What does it sound like?
Not terribly much like a DC comics concept album, though that was apparently the original intention. There are recurrent themes and characters, but don’t let that put you off. Mostly there are a lot of good tunes, and a surprising amount of interesting sounds that some of their more straightforward Britpop contemporaries lived without. This has a hand full of hits (Wide Open Space, Taxloss, Mansun’s Only Love Song) with singalong choruses, good tunes and a fair dollop of humour. The hidden track Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter (“The lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much, They’re just a vehicle for a lovely voice”) show them able to laugh at both themselves and us at the same time. There is a very British preoccupation with vicars in drag (Stripper Vicar and Dark Mavis).
The songs aim for the epic, and generally get there, which might get a bit wearing but they avoid that because there is a lot going on in the background. Bass lines that remind me of Air, melodies that skirt “Walk on By”, interesting bits of almost hip hop. I wasn’t a fan before but repeated plays made me enjoy it more rather than being a chore.
This comes in the usual variety of formats (CD, 2X vinyl, Book, DVD, cuddly toy…) with a top of the range 3xCD and DVD. The record company was a bit stingy with the streams (for some reason) so I only got to hear 6 demos and 4 BBC sessions (out of 17 and 12). What they show is that the songs stand up without the full production, without making these extras seem indispensable. The videos are of their time and nothing special, though Taxloss (featuring them throwing fivers at commuters in Liverpool Street Station) is quite amusing. The sleeve notes by Paul Draper don’t add a great deal unless you are a fan.
What does it all mean?
So why weren’t Mansun bigger? This was a number 1 album, and maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but if Shed 7 are playing festivals why aren’t Mansun? Didn’t they have a distinctive enough image? A bit too complex? The usual band difficulties? I don’t know, but there is enough in this to think that they had plenty to offer. Ultimate recommendation – I’ll buy this when it comes out.
Goes well with..
A night out in Liverpool (or Chester).
Might suit people who like…
Later Brit pop before Indie Landfill – Cast, Dodgy, Super Furry Animals etc. (all of whom are still on the festival circuit), The Verve