Attack Of The Grey Lantern

3CD Special Edition
June 7, 2010
Review: Steve Bateman

For a record collector, the thought of classic albums being reissued with bonus material in extravagant packaging can be a mouth-watering prospect – especially when released by some of your most beloved artists and bands! You can imagine my excitement then, when I read the following Press Release prior to being sent an advance copy of Mansun’s AOTGL 3CD Set…

“EMI are proud to announce the release of a Special Edition of Mansun’s acclaimed 1997 debut album, Attack Of The Grey Lantern.

Produced by Paul Draper, Attack Of The Grey Lantern arrived amid a fanfare of media expectation. The album spawned four hit singles; Stripper Vicar (no. 19), Wide Open Space (no. 15), She Makes My Nose Bleed (no. 9) and Taxlo$$ (no. 15). All the songs were written by Draper, who devised the concept of The Grey Lantern as a “village of people with really disgusting morals [which] The Grey Lantern sorts out.” Upon its release the album spent a total of 19 weeks on the UK Chart, knocking Blur’s self-titled album off the no. 1 spot. At year’s end it was included in the Guardian’s ‘Top 10 Pop Albums of The Year’, and NME’s, Q Magazine’s and Melody Maker’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 1997’.

This Special Edition consists of the original album remastered, with two bonus discs with every EP track and b-side the band released during the period up to and including the Closed For Business EP. CD's 2 and 3 are crammed with pre-album EPs (Take It Easy Chicken, Skin Up Pin Up); alternative, acoustic and live versions; b-sides (Rebel Without A Quilt, Flourella, The Duchess and many more, all in chronological order); Draper’s co-write with Magazine’s Howard Devoto, Everyone Must Win, and extensive sleeve notes written by the frontman himself. There is also a new remix of (I’m In A) Wide Open Space by Greg Downey, which will be released via Nebula on 7th Jun.”

Although my promo CDs are housed in plain-white paper sleeves, aesthetically, I would imagine that the commercial packaging will mirror that of Kleptomania, with a fold-out digipak inside a plastic slipcover that once fully-opened, will reveal 3CDs and a booklet. And it goes without saying, that if all of the artwork remains faithful to the original long player, it will be beautiful! On with the music…

CD 1: Original Album
Unfolding with the languorous strains of classical strings, The Chad Who Loved Me is a stunning cinematic opener, and as a listener, you feel that you’re about to enter a whole new world. The atmospheric Mansun's Only Love Song, then introduces us to Dark Mavis for the very first time and has an expansive swelling chorus. While everytime I hear Taxlo$$, I can’t help but think of the memorable promo video where its £25,000 budget was thrown over the balcony at London’s Liverpool Street Station onto the main concourse, with commuters being secretly filmed scrambling to pick up the individual £5 notes – a dig at The Music Industry which writes off acts as tax losses, as well as a social comment about greed perhaps? Reportedly the most difficult song to complete during the AOTGL sessions and lyrically twisting Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, it’s an elaborate epic that by the end, has almost morphed into a fully-fledged house track! It’s also a fine example of how on this record, songs – which all have intelligent musical arrangements and structures – segue into each other and are interlaced with guitar, bass, drums, synths, electronic beats, textures, loops, cut-up sound effects, nuances, ever-changing tempos and Paul’s sublime emotional vocals and melodies. Who has since admitted that both John Lennon and Prince were his inspirations for most of Attack Of The Grey Lantern.

Opening and closing with ringing church bells, You, Who Do You Hate? is an acoustic number that like the calm before the storm, shifts shapes and boasts a fleshy angst-ridden chorus. Wide Open Space meanwhile, is arguably the quintessential Mansun song and starting with a solitary guitar playing a repeated picking pattern, it soon turns into a sweeping anthem with a senses-tingling / amp-cranking electric guitar solo. Partnered with Stripper Vicar, this is yet another Mansun classic, with a lively pace and a feel-good vibe. As an acoustic-based track, Disgusting also has lots of interesting treated effects and contorting frayed noises going on in the background, and is followed by the sedate and sullen, She Makes My Nose Bleed. Naked Twister then sighs and spirals, whereas the oddity that is Egg Shaped Fred, is whimsical and jaunty. Ending the LP, Dark Mavis has a filmic quality with a Beatles-esque choral finale, that once again employs the lush and graceful classical strings from The Chad Who Loved Me for its outro, neatly tying everything together and allowing you time to reflect on everything that you’ve heard and experienced. A musical journey in the truest sense of the word!

The secret track, An Open Letter To A Lyrical Trainspotter, will leave listeners with a smile on their faces, as addressing Paul’s enigmatic and often dissected lyrics, it features the tongue-in-cheek line, “The lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much, they’re just a vehicle for a lovely voice…” atop playful piano. As a semi-concept album, at the time of the record’s release, Paul was quoted as saying, “The Grey Lantern is like a comic-book hero. I suppose The Grey Lantern’s me. I wouldn’t have a cape, but there are definitely characters on the record – Albert Taxlo$$, Chad, Dark Mavis… At the end of the album it all gets resolved and you find out Mavis is actually the Stripper Vicar.” Production-wise, with futuristic flourishes, it is undimmed with time and because Mansun took the road less travelled, AOTGL isn’t consigned to a particular style, bending genres with a wide / progressive songwriting range and remaining an all-consuming experimental long player, that couldn’t have been written or made by anybody else. It’s certainly a magnum opus that defines the essence of this one-off group!

