Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Joy of Mansun's "Six"

1997 and 1998 - two interesting years musically, within a particularly packed era. The release of Radiohead's "OK Computer" was a landmark in modern British rock history, not so much reinvention for Thom Yorke's band so much as revolution. Over 12 months later, doubtlessly influenced by this marker flag, came "Six", the Mansum album lauded and left alone in fairly equal measure. Just how - or perhaps, pertinently, why - did the former take so much praise and limelight?

Measuring both "OK Computer" and "Six" invariably brings out the A-Level "compare and contrast" side of most contemporary critics. Any similarities are half-chance and coincidence - the jaw dropping expanse of them both, tinged with vague narratives and arcs, the songs chosen for singles (and charting ones at that), none of which would touch the single charts today. Both include an interlude of some form - touch-and-speak lifecoaching from Radiohead, melodramatic opera from Mansun.

Was the media attitude to blame? "Cool" Radiohead, air-quotes included, against the deliberately obtuse Mansun (as perceived, perhaps, more accident than design?). Was it sheer pot luck - was throwing thousands of fivers over a railway concourse not edgy?

It's not as though Mansun were unique in being strung up by "famous radio friendly early single syndrome" (the catchy label music journos use along side "every third single has to be a ballad because Brett Anderson said so once".) If "Creep" did for Radiohead what "Wide Open Space" ultimately did for Mansun, were would either band now be? Oh for the right to use timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly means to find a 21st Century where it is the latter, not the former, who remain constantly producing and releasing music. Maybe, just maybe, we're better off not knowing...

I fell in love with "Six" on its release, far later than I did for its late-90s counterpart, for my affair with Radiohead had to wait for some years after. With the reputation of Mansun being as it was - "I bet their greatest hits will be their first album with 10 remixes of 'Wide Open Space'" - it wasn't too dissimilar to being a fan of Björk - yes, yes, "It's Oh So Quiet", but, trust me, please, come on, there's more to....Oh....You've gone....

If you have not yet had the pleasure, "Six" is the album you didn't realise you were missing out on. It could, would, should, be inside the highest places in every glossy magazine's retrospectives. The breadth is staggering - the title track alone whisks along with pop-punk beats, psychedelia, vocal trickery and the rarest kind of lyrical pick-n-mix, in which every flavour is combined for successful results. By rights, "shiver(ing) to conformity" and "I'm conditioned to accept it all" would struggle to leave an emo chorus unharmed (erm, if you will).

"Being a Girl" (the "Paranoid Android" nobody knows about) contains a 2-minute sardonic pop classic, within a full seven-minutes of prog majesty. It's the most bold ambition, as pretentious as progressive, tip-toe across the stones of time-signatures in the style of a bored teenager channel-hopping. There's a great chorus, oh now it's name-checking Marx, aaaand now there's trippy guitars over scattering drums. Exhausting, this brilliance.

"Six", largely forgotten, deserves its resurgence. Yes, it's a concept album gone feral, its narrative structure making it necessary for most listens to be carried out in full, in order, which is a demand even Radiohead have yet to make. The mood may have all the introspection of Morrissey in a Hall of Mirrors, but given its chance, there's little doubt just how important "Six" has become in the great retrospective take on the hazy, heady 90s period. When memories become more selective in their old age, "Six" will stand out more prominently than currently, and that's quite how it should be.