The return of Mansun frontman Paul Draper has been a long time coming. Rumours of his return to the music scene began a few years after what some would call Mansun’s classic Brit Pop band implosion. It has taken Draper a little over a decade to come to grips with the events of Mansun’s self inflicted demise and at one point that demise drew him close to quitting the music business altogether. In many ways the release of his first solo album “Spooky Action” is a testament and celebration to Draper’s ability to be a survivor. He has survived not just the ups and downs of a musical band but other life changing personal events. The August 11th release of “Spooky Action” is the result of a decade of thinking, tinkering, writing, and recording, and coming up with a biting but brutally honest outcome that produces a final catharsis.
Paul Draper grew up near Liverpool, UK in what he has referred to as “The absolute Nothing of Great Britain”, Connah’s Quay, Deeside. He describes it as not the most encouraging area to begin a musical career. As a teen he would play in a number of start up bands. The most noteworthy band in this period was Grind where he would team up with future Mansun bandmate Stove King. Eventually Draper and King would enlist Dominic Chad to their cause and after some more morphing become Mansun. From a period spanning 1995 till their break up in 2003 the band would produce three albums and become an influential iconic band in the late 90’s while developing a rabid fan base.
In 2005 Draper would surface for a moment with his first post Mansun project, co writing and co producing a single, “Alone in my Room” with Skin. But not only would the break up of Mansun prove a tough thing overcome, in 2006 Draper would be diagnosed with cancer. That diagnosis would demand he concentrate his efforts in things other than music. He would eventually get a clean bill of health. Draper would continue to work mainly behind the scenes on various musical projects for a number of years. From time to time rumours about a solo project would spread on Mansun fan sites but his first major music foray would be his collaboration with Catherine Anne Davies, aka Catherine AD. He would co write and co produce her 2016 debut album “Confessions of a Romantic Novelist” singing a duet with her on the track “One for Sorrow”. It was during the run-up to this release that Draper would confirm a solo album was not only in the works but imminent sending the Mansun fandom into ecstasy. “Confessions of a Romantic Novelist” would become a critic fave and garner a number of awards, while providing a tantalizing glimpse at Draper’s matured musical chops.
The release of “Spooky Action” displays an artist who during his wanderings in the musical desert has become a Renaissance man skilled as a musician, singer, songwriter and musical producer. On the album he delivers a nuanced blending of experimentalism and radio friendly stylings. He seems unafraid to weave together numerous stylistic approaches, knowing when to step on the accelerator and when to slack off. Listeners can appreciate the album without knowing of Draper’s Mansun past, but for those who know the story it is very apparent he is exorcising lingering demons. He has stated about his backstory, “The whole album is about what happened to me in Mansun, dead simple! It’s all about the events that happened in the band and the splitting up and the devastation of a person that was left behind.” He goes on to state, “the album was written from the perspective of just coming out of a dying rock band”. Draper took the title for the album from a phrase coined by Albert Einstein, “Spooky action at a distance” which Einstein described as non local interaction of objects separated by space, or put simply the idea that things are connected to each other over a distance. That concept can apply to Draper seeking to find the underlying connections between events that took place prior to and after Mansun and gaining an understanding.
“Spooky Action” launches with “Don’t Poke the Bear” a sophisticated epic track that does not play it safe. It is bold and adventurous and comes screaming out of the blocks. It conducts an examination of conformity vs. individuality. Blended in the accompaniment are interstellar sounds with tribal percussion and a healthy dose of funk filled sonics akin to P Funk. There is a high difficulty factor here but Draper ever the pro pulls this song off effortlessly. The song entitled “Grey House” provides the moniker for Draper’s web site and is a long awaited track with a storied past. The song has a fantastic Gary Numan vibe of claustrophobic paranoia. There is a fantastic psychedelic rock guitar feeding the sonics.
In what I consider my top three favorite songs on the release, “Things People Want” is hovering around number 2. This powerful track is catchy and grows more addictive with each pass. If you’re familiar with Catherine A.D.’s works her influence is evident all over this track. The theme takes materialism to task with lyrics like, “focused on the things I will never have, things that make me sad…the things people want, things that people give, ain’t the same.” The stunning “Jealously is a Powerful Emotion” is a revelation with its heavy keyboard intro that is sinuous and spiraling. The song considered within the context of the break up of Mansun is weighty. It examines just how poisonous the emotion of jealousy can be and that it should never be underestimated as a corrosive motivator.
“Friends Make the Worst Enemies” continues the autopsy of a band break up and is number three on my favorites off the release. The accompaniment is an intense wonky pulled around effort. It speaks to betrayal and bitterness captured in the sentiment of lyrics like “keep your enemies close because your friends can hurt you the most”. The selection is the most cutting track of the release sharing all the confusion and anger that Paul Draper felt as the betrayals that were occurring ripped his emotional stability out from underneath him. “Feeling My Heart Run Slow” is the showstopper of the release. I simply adore this song. The title of the release comes from this track and it is an excellent slice of enlighten radio friendly music. It proves Draper can write a pop song just as easily as a fusion genre tune. It is a grower that will not let you go with its dance influenced stylings. It should really come with a warning and shows off all Draper’s abilities including a madly outrageous guitar hook.
As the album unspools what becomes obvious is the quality and dedication put into the release. There is an effortlessness to the album with each track having a finish that is alluring. It is consistently impressive with the final songs on the release being as strong as those that precede them. “You Don’t Really Know Someone, Till You Fall Out with Them” and ‘Can’t Get Fairer than That” continue the narrative of things falling apart and the emotions of that personal disaster. With both songs Draper comes to some universal realizations the first being; only those involved in any drama know the true extent of the damage betrayal has on an individual. This proves true whether it is the end of a musical group or a relationship. He also identifies the bitterness that takes place when someone’s kindness is thrown back in their face. That realization becomes evident especially on “Can’t Get Fairer than That”. On the track Draper’s bitterness is palpable as he displays the nadir of his descent and understands the need to flush out the poison. The following track “Feel like I Wanna Stay” is an explosive post punk track that will be spectacular live. The selection conveys the resolve to survive and move forward putting the past to rest. The final track “Inner Wheel” is the summation of the overarching topic. The approach has a more singer/ songwriter feel. It questions how to move on and stop that inner wheel from obsessing about the “might of beens” in order to face the challenges ahead. He discovers that regrets will always remain but life is for the living and it is time to move on.
On “Spooky Action” Paul Draper utilizes a kaleidoscope of stylistic approaches to gain perspective and convey his emotions. It is a brilliant recording displaying all of Draper’s creative abilities that have been dammed up for over a decade and now finally set free. Fans of Mansun will be well pleased with the recording and if the fickle fates are kind “Spooky Action” will draw many new admirers. Draper has never lost the musical skills he evinced with Mansun and has only matured and gained more musical mastery over the time he was in the wilderness. All that mastery is on display on this inspired and noteworthy release. Mansun has ended but hopefully a new and even better chapter starts for Paul Draper with “Spooky Action”.