Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is Mansun's 'Attack of the Grey Lantern'.
It’s been twenty years since the release of the debut album by Mansun, one of the more overlooked, underrated and, if I’m honest, slated bands from the Brit Pop era. Although they came along at the time of Britpop, they were very much outsiders, aligning themselves more with Suede and the Manic Street Preachers than Oasis or Blur.
For a band that still couldn’t play their instruments when their debut single, Take it Easy Chicken, was being played by Steve Lamaq and John Peel, they didn’t do too badly for themselves, landing a major label record deal and getting to number one with the debut album.
What separated Mansun from their peers was the duo of singer/guitarist Paul Draper, and multi effects guitar virtuoso Dominic Chad. They were the alternative to the Gallagher brothers, less ladism, more eyeliner, less Beatles & more Prince inspiration. They didn’t write about piss ups in Greece with the boys or Digsy’s lasagne, instead Paul crafted a semi-concept album about a village full of oddball characters.
'Attack of the Grey Lantern' opens with a string laden, Bond like homage cheekily titled The Chad Who Loved Me. Like the opening lyrics, it all comes crashing down with a barrage of distorted guitars and vocals.
Each song segues into the next, with the opener melting into the tongue in cheek Mansun’s Only Love Song, where we’re first introduced to the character of Mavis. This character would be referenced throughout, notably in the catchy, early single Stripper Vicar, and the epic closing track, Dark Mavis, in which we learn that Mavis is in fact the stripping Vicar.
This may all sound daft to those who have not heard the album, but the band have the last laugh with the hidden track An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter. “The lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much. They're just a vehicle for a lovely voice” Paul and Chad harmonise over a catchy piano chord progression.
The album also provided its fair share of classic singles, with the band mostly being defined and remembered for Wide Open Space. It is probably the most straight forward song on the album and is up there with the best rock songs of the '90s. The song perfectly showcases Draper’s vocal range, he was rocking the falsetto long before Matt Bellamy came along.
The band infamously had Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford, brother of Sofia) and his film crew take the £25,000 production budget for the Taxloss promo video and chuck it at morning commuters in London’s Liverpool Street Station, filming the greed and chaos unfolding. In an interview with Dave Fanning around that time Draper admitted that he would simply walk on and not pick up a single note if he were in the same situation.
The band have a cult legacy and are sometimes looked upon in derision by the hip music media, but for anyone willing to look past the orange boiler suits, Brian Jones inspired hair and prog-rock leanings will find a great treasure in delving into 'Attack of the Grey Lantern' and its difficult, and greater follow up, 'Six'.
They were also a great inspiration to others. Without 'Attack of the Grey Lantern' we may not have had Radiohead’s Paranoid Android for instance. Radiohead were recording next door and they would listen in on each other’s progress.
Through hearing how Mansun would segueway their tracks together to make one complete work, it opened up their minds to be more adventurous with what they were doing with 'OK Computer', gluing together the various bits and pieces they had to make Paranoid Android.
Though they split in the early noughties without much fanfare, Mansun's influence quietly remains.