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Compilation of underrated band
on 11 November 2006
Appearing in the mid 1990s with debut single `Take It Easy Chicken', Mansun were a bit confusing. They said they couldn't play properly, though had a fine songwriter in the form of Paul Draper. They changed their image more often than Girls Aloud, dressing like Oasis one minute, Manic Street Preachers pre-EMG the next. They had a number one album one year and seemed forgotten the next - suggesting that `Six' is their `Wilder' and that they might have been the Teardrop Explodes of their age? A recent feature in Uncut magazine suggests a somewhat traumatic existence centring on illness, addictions, financial irregularities and related traumas. A canny publisher might contact Mr Draper as there sounds to me material worthy of `Diary of a Rock'N'Roll Star' and `Head On/Repossessed' there. Mansun were confusing, and this compilation probably details why.
This is a two disc set, the second a DVD-themed collection that includes the great `Nobody Cares When You're Gone' - but I'll focus on the 17 track best of. We open not far from the end with the catchy `I Can Only Disappoint U' which sounds pretty darn fine now and has made me return to `Little Kix' with my tail between my legs - like Scritti Politti's `Anomie & Bonhomie' it's an album I dismissed at the time on a listen or two. What was I thinking? Why was I thinking that? Their best known song and one that everyone seems to like is next - the super `Wide Open Space' which samples the late ODB and is the kind of record folk probably wish that Radiohead would make.
There was much more to Mansun than that, as suggested by the string-laden `The Chad Who Loved Me' from debut `Attack of the Grey Lantern' (I'd have probably included `Mansun's Only Love Song' too). `Grey Lantern' did include `Egg Shaped Fred' (from `One'), 1996's `Stripper Vicar', 1997's anthemic `She Makes My Nose Bleed', and `Taxman'-nodding `Taxloss' too. I wonder if we have too many tracks from that source, when we could have had something like `Flourella' or `Railings' instead? `Taxloss' is an odd one, starting off as a post-modern Beatles allusion and drifting into Moroder-electronica, one example of band who were many things...
The debut single and later lead track on `Two' `Take It Easy Chicken' is thoughtfully included, one that the hardcore Mansun fans who contributed suggestions for the `Kleptomania' box-set and campaigned to get the fourth album released will be happy to see included. Equally pleasant to hear the downbeat `Closed for Business' present, though I'd have definitely included that same e.p.'s `Everyone Must Win' (like `Railings' co-written with Howard Devoto) and the anthemic `The World's Still Open' (how wasn't that the lead track? Were the band being wilfully obtuse?).
Mansun then shifted up a gear or two and Draper set about his masterpiece - this was the album known as `Six' that has a very devoted reputation on here (look at the reviews), but has been venomously dismissed by others in the same manner as early Genesis. It appears that Draper was removed from the producer's role around this time, so his vision of an avant-pop-prog masterpiece didn't come to fruition. Despite the fact `Six' pretty much wiped out their commercial career, as the critical knives came out more frequently, it contained three supreme pop singles in the form of `Legacy' (as great as early Bunnymen), the muscular glam-stomp `Being a Girl', and the remodelled version of `Six' by Arthur Baker. All splendid stuff, though I would point you to joys on that record that aren't here, e.g. `Cancer', `Television', `Special/Blown It.' Am still not sure about `Negative' though!
`Legacy' is a pretty fine single disc reminder of Mansun's, er, legacy - the version with the DVD is even better. A much maligned and underrated act who were nodding to post punk like Joy Division, Killing Joke & Magazine before bands like Editors and Interpol. They changed their look every few weeks. They were named after an early Verve song. Their back catalogue is quite cheap to pick up and well worth doing so. Like Dog Man Star-Suede & Ultrasound they were nodding towards the better side of prog, and their OTT directions must have influenced stuff like Muse. Mansun sound like a bit of a disaster, but amid all that, they were relentless and often on target. This compilation is a reminder, Mr Draper's solo career awaits - here's to a comeback of sorts...