Mansun - Six (21st anniversary edition) - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mansun - Six (21st anniversary edition)

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2019-03-22
Mansun - Six (21st anniversary edition)
Mansun - Six (21st anniversary edition)

Mansun’s debut album caused quite a stir back in the heady days of ‘97; knocking Blur’s self-titled LP off the top of the UK album chart and establishing a solid fan base for the Chester birthed alt-rock alchemists. Attack of the Grey Lantern was a stunning debut but it was the ‘98 follow-up, Six, that transformed them into a genuine cult.

“Life is a compromise anyway” sung vocalist/guitarist Paul Draper on the albums 8-minute title track. Yet Six was, and still is, the sound of a band playing without compromise. Willingly throwing themselves down the rabbit hole. Of course, some people will still insist it’s a load of nonsense but that’s exactly what’s great about it. You can’t sit on the fence when it comes to Six.

Everything about the album seems purpose-built to encourage adoration and obsessiveness in equal measure. Referencing everything from Winnie the Pooh to 60’s cult TV series The Prisoner via the Marquis de Sade, Karl Marx, and Stanley Kubrick. Some of the themes mirrored beautifully in Max Schindler’s iconic cover art.

The music contained within is expansive, experimental and completely out of its tree. The band's musicianship had, undeniably, gone to the next level; spine-tingling solos, bizarre song structures, and many an unexpected gear-change. It was the tail end of the nineties, Britpop was drifting into the rearview mirror and Mansun had gone and made a prog-rock album.

An album so densely packed with references, philosophy, and existential angst that it’s a wonder it all slips down quite as well as it does. Yes, Six may very well be a prog-come-concept album but it’s also thoroughly engaging from beginning-to-end.

Every seemingly crazy idea is fully explored, the gamble paying off again-and-again. I mean just listen as they rework Tchaikovsky's ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ during the fantastic ‘Fall Out’ or as Tom Baker (yes, Doctor Who) delivers a spoken-word monologue over a harpsichord melody and an opera singer during the haunting ‘Witness to a Murder’.

I wouldn’t take anything away; the whole thing stands incredibly well as a complete listening experience. Sure it’s a pretty indulgent album but that’s why it feels so satisfying. Just don’t get me started on the heavily edited/ butchered US release.

If you want to know just how far Mansun travelled from the prevailing winds of Britpop, just have a listen ‘Cancer’. Over nearly 10 minutes the band goes through heavy, furiously played riffs, a short and surreal Beatles-esque interlude, sparse piano-led melancholy and widescreen sprawl. The lyrics an exploration of religious scepticism and identity. Scathing, soul searching and quite unlike anything else. Dominic Chad’s guitar and Draper’s unmistakable voice soaring throughout. I’ve got shivers just thinking about how great it is.

As every true devotee knows reissues are, for long term fans, all about the extras. So what can you expect from the bonus material? There are a number of different formats being released but the 4 disc CD Deluxe Edition comes with a disc of rarities, demos, and outtakes, a disc of B-sides called The Dead Flowers Reject and a DVD with a surround sound mix of the album and all the promo videos.

The rarities disc consists of alternate versions/takes and some interesting curios that ended up on the cutting room floor. ‘Bobblehat’ and ‘Cancer (Take 2)’ show how the songs evolved; the former an alternate version of ‘Inverse Midas’ with Chad on lead vocals. There’s an untitled cut from Chad’s never-released solo album and a little bit more Tom Baker (which can only be a good thing). The disc has something of a fans-only vibe but if you’re a fully paid up Mansun obsessive like me it’s a welcome peak behind the creative curtain.

Mansun always were an incredibly strong singles/ EP’s band so The Dead Flowers Reject is a rather satisfying listen. If you bought Kleptomania or the original EP’s then you’ll recognise the tracks but if you haven’t heard the dark splendour of ‘I Care’, the beautiful ‘When the Wind Blows’ or the Howard Devoto co-written oddity ‘Railings’ then you’re in for a treat.

After the glory and madness of Six the band, under pressure from the label, released the confusingly disappointing Little Kix. Then there’s the posthumously released Kleptomania, Draper's triumphant return as a solo artist and the subsequent tour of Mansun’s debut album Attack of the Grey Lantern with Draper’s new band.

Draper also plans to take Six out on tour too - “one more Greatest Hits tour for the devotees”. Excited doesn’t begin to cover it. But that, as they say, is a story for another time. For now, let’s hear it one more time for Six; one of the most ambitious, exciting and original albums of the nineties. “Nobody cares when you’re gone” goes the chorus to ‘Legacy’. I beg to differ.

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