Mansun - Six
(Parlophone - 1998)
By: Brett Spaceman
Think of the most pretentious, overblown and ambitious record in your collection. If it is Mansun’s ‘Six’ you’re probably in the minority (and please tell us what you think of this little re-appraisal). If, however, that warped opus passed you by you’d easily be forgiven, as there are plenty of extenuating circumstances. For instance unlike Little Britain, Tom Baker isn’t the funniest thing included here. (Six contains a monologue from televisions best loved Dr Who) Even more bizarrely you’ll find ballet, harpsichord, opera and kitchen sink thrown into this record. You just have to play it to believe it.
You just have to play it to disbelieve it.
Signed to Parlophone, Mansun were pretty hot property in the mid-90’s. There was something dark and kinky about the Chester band but also very human and loveable. Their debut album Attack Of The Grey Lantern was a UK number 1 spawning a number of hit singles, most famously Wide Open Space. If Six hadn’t happened, it’s fair to say Attack Of The Grey Lantern would have made it into the [sic] classic revisited section itself. Provocative but accessible, Attack Of The Grey Lantern is a fine body of work that easily stands up to retrospective critique. But Six did happen.
Where do we start?
The cover artwork signaled intent. Part Avengers, part Marillion, its lavish sleeve painting is adorned with all manner of tiny clues – Pooh bear, The Prisoner, (number six of course) Dr Who…The whole 24 panel inlay looked deranged, expensive and oh so very beautiful. I could say the same about the music.
Six is a progressive album. Typical ‘verse/chorus,’ pop song structure is eschewed for the most part in favour of shifting segments, segues and interludes. It’s a challenging listen certainly but we’re not talking Trout Mask Replica II here. With a little patience you can unlock Six and find plenty of thrilling, tuneful alt-rock. I cannot make “must have” exclamations about Six. It isn’t for everyone (What is?) But contrary to the reviews when it was released Six is neither ‘Genius’ nor ‘unlistenable’. Six is both. Six is the exact opposite and Six is all points in-between. Absurd, poetic…. I’m guessing Parlophone indulged the band hoping that they would repeat the success of Radiohead thus cementing the British music scene’s return to prog rock dominance not seen since the days of King Crimson, Yes and Floyd.
“Tax on cigarettes, treats my cancer
These things elevate me above animals
I feel like being a girl”
I sometimes wonder whether Mansun lost their minds during the process of making Six? They were oft compared with Radiohead (who were fans) and we can draw parallels with The Beatles and Beach Boys acid-fueled bouts of one-upmanship in the mid-60’s. (Pet Sounds was the repost to Revolver. Sgt Pepper came next and Smile was supposed to top the lot but instead it drove Wilson space happy, so much so that he had to go lie in a darkened room for thirty years.) Six was always touted to be Mansuns’ OK Computer but whereas Yorke had honed his pre-Millennium tension, Paul Draper seemed to be undergoing a genuine crisis of confidence, as though the weight of the artistic world bore heavily on his shoulders.
“And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity
Did you see, the way I cowered to authority”
Lyrically Six was a million miles away from Attack Of The Grey Lanterns’ impish sense of fun. Then again, knowing Mansun it could have been a ruse. This is the band that once threw £25,000 into the air in the City of London, purely for effect. (Taxloss video) The weirdest thing is this – although it felt at the time as though Six had buried Mansuns’ career the history books record it as a Gold disc.
Six recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Paul Draper marked the occasion in his blog and took time to speak to [sic] Magazine. (Links below)