The Greatest Gain

Call off the search parties, the hunt for the best band in Britain today is over. You'll remember that this exciting contest was kicked off by Oasis while the crowd were still asleep. Oasis went on to decisively trounce the gross fakery of Blur (who, it's gratifying to note, can't give an interview now without the obligatory "We're not bitter but..." quote). Oasis have since retired from the pitch to tend their wounds and wonder if their third album can outsell the Spice Girls (hint: try making the effort this time, Noel). We briefly fell for Ocean Colour Scene, until we realised that their wholesale Faces thievery was committed out of a dull, workmanlike and wholly unimaginative sense of duty. Kula Shaker seemed as if they were about to rescue us from disappointment, but their recent cover of "Hush" tells you all you need to dismiss them as a fun one night stand - eminently fuckable, but there wasn't enough for a long term relationship in there.

No, it must be Mansun. Don't bother looking any further. Their stealing is probably as shameless as any of the above protagonists (and a good deal less catholic), but the songs are so finely executed that you don't even consider carping. Paul Draper might as well be going back over the rock catalogue and filling in the gaps where more famous bands missed writing a hit single or two.It's some sort of glam-punk, Durany, psychedelic thing with the lyrics filtered through old Monty Python scripts, but who cares. Every single song sounds glorious.

Allowing a run of bitingly good EPs, including the guilt-free riffery of "Take It Easy, Chicken", to raise their star, Mansun have finally released their debut album, "Attack of the Grey Lantern". That a first effort should be so carefully hewn by a single, polished intent is cause enough for spontaneous worship; that it should also be self-produced by a group of barely two years experience is an eerie miracle, and suggests that Draper is possessed of prodigal genius. In the years since "Definitely Maybe", musicians have relearnt the knack of recording decisive, punchy tunes. None of them have managed to blend these tracks into a precisely stated whole. The sequencing of the album alone is a salutory lesson in keeping one eye on the big picture: after the orchestral swash of "The Chad Who Loved Me", Mansun dispose of their "Only Love Song" pretty rapidly to unveil their real purpose in "Taxloss". They tease us with the bombastic interlude of "You, Who Do You Hate?" and only then does the first single appear - "Wide Open Space". Then it's a clear run of past or future hits, up to the more reflective "Naked Twister". "Egg Shaped Fred" may be their finest hour on 7" and it's cleverly held back until the penultimate track. And there's still the kitchen sink to hurl at "Dark Mavis". No one would consider allowing themselves to be inspired by "Dark Side of the Moon" in the 1990s, but Draper has artfully swiped the only useful bit - the conceptual intent - and reworked it to his advantage.

Having watched the album go straight to no.1 while supporting Suede, Mansun haven't yet let success go to their heads, unfortunately. Their appearance at the Cambridge Junction on the second night of their UK tour found their attitude at least still occupying the support slot. Audience interaction was minimal; towards the end, Draper attempted to communicate...something...but waves of squally feedback rendered him insensible and he shrugged and walked off, leaving the rest of the band to climax in a shriek of white noise. But their playing, such as could be discerned through the fog of the Junction's PA, was first class. Drummer Andy Rathbone is a thug, while guitarist Chad throws his head back during his starring moments in an absorbed pose familiar to anyone who knows that music can be as effective as any artificial stimulant. They were not afraid to reconstruct their own melodies either: playing for only an hour is short changing, but by rearranging their material they were able to fit three songs into the opening number alone. The joins weren't apparent.

Here's the truth: Mansun are the best band we've got, period. Their prolificacy means the audience doesn't have to wait two years while they try to extract themselves from a quagmire of drugs and groupie actresses; their talent still hints at a wide range of distant possibilities while already being far beyond adequate; and their music is simply more likeable than Pulp's. If the Britpop fad doesn't throw up anyone better, no one need complain. Mansun are good enough.

Ade Rixon
(unused to glowing reviews)

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