CD 2: Bonus Tracks
Famed for the high quality of their EPs and b-sides – with some fans from the Mansun tribe preferring these to the band’s a-sides – this disc is yet another musical miasma with a unique blend of sounds, styles and moods, where as with Attack Of The Grey Lantern, the pleasure is in the details and each track will wind its way through your mind. Some of the highlights for me, include the buoyant Ski Jump Nose, which has the quirky lyric, “Knick-knack, paddy-whack, Chad’s got an anorak…” as on the day it was recorded, Chad had turned up to the studio wearing a parker coat! Thief, which is where Paul’s “falsetto developed, purely because he hadn’t discovered capos.” Take It Easy Chicken, as it was the first song that Mansun ever recorded! Drastic Sturgeon, which is very ‘90s Britpop and echoes Blur’s Jubilee. A volatile and sepulchral The Edge. The sinister shoegaze of Things Keep Falling Of Buildings. Rebel Without A Quilt, which Paul recalls penning because “I had no quilt at the time and my sister commented what a rebel I was sleeping without one on a cold night as a joke, so that became a title and the song flowed from that.” The incinerating Vision Impaired, that has masterful guitar work and a nice shooting-star sound as a plectrum is dragged up the fretboard neck across open strings. The Gods Of Not Very Much, which has an air of sophistication and breaks down and builds up – so much so, that it could almost have been the bridge over to the group’s groundbreaking second album, Six. And the ambient The Most To Gain, which interestingly, was originally going to be on AOTGL before being replaced by Mansun's Only Love Song (the last tune to be written and recorded for the album and the band’s 36th to date).

CD 3: Bonus Tracks
Another disc of rarities – mainly acoustic and live – along with more studio recordings that will capture your imagination. The stripped-back versions are really chilled-out reinterpretations and the electrifying live tracks (some with Prince-inspired medleys), will make you wish that you could go and see Mansun playing live now! With the remaining b-sides, the dense The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail is magnificently magnetising, and a headlong Grey Lantern precedes The Impending Collapse Of It All, which Paul surprisingly admitted he wrote when “EMI told me to disband the band after a few months together and go and do a project on my own, and I was really stressed out feeling the pressure of it all ending so soon.” The standalone single Closed For Business, rises and falls with a haunting harpsichord as its sonic spine. K.I. Double S.I.N.G. is a black-humoured “piss take of the school nursery rhyme, which stuck in Paul’s mind after being cornered by a mob aged 9 or so after going for a snog in school.” Everyone Must Win sees Paul and Chad putting Howard Devoto’s lyrics to a post-punk garage rocker, riddled with angular guitars and jagged rhythms that would make Magazine proud! For the kaleidoscopic The World’s Still Open (from the Closed For Business EP), Paul has noted, “EMI really loved this song and wanted it as a single and I have to admit in retrospect they were right, it probably should have been the lead single from this EP.” And for those of you who are inquisitive, there are many more fascinating facts to be read about all of the tracks on the 3CD Set. The final song on this particular disc, (I’m In A) Wide Open Space (remix performed by Greg Downey and Mansun), is a brand new 7 minute dance reimagining of Wide Open Space, which with trance-like sensibilities, touches of piano and hypnotising Balearic beats, works really well and would sound fantastic booming away in a club! An excellent and contemporary way to close this historic package.

If you’re new to Mansun, then this will be an ideal entry-point collection. Or for long-term fans interested in revisiting this era – although some of the bonus tracks can be found on Kleptomania – as a completist, CD’s 2 and 3 + Paul’s liner notes are well worth your time. And thanks to digital remastering, sounding crisper and clearer, yet still dark and divine, one of the great debut albums of all-time just got even better! So with much to love, don’t delay, upgrade to the Attack Of The Grey Lantern – 3CD Special Edition today.

A very special thanks to Scott @ EMI Music, for all of his time and help.


CD 1: Original Album
1. The Chad Who Loved Me
2. Mansun's Only Love Song
3. Taxlo$$
4. You, Who Do You Hate?
5. Wide Open Space
6. Stripper Vicar
7. Disgusting
8. She Makes My Nose Bleed
9. Naked Twister
10. Egg Shaped Fred
11. Dark Mavis / An Open Letter To A Lyrical Trainspotter

CD 2: Bonus Tracks
1. Egg Shaped Fred (alt. version)
2. Ski Jump Nose
3. Lemonade Secret Drinker
4. Thief + Secret Track
5. Take It Easy Chicken
6. Drastic Sturgeon
7. The Greatest Pain
8. Moronica
9. The Edge
10. The Duchess
11. No One Knows Us
12. Things Keep Falling Of Buildings
13. Rebel Without A Quilt
14. Vision Impaired
15. Skin Up Pin Up
16. The Gods Of Not Very Much
17. Moronica (acoustic)
18. Lemonade Secret Drinker (acoustic)
19. The Most To Gain
20. Flourella

CD 3: Bonus Tracks
1. She Makes My Nose Bleed (acoustic)
2. The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail
3. Wide Open Space (live)
4. Drastic Sturgeon (live)
5. Grey Lantern
6. The Impending Collapse Of It All
7. Ski Jump Nose (live at Derby)
8. Wide Open Space (acoustic)
9. Closed For Business
10. K.I. Double S.I.N.G.
11. Everyone Must Win (Draper/Devoto)
12. The World’s Still Open
13. Dark Mavis (acoustic)
14. Stripper Vicar (live)
15. Egg Shaped Fred (acoustic)
16. The Impending Collapse Of It All (acoustic)
17. Ski Jump Nose (acoustic)
18. (I’m In A) Wide Open Space (remix performed by Greg Downey and Mansun)