The Venue 15/03/1997 - Melody Maker (Gig Review)
GIG REVIEW THE VENUE, EDINBURGH MARCH 1997
To get all philosophical for a moment, the question is, what's the question? If all great bands are meant to send you into a tailspin of delicious confusion, then Mansun are all answers, the riddle solved, pop swots who've done all the reading ahead of time. They know what they're here for. And if you're not on your guard, then their unshakeable confidence could lead you to some foolish conclusions. Like believing Mansun are the future of rock'n'roll.
From the state of The Venue, where the only wide open spaces are between certain ears, that view is clearly gaining hold. You can see why. Predicting lean times ahead, Mansun have grabbed the commercial Zeitgeist in great handfuls like snow-bound shoppers in Sainsbury's, cannily stashing the blowsy rock euphoria of Oasis next to the artful dodger pop of Blur, reconciling the sheen of US production values with those raised-eyebrow quirks only vaguely literary British boys with a penchant for mascara can muster. It's not just the way Paul Draper, flirting with Manics chic in khaki and Che Guevara T-shirt puffs out his chest and rolls his eyes during Stripper Vicar, pumped up with that "ooh matron" innuendo so beloved of Damon Albarn, nor the way they chuck out weighty anthems like loose change. No, they've added some Kula Shaker freak-out guitar-horror (the end of Take It Easy Chicken), a few chunks of alienation and even a couple of shadows cast by The Cure to ensure all exits are sealed. They're like snake oil, good for whatever ails you, be it an old, incurable weakness for goth-tinged histrionics, or a nasty itch soothed only by snappy pop songs. If Carter, or, stick to this century, Space, came up with a song called Egg Shaped Fred, the hoots of derision would rightly be heard from here to Alaska. Mansun have clearly got away with it because basically, they're four nice looking lads who can write cracking tunes. And that's it. Thrilled? Maybe the question is: why the hell not?
Maybe it's their as-the-actress-said-to-the-bishop prurience that turns a viciously melodic song like Stripper Vicar into little more than a seaside postcard. Maybe it's because when you scrape beneath all this sound and fury, it signifies nothing. The front-of-stage vanguard of Paul, Chad and Stove has a certain blond ambition about i, even if Chad, "the most beautiful man in the world" looks bizarrely like Lou Ferrino pre-Hulk transformation. Paul has a pleasingly predatory air, swinging his guitar at the front row and narrowing his eyes, part pterodactyl, part deceptively clean-cut estate agent, but for all the convulsing and hair shaking, all the crowd hysteria - a hysteria that feels curiously psychosomatic - it's not as incendiary as it would like to think. It's a pity. Wide Open Space is immense, a chill blast of ice-cap alienation, all needling guitar and thready radar pulse, and playing it back-to-back with She Makes My Nose Bleed is almost enough to bludgeon through any defences, but ultimately, it's like being handed seven pots of hi-gloss paint and asked to make a rainbow. I just can't make that leap of faith.
In keeping with the Eighties influence - tonight, when they play Naked Twister you can almost see Paul in black and white, all overcoated up, wind machine blowing in his hair - the music is sleek, precision engineered and superficially desirable, but once you've consumed the choruses, there's a void.
Mansun might have brains bigger than most, eyes you could drown in and songs as wide as the Sahara, but their soul... their soul is the size of a pea.
© 1997 VICTORIA SEGAL ("Don't Fear the Draper" - Melody Maker - March 15, 1997)