Mansun: Six (1998)

One of the greatest things created by anyone, ever. 

Mansun’s Six was probably one of the only albums that really mattered to me back in the late nineties. I couldn’t believe how fucking spectacular it was. It made so much other music sound so ordinary, so…well, so-so. There were other LPs of the time that I went nuts for, albums like Supergrass’ In it for the Money (an album described as retro-Britpop at its absolute best by Uncut’s David Stubbs, and I must agree), the inevitable OK Computer by Radiohead (one of the rare exceptions where unanimous critical/commercial acceptance and how I feel about it myself were one and the same), but Six felt extra, extra special to me, because Mansun, in the grand scheme of things, weren’t that popular. Oh yes, ‘Legacy’ hit the top ten, and this album reached….you won’t believe it, number 6 in the charts, but in my social circle, they were not a big deal at all. One or two other people expressed a liking for the album, but for the most part, Mansun were my own band, and Six felt like my album, my own special secret. Some of the reviews were pretty hostile – self-indulgent, needed an editor, whiny vocals, the spectre of prog-rock (!!!) over the whole thing…nah, Mansun were a joke, right? Well, yes and no. They were ridiculous, but fuck me, they took it over the edge, past the edge, fearlessly embracing their ambition and going for nothing less than a behemoth of guitar pop/rock.

Yes, pop and rock. For this album not only swoons you over with some of the most gorgeous melodies and harmonies to bless your ears, it also blisters them with some of the most sensational, white-hot guitar playing I’ve ever heard. It’s beautiful. It’s ugly. It’s a seventy-minute plus epic that lasts twelve tracks but comes closer to totalling quadruple that, as many songs switch tack so strikingly it’s like four-songs-in-one. Not that you’d guess that from the singles. The relatively streamlined ‘Legacy’ and ‘Negative’, the single-edit of ‘Being a Girl’ that kept the punk thrash but cut out all the wild stuff afterwards and an Arthur Baker mix of the title track that turned an eight-minute long multi-song rollercoaster into something far more palatable. Imagine the shock of sticking Six on and sliding downwards through a helter skelter of musical madness, where the ground opened up as you reached the bottom and took you to hell and back. Well, I say hell. I mean, this album is thrilling, but it’s also messed-up. Paul Draper’s lyrics cover depression, paranoia, hypochondria, regrets, compromise, being emotionally raped by Jesus – wait, what? Yep, the preposterously jaunty chorus of the stunning ‘Cancer’ treats everybody to that unforgettable line, which would be exploitative if it didn’t sound so damn right on this album. Yeah, ‘Cancer’ – which could have been the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of the nineties if it had been released as a single (though Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ is a worthy winner), a remarkable journey that takes you through utter darkness and finally up and out into some kind of liquid ecstasy thanks to Dominic Chad’s guitars. Chad is up there with the all-time greats here. He’s excellent on the band’s first and third LPs, but he is absolutely ingenious on Six. He blows your mind. There are at least a dozen or two moments on Six where Chad makes the guitar sound more alive than on any other album of the decade. He plays the thing as though no one else had touched it before. The guy was a hero. His solos on ‘Fall Out’ (moon-landing conspiracy song among other things), ‘Being a Girl’ (Paul wants to experience what it feels like), ‘Shotgun’ (fucking hell, what is this one about?) are extraordinary. They were the teenage kicks I craved, this was the album I’d been waiting for. Draper’s voice is so over-the-top, so wounded, so slinky, so melodramatic, so delightfully intense that you’ll either love it or hate it.

Six is broken-up into two parts, the second slightly less fragmented, made up of fewer songs but scoring higher on the colossal front, although side one does end with ‘Cancer’, which is one of the most epic things ever. In-between acts we get a spoken-word confession from the Tom Baker, spoken over a delicate chamber-music pastiche where he goes on about ‘minutes bleeding into hours, bleeding into days’ or suspecting that ‘all my life, what I mistook for friendly pats on the back, were really the hands that were pushing me further and further down’. It’s so, so, so, so far beyond anything anyone else was doing at the time. Being a wounded soul at the time definitely helped one to appreciate Six a lot. Being able to make fun of one’s self and not take it all too seriously was also a vital factor, if hilarious interludes like this were anything to go by. Six is the kind of album you can really devote yourself to, to utterly believe in, and yet it’s no po-faced solemn text we should be listing alongside all those other established classic albums. It’s too ridiculous for that. You can cry to Six, you can rock out like a nutter to it. You can laugh to it. You can love the fact that not everyone will get it, that some will hate it, and that those who love it really, really love it. I really, really, really love this album.

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