When roses were violet

One of the great LPs of the Post-Britpop warp is getting a re-release today to mark its 21st Anniversary. AOTGL is unusual in that it remains a cult classic to this day while at the time being a No.1 chart-topper, a bizarre mix of audacity and subversion, and granite-strength ambition. Here’s a short retrospective I did for (the late, great) State Magazine about a record that, along with In It For The Money by Supergrass, was a pinnacle of that era. 


Mansun – Attack of The Grey Lantern
(1997, Parlophone)

IN 1997, as Oasis’s gluttonous Be Here Now euthanased Britpop, a mutation occurred in the UK rock gene that has since yielded great things. Two events signalled that lairy lad anthems and Wellerdom were to take a back seat in favour of art, perversity and tension. Radiohead’s OK Computer was one. Attack Of The Grey Lantern knocking Blur off the top of the charts was the other.

It’s hard to pick what was strangest about Mansun. Was it the chain of frantic, over-cooked EPs that preceded AOTGL? Maybe it was the lyrics about cross-dressing vicars, small-town deviants and the smut behind kitchen-sink England. And what the feck was this precocious mix of glam, goth and groove doing on a debut (a concept album if you don’t mind) by a bunch of nobodies from the UK’s armpit? The Beatles were an influence, but so were The Bee Gees, Prince and The Carpenters (or so they told us). Never-the-less, bombast and weirdness may be two-a-penny in today’s rock vista, but in 1997 it was only to be mocked, and Mansun’s precociousness went largely unsung by a music press who chose to throw stones at them for not fitting in.

Today, AOTGL resounds with relevance and weight. There’s no doubting that the quartet’s embrace of rock’s absurdities – concept albums, segueing, silly song titles – was leader Paul Draper’s artistic defence mechanism. In him, they had a dark-hearted pop writer, able to bleed swooping classicalisms (glorious opener ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’) into icy smoothness (‘Mansun’s Only Love Song’) and on to hard-nosed, arena-courting rock (the evergreen ‘Wide Open Space’). Elsewhere, ‘Disgusting’ layers clacking drumsticks over washes of synth and Draper’s softly spat accusations (“You’ve been disgraceful / it’s so regretful”). Melodically, it’s as strong as pop gets, but then Dominic Chad’s acrobatic guitar will haunt the ominous fringes alongside sequencers and samples. Hard to categorise, let alone describe, even all these years later.

The release of the progged-up Six in 1998 was proof Mansun were as bold and brilliant as they were stubborn. Band relations disintegrated following troubled third LP Little Kix and they split in 2003. But they’ll always have AOTGL. Like Television, they seemed to hover in when they were most needed, drop an essential record down to us earthlings before crash-landing spectacularly.

First published in State Magazine


Hil List 2016: Music

Despite the small matter of Mother Nature trying to kill every last musical icon, it was a fine year for tuneage. Here’s what rocked my proverbial boat. Blurbs/links attached where possible.


Gigs of the year

At The Drive-in / Vicar St, March 26
“Chaos and petulance have made way for generosity and focus. With this first night of their huge 13-week tour triumphing, the quintet genuflect back to the troops with sincerity. Both parties walk away feeling tonight had no right to be this good.”
Full State.ie review

The Gloaming / National Concert Hall, February 2
Soon in danger of having a wing named after them, The Gloaming swept into Earlsfort Terrace and reminded all in attendance why this is one of the most exciting musical concoctions this island has ever witnessed. Martin Hayes’ quintet have fashioned a musical colour palette all their own.

White Denim & Wyvern Lingo / Whelans, Aug 16
“I’m standing in a glacial queue to enter Whelan’s on the last night of summer. From inside, the burnt-sugar groove of ‘Sweet Life Ruiner’ wafts out between the gaps in the shuffling ticketholders. Wyvern Lingo are opening proceedings tonight, which given everyone’s giddiness about the headliners’ return to these shores is a bit like being told you’re flight to the Maldives is getting a free last-minute upgrade.”
Full State.ie review.

Whole Lotta Zepp / Sugar Club, Oct 8
It’s becoming an annual chore thinking up superlatives for this hallowed night every October. Like the best things in life, the recipe is simple – three drummers, the country’s finest rock musicians and a classic Led Zeppelin LP to worship communally. Simon Freedman’s Sugar Club militia are redefining the phrase ‘tribute act’.

Cathy Davey / Whelans, Oct 22
A welcome return for Lady Davey, who took a night off from being an animal-welfare heroine to show that all that hay and manure have not dulled her artistry or stage chops one iota. Like flicking on a lightswitch, she and her brilliant backing band put more hard-touring acts to shame.

Wyvern Lingo / Button Factory, Dec 3
“So yes, eff you, Dingle. You may have offered botanical gin, propeller-scarred dolphins and Girl Band for sustenance this night but we’ve been served the most nourishing thing to come out of Bray since the Kilruddery Farm Market.”
Full State.ie review


Best Albums
1. Blackstar – Bowie / 2. Human Performance – Parquet Courts / 3. Mangy Love – Cass McCombs 4. Peel Sessions – The White Stripes / 5. The Gloaming 2 – The Gloaming


Best Irish Albums
1. The Gloaming 2 – The Gloaming (my State.ie interview) / 2. Is – Bleeding Heart Pigeons / 3. IIVV – All Tvvins (my State.ie interview) / 4. At Swim – Lisa Hannigan / 5. New Forest – Cathy Davey


Best Songs (this changes every day so… yeah, right now, like)

1. Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street

2. Dollar Days – Bowie

3. No Tomorrow – Suede

4. Europe is Lost – Kate Tempest (my Sunday Independent interview)

5. Too Young To Live – All Tvvins

6. Berlin Got Blurry – Parquet Courts

7. Sweet Life Ruiner – Wyvern Lingo

8. Mrs Dwyer – The Gloaming

9. To The Rescue – Divine Comedy (my Sunday Independent interview)

10. Scared Money – NxWorries (my indirect nod to the passing of Prince)