George Orwell once told the story about A Clergyman’s Daughter, Mansun tells the story about a Clergyman’s son: Paul Draper (the bands’ leader and frontman) and his bandmates Dominic Chad (guitar), Stove King (bass) and Andy Rathbourne (drums). In 1997 following a string of EP’s, their latest, She Makes My Nose Bleed making it into the top 10 was followed up by their debut number one album, Attack of the Grey Lantern. Whilst Mansun themselves, as well as this album, are both categorised as being tied to the nineties and the genre of Britpop; the lasting legacy of this LP cannot be understated. The NME placed it in their top 50 albums of 1997, Radio X have listed Mansun’s debut in the list of “greatest albums of all time”; Mumsnet has even praised it as one of the “Greatest underrated Britpop Albums”.
The essence of the original album remains unchanged. There are no changes to the track listing or order of play, the album is neither stripped down (as was The Beatles, Let it Be (Naked) was) and neither has it been remixed with alternative versions. Mansun even kept the timely wait between Dark Mavis and An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter. These are wise, disciplined and brave choice as this LP was initially conceived as a concept album but this did not come to fruition.
The string section opener The Chad Who Loved Me is the antithesis to what fans had previously heard or expected from Mansun and other artists categorised in the Britpop genre. The Chad Who Loved Me is the perfect melancholy opener emitting sadness and tragedy whilst also offering hope and optimism which blossoms with romantic gothic guitars whilst concluding with strings and rural farm animal noises before perfectly leading onto the next song, Mansun’s Only Love Song.
True to their word, Mansun’s Only Love Song was the only love song on the album (although not the only love song Mansun would make) which opens with synthetic popular nineties street beat-box drumming before ascending with a more signature and awe-inspiring gothic guitar sound now with passionate and racing organic drumming. As Paul Draper sings “Standing in Grey Lantern light”, we see him experimenting with sound distortions to his vocals which result in him coming across as an unafraid pioneer working against the nineties mainstream radio friendly template. Drapers vocals are also distorted to great effect on Stripper Vicar, Disgusting and The Chad Who Loved Me.
Five songs would be released from Attack of the Grey Lantern, all of which would make the top 40, including track three, Taxloss, noted for its accompanying music video where the band distribute thousands of pounds of bank notes at Liverpool Street station. The seven-minute album version demonstrates Mansun’s ability to create an organic guitar based anthem and be a DJ remixing the track with electronic sounds and beats all in one. Some of the songs are more light-hearted and goof around more than others such as Stripper Vicar and Egg Shaped Fred; whilst others such as You, Who Do You Hate? and Dark Mavis make you feel you are caught up in Mansun’s manmade gothic nightmare, yet you resist all avenues of escape and refuse to make SOS signals as you are so encaptivated and ensnared in your personal Stockholm syndrome. Wide Open Space, probably the most widely recognised Mansun song and continued live favourite at Paul Draper gigs sits happily in the middle of these two categories.
There is an abundant of extras on the new expanded edition. Rebel Without A Quilt mixes the signature Attack of the Grey Lantern sound with the Gorillaz Kids With Guns and a Dark Mavis demo has similarities to Muse’s Citizen Erased. Whilst these generous musical helpings are interesting and impressive in their own right; you don’t feel that if only this b side was included in addition to, or if this track was substituted for that track, or if an alternative version/mix was included instead, that Attack of the Grey Lantern would have been a better or bigger classic than it was in 1997 (putting it on a par with OK Computer which was being recorded in the studio next to Mansun’s at the time).
One is left with the conclusion that Attack of the Grey Lantern (in spite of having pockets of distinctly nineties style period production) offered (and still offers) a bittersweet plethora of emotions and was perfect as it was and still is perfect and will continue to remain perfect over the next twenty-one years; provided it continues to remain free from external interference.