Mansun - Attack Of The Grey Lantern

TAKE A stroll around the sleepy town of Drapersville, why don'tcha, but watch your step. It may look like yer average northern industrial shitehole pretending to be Buttkick Rock, Idaho, but scratch the surface and the freaks scatter out.

Pop into the post office and buy a book of stamps from Mavis, the one they say dabbles in rather dubious 'religious practices'. Peer nervously through the doors of the church and witness one of the local vicar's legendary controversial sermons. Not long for this world, that one. Wander through the park, but try to avoid the public games of naked Twister, the man with the nose shaped curiously like a ski-jump and poor Fred who, by accident of childbirth, was born oval. And what's that emergency report on the radio? Turn it up for a second... MY GOD! The Grey Lantern is invading! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

Hmmm. Phenomenally good drugs or not, the imaginary town that Paul Draper began to populate with his taut and twisted characters over their first four singles made Space's 'Neighbourhood' look like a particularly dull Mike Leigh film. These were hallucinatory pokes at the rotten underbelly of humanity, scratching open the scars and having a good laugh at the downpouring offal. 'Take It Easy Chicken', 'Egg-Shaped Fred', 'Stripper Vicar': three-minute vignettes of comedy and deformity all. The only problem was that these vibrant tales were all filmed in Gritty-Post-Grunge-Big-Short-O-Vision. Which makes it all the more fitting that Mansun should turn so spectacularly Technicolor for the main feature. From the first string swoop of the cheesy Bond-pastiche opening track 'The Chad Who Loved Me', 'Attack Of The Grey Lantern' (nope, me neither) is Mansun gone panoramic widescreen director's cut with added exploding aliens. It's the epic, big-budget CD equivalent of Robert Altman's Short Cuts and for the first time we can forget that Mansun are four blokes from Chester for whom a 'bad hair day' is a foregone conclusion.

The familiar old freaks are still here but now they're shadowy figures in a far bigger picture, shrouded by huge dollops of the expansive orchestration and Charlatans-style atmospherics that made 'Wide Open Space' such a stunning slap to the chops. The likes of 'Stripper Vicar' and 'Egg-Shaped Fred' are now the lightweight pop fillers creeping between Millennium Towers of tunes like the soul-drenched disco on Mars that is 'Mansun's Only Love Song' or the monster-metal Suede-isms of 'Taxloss'. And, even between songs, bells chime, dogs howl, scenes are changed, plots thicken.

Naturally, as with all ambitious, overwrought projects, there are moments of naffness. Yes, 'You Who Do You Hate?' is a Mills & Boon scene recited histrionically by Kiss. Yes, 'Disgusting' is Tears For Fears. And no, even by the end of the majestic eight-minute epilogue 'Dark Mavis' we still haven't the foggiest idea of what Paul Draper is on about. But no matter when what we have here is music for an unrealistically massive film script that verges on the awesome with almost every fondled fret.

Coming soon: 'Grey Lantern Vs The Earth'. Be very afraid...


Mark Beaumont