, this is an album that is as much about great song writing as it is about great ideas, arrangements and production. So, for all the bold experiments in texture and rhythm that we find in songs like Six, Anti-Everything, Cancer, Witness to a Murder and Television, we also get some gorgeous stuff like Negative, Special/Blown It, Legacy and the sort of hit single, Being a Girl (...which reminds me of the Police and XTC almost as much as it reminds me of recent bands like Razorlight and Mansun contemporaries The Manics). I suppose there's a hint of Talk Talk about it as well... with the notion of Mansun, then a successful new band with a top-selling debut, venturing off into their own private world and returning with an album that not a lot of people knew how to assess (much like the way Talk Talk's It's My Life ended up mutating into the loose improvised rock of The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock).
Mansun, sadly, never really advanced on the sound of Six, instead choosing to return to the sound of their debut on third and final album (not counting the posthumous release in 2003), Little Kix. So, we have an epic and, to some extent, impentratable rock/pop/god-knows-what? mish-mash of ideas to claw through and explore, with lead-singer and lyricist Paul Draper offering up a labyrinthine collection of songs dealing with all sorts of issues, from the influence of television, to death and murder, and beyond, with one song even name-checking Winnie the Pooh, whilst another track features the great conspiratorial lyric "...did Stanley Kubrick fake-it with the moon?".
The instrumental arrangements throughout are fantastic, epic and highly original, with lead guitarist Dominic Chad showing a great deal of versatility in his playing, which is equally as good as the bass-work of Stove King and the percussion of Andie Rathbone. I suppose some might argue that the album tries to take in too much, with long and complicated song arrangements and purposely vague lyrics that point towards social philosophy (to an extent), though for me, it's justified, as the whole album hangs together exceedingly well, and never becomes as pretentious as that Marilion-inspired art work might suggest (...have fun spotting the references to Doctor Who, the Prisoner, Peter Greenaway, et al).