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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Mansun, Attack of the Grey Lantern August 11, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Mansun. Ambitious. Insanely ambitious, and one of the few groups of their type and from that era, the mid to late 1990s, that I ever had real time for – with the partial exception of the Manics and the even more partial exception of the entertainingly hapless Embrace.

It’s a funny thing musical memory. For some reason I though that their first album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, had appeared around 1995. In fact it was February 1997 before it arrived. I’ve got to admit this album is perhaps my favourite non-electronica, non-alt-country and non-metal album from that period and at the time it sounded little or nothing like anything else then around.

That they were associated with the second wave of Brit Pop and close enough by some reckonings to its demise was problematic I suspect for their future career. In fact in spirit they were most similar to the precursors to Brit Pop, the example that comes to mind is perhaps the aforementioned Manics. This left them somewhat adrift in a musical world where Oasis et al were sliding and the Spice Girls were in the ascendent. Of course it wasn’t that simple a musical equation, but Mansun were an odd band in that they seemed to straddle genres. Indie? Surely. Shoe-gaze? Here and there. Pop? Definitely.

But for a group influenced by Magazine (and later they worked with Howard Devoto), Prince and the Manics, and not necessarily in that order, that was not exactly the problem it might have been. What it did mean though was a curious tension between their ambitions which were as previously noted extravagant, and their record label which saw in them the potential to cross over to a more pop-inflected/infested part of the musical market.

Attack of the Grey Lantern was a concept album, although what precisely the concept was has always been a bit difficult to pin down. But it was an excellent album, from the strings (neatly appropriated from Bond soundtracks) on The Chad Who Loved Me, through to the propulsive near metal riff that underpins She Makes My Nose Bleed. Then there’s Taxloss which manages to reference acid house and the Beatles and the perfect mid-1990s indie of Wide Open Space (soon to be remixed and become a dance hit). One key element of their sound – and one that in many appreciations is under remarked, was the use of ambient sounds to frame tracks, something that firmly positioned them closer to post-punk than to the often leaden efforts of their peers.

The funny thing was that they managed to incorporate a wide variety of influences, from near-Take That ballads to Joy Division influenced indie without seeming contrived – at least not musically, though their videos were fairly grim (and so it must be mentioned were some of the styles of clothing and presentation they adopted, something they explained away as being in the line of one D. Bowie).

And it was their diversity that meant their output was curiously inconsistent, albeit generally fascinating. Theirs weren’t grand political statements, though Taxloss was simultaneously a sly dig against the Beatles, consumerism and music companies. Though as they said themselves ‘the lyrics don’t mean that much’. Maybe not, but that wasn’t to deny singer Paul Draper his due though his voice was perhaps an acquired taste.

Then there’s the Howard Devoto linkage. Devoto co-wrote a number of tracks with them subsequent to Attack of the Grey Lantern, and very good they were too. They followed up Attack of the Grey Lantern with another sort of concept album, the prog influenced Six which eschewed conventional song structures, and to the record labels ears, though not mine, melodies. And later their last album Little Kix saw them fall apart in spectacular fashion. I liked some bits of it a lot. Others, including IIRC a paean to U2, not so much but even still there was the sense that unlike so many of that generation of music makers they retained that ambition. It was, of course, too good to be sustained. Those three albums and a career spanning compilation – released under pressure from fans a year or two later, which also contained demos and outtakes of their final unreleased fourth album. Well that and a raft of EPs and singles and that was that. But an interesting group nonetheless who at least tried to swim against the tide.

The Chad Who Loved Me

She Makes My Nose Bleed

Wide Open Space



And an event to publicize the song…

Mansun’s Only Love Song

Wide Open Space (Perfecto Remix)

Everyone Must Win (co-written with Howard Devoto)

Railings (Demo, vocals Devoto)


1. Mr X - August 12, 2012

One of the truly underrated bands of the 90s – this was the first album I ever bought, and I was lucky enough to see them play the Ambassador, at what was (in retrospect) a fairly desultory performance in front of probably 100 people or so in mid-2002, shortly before they split up.


WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2012

I really envy you seeing them live, even in that context. I was rereading the above post and thinking ‘I’m being a bit harsh on them’ in parts.


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