"What's your favorite band?" people ask me. "Mansun," I reply. "Marilyn Manson?" they ask. "No, not Marilyn Manson," I say.
Mansun were an alternative rock band popular in England in the mid-to-late '90s. Though they were often lumped into the Britpop category, Mansun's sound and message were very different from those of their contemporaries. Lead singer Paul Draper snarled his way through songs berating everything from the record industry to the British government. The band drew their sound from new wave and even progressive rock. They didn't set out to write catchy three-minute pop songs (though they sometimes did) but instead wanted to create sweeping rock 'n' roll epics.
Mansun were graduates of the Manic Street Preachers' School of Rock 'n' Roll Fashion. In early press shots, Draper can be seen wearing spray painted blouses just like the Manics had done before him. He once appeared shirtless with the words "Stripper Vicar" written in red lipstick on his torso. Mansun clearly rejected the lad culture celebrated by Britpop giants Oasis. On the 1998 single "Being A Girl," Draper expresses his boredom with a desire to be a girl. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly a lad rock anthem.
Blur's Damon Albarn set out to write music celebrating the English identity. Draper wasn't so kind when singing about his native country. On the early single "Take It Easy Chicken," he whines, "I'm sick of this. England's shit." Paying homage to the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" it's not.
But all of this is what makes Mansun great. They weren't lads with guitars and "proper haircuts" like so many of the Britpop bands; they were doing their own thing. In the video for the 1997 single "Taxloss," the members of Mansun are filmed throwing £25,000 of their record company's money into an unsuspecting crowd. The 1998 single "Legacy" is all about the empty, fleeting nature of rock stardom. "Nobody cares when you're gone," sings Draper.
Mansun released three studio albums and a number of EPs before splitting in 2003. Between tension in the band and mounting pressure from their record label to release a fourth album, Mansun had had it. The group's label EMI posthumously released Kleptomania -- a collection of songs that would have appeared on the fourth album, b-sides and rarities -- in 2004 following an online petition from fans and Draper's cooperation.
In the years since their break up, Draper, Stove King, Dominic Chad and Andie Rathbone have largely stayed out of the spotlight. Rumors constantly persist about Draper releasing a solo record. Occasionally, he can be found collaborating