Adam Gardner deep-dives into Mansuns ‘Six’ album after it’s huge influence
There was a two or three-year period in the UK at the end of the 90s that seemed a fertile breeding ground for hugely successful, yet resolutely odd records made by, well, weirdos. For example, the years between 1997 and 1999 saw the release of Pulp’s This Is Hardcore, Super Furry Animals’ Radiator and Guerilla albums, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, the self-titled (and possibly best) Blur record, and of course OK Computer by Radiohead. While the ‘Britpop’ bubble reached its most bloated and tediously vacuous point before bursting under the sheer weight of union jacks, Ben Sherman shirts, cans of Stella and the colossal turd that was Oasis’ Be Here Now, it turned out there was a whole universe of infinitely more interesting stuff going on.
While the tiny handful of records I mentioned above went on to become bonafide classics™ – and will no doubt be propping up ‘best of’ lists until time no longer exists – there is one record, released in 1998 by a band named Mansun, that is often conspicuous by its absence. Now, of all the oddballs that somehow wound up on a major label in the 90s, Mansun were perhaps the strangest of all. They didn’t really look like anybody else (in fact they never really had a ‘look’ at all) and although they might’ve sounded vaguely like their contemporaries, you’d never hear Richard Ashcroft singing about cross-dressing vicars and the like.
“The record’s themes are heavily rooted in sexuality, religion, existentialism, philosophy, and gender. It really is something.”
In the space of four years or so they’d go from barely being able to play their instruments to having their debut LP (Attack of the Grey Lantern – itself a rather peculiar beast) top the UK charts, then being faced with the task of recording a follow-up that would surely continue their smooth ascent to inevitable world domination. The record that they went on to make though was the uncompromising, bizarre, and endlessly fascinating Six. Though an artistic success, it wasn’t the safe, shareholder-friendly LP that Parlophone had expected. World domination did not follow. It was a crazy and thrilling mish-mash of ideas: powerpop, punk, prog, classical, operatic, post-punk – you name it, it’s somewhere in there. The opening track alone is an eight-minute epic in six parts that genuinely seems to go further than many of their peers did in entire careers. Taking its title from Paul Draper’s childhood obsession with the 60s ITV series The Prisoner, the record’s themes are heavily rooted in sexuality, religion, existentialism, philosophy, and gender. It really is something.
“Does it need to be that long? Fuck yeah! Both of us admired the sheer ambition and lunacy of making something that was as dense as it could be.“
I once saw Six described as ‘the first true twenty-first century rock album’ or something like that. It stuck in my head because, yeah, you can kind of see what they mean… even though the twenty-first century was still two years away… but really it’s a record that could have been made at any point in the last fifty, or the next fifty, years. It still sounds like the future. To think that it’s all recorded to tape, with no Pro Tools etc. still blows my mind. They were an incredible band – especially live – and really quite unlike anything else around at the time. In Paul Draper and Dominic Chad they also had one of those once-in-a-generation partnerships too; with Draper’s distinctive vocal, lyrical and melodic gifts complimented by Chad’s equally idiosyncratic playing – which you can hear in the style of countless (lesser) guitarists since.
I met my friend Lance in 2005 when we both enrolled on a fine art degree with the sole intention of meeting somebody else who made music. We gravitated towards each other and have been making stuff ever since – most recently putting out an intentionally overblown triple album called Nuclear Tapes last summer. I can remember before we started the project that we were pretty fixated on the idea of making our own version of Six. We were also keen on the idea of a maximalist blowout too – one of the things that made Six so cool was that it was a full CD’s-worth of music. 70 minutes. Does it need to be that long? Fuck yeah! Both of us admired the sheer ambition and lunacy of making something that was as dense as it could be. Pretty soon our project had ballooned into what we thought would be two discs, but then it ballooned even further and eventually collapsed in on itself.
In the same way that Six kind of feels like a record that slipped through a crack in time, we wanted to make something that felt like a lost artefact. In the end, we just made a massive mess… but, to be honest, making a massive mess is a lot of fun. I think a lot of bands set out to ‘make it big’, and they end up chasing what happens to be in vogue at the time. If Six taught me anything, I think it’s that the work you make is the most important thing. Yeah, you could make that algorithm-friendly 10-track album, but you could also make that 38-track retrofuturistic blowout.
As for Mansun, they went on to make one more studio album – the disappointing Little Kix – before splitting during sessions for their abandoned fourth record, the unfinished sessions of which were later released under the title Kleptomania. One of the most inventive bands of their generation, the last few years have seen a critical reappraisal of sorts, and gradually Six seems to be gaining that classic status it deserves.
Words by Adam John Gardner
If you liked the selection, then check out Charlie’s Hand Movements Nuclear Tapes below;