Colchester Arts Centre
Welcome to rock limbo, a place where nothing but uncertainty is certain. As England and Argentina wearily swap ends for the second half of extra time, we race to the nearest church-cum-converted toilet venue to pray for Michael Owen. Our pastors in prayer are Mansun, four men of no fixed image or direction, pop’s most elusive chameleons. We can expect rock, yes, but what colour, shape or creed the rock may appear in is a closely guarded secret. “The match has gone to penalties,” mutters Paul Draper, guitarless and already sweating from the tension. Then he and his band of eclectic rock mavericks blast into ‘Everyone Must Win’, all pomp histrionics and ecstatic wailing, and it’s like those 30 years of hurt never happened.
Oh yes, celebrate the impossible, that’s Mansun’s bag. FACT: it is impossible to define or pigeonhole Mansun because, with every twist, turn and unexpected harpsichord interlude they laugh in the face of indie and gob at tradition. FACT: Mansun are one of a handful of visionaries who are working to drag pop’s head from its own sphincter and show it that there is more to achieve in music than a Norman Cook remix. FACT: in a few months, Mansun will release a 70-minute opus entitled ‘Six’ which will meld classical aesthetics with the most stunning rock experimentation you have ever heard – structure-free movements of serrated pop that are to ‘songs’ as sperm whales are to squids.
It is ‘The White Album’, ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Queen Live At The Opera’, ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘The Three Tenors’ and ‘The Best Nicaraguan Nose-Flute Album In The World… Ever!’ all smashed to pieces and liquidised in a blender. It is quite possibly the album that we have been waiting for since ‘Screamadelica’: the album ‘OK Computer’ claimed to be; the arrival of the New Music – big, bold, scary, soft, confusing and planet-quakingly ambitious music which will blow all of your expectations of what guitars should sound like into orbit around Pluto. It will contain a maximum of two choruses. And it will rock like a quite monumental bastard. I am not on drugs.
So, with this mammoth classi-rock headfuck waiting in the wings, tonight Mansun are dancing in the open grave they’ve just dug for rock’n’roll. They power through Da Hits with hell-for-leather intensity, roaring into ‘Stripper Vicar’, ‘She Makes My Nose Bleed’ and ‘Wide Open Space’ as if giving them one final, affectionate bludgeoning before laying them to rest with knives in their throats. It’s a celebration vibe they conjure, a riotous wake for Rock As We Know It. And in the meantime, like those teaser trailers for Godzilla, they offer us the briefest glimpses of the beast that’s about to rise from the swamp and tower a mile high over Indieville.
‘Shotgun’ is essentially three songs squashed into one, blending from a rapid-fire punk drum cascade into a windswept epic into a loose-limbed funkathon with Paul chasing the distant shadow of a melody through it all, blase and bombastic as you like. ‘Negative’ is a more focused slab of pure pomp anger, like a bloodshot and fuming Radiohead in Hell, and includes a frankly majestic chorus. One down… Bearing in mind that this new material will take the average listener a good million-odd spins to fully comprehend, this is commercial suicide on the grandest scale. But why should that bother a band who have arguably committed commercial suicide with every single record they’ve ever released and still become more successful?
Even a song as simple and direct as ‘Taxloss’ is mutated into a chundering ’70s TV detective theme with a rocket launcher up its arse before giving way to the trademark set destruction finale. Confused? You will be. Brilliantly. By the end of the year, some people will be leaving Mansun gigs vomiting blood. Others will leave bemused, wondering what the hell they’d been watching for the past hour. Some will leave babbling in tongues, utterly converted to the new Mansun creed.
Tonight, having witnessed the farewell Greatest Hits gig of Mansun Phase One, we leave to the news from the doorman that our prayers were futile, that four more years of hurt must be strapped to our backs. But not tonight. Tonight Mansun have come home and Colchester alone is dancing in the fountains.