Living in the Past: A review of Mansun’s ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ 20 years on

With the 20th anniversary of the release of Mansun’s debut album upon us, our editor asked me to listen to ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ for the first time and see how the band’s critically acclaimed first album stacks up today.

First things first, I’m not a Mansun fan. In fact I’ve only ever heard the odd single by the band, let alone any of their albums, writes James Llewellyn.

So coming to this record with fresh ears was an interesting experience, not least because this album can be described as anything but conventional.

Upon first listen, the album sounds like a concept album for the late 90s. The way the individual songs are segued together comprising a series of shifting textures and moods is pretty original for a band of this era, and shows a striking confidence for a band to attempt to pull this off on their debut.

Lyrically however, it’s difficult to see what the concept actually is, and singer/songwriter Paul Draper admits that it was intended to be a fully-fledged concept album until he “ran out of steam”.

For me, the lyrics are what lets the album down, with songs such as ‘Dark Mavis’ and ‘Stripped Vicar’ now definitely sounding out of place from their 1997 context.

Take this verse from ‘Stripped Vicar’ for instance:

And we know him as our vicar

And by night a part-time stripper

And the vicar got suspended

In his stockings and suspenders

And he’s making wine from water

While he dresses like his daughter

And we know that he’s a rip off

‘Cos we’ve seen him with his kit off

To be fair to the band though, the hidden track ‘An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter’ does contain the chorus “the lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much, they’re just a vehicle for a lovely voice”.

The use of drum machines also dates the record somewhat, although the influence of several genres from glam, soul, rock and disco was no doubt innovative for the period.

The band themselves do recall other artists from the period – most notably Suede – whilst cleverly cementing their own identity throughout.

However, there is nothing here that really stands out as exceptional (which you could argue isn’t a bad thing I suppose, given the way the album is structured). Single ‘Wide Open Space’ is probably the best known track, and I wouldn’t exactly call it a classic.

Overall though, the album still comes across as sounding strong and innovative in 2017, but it’s not a seminal album from the period.

Indeed, the album gained a 3CD collector’s edition release in 2010, throwing weight to the charge that, a bit like MBE’s, they hand out these reissues for 90s records far too readily.

It is however a record which remains relevant today, and is one of the better results of mid 90s Britpop explosion.

For those of you who haven’t heard the record – here it is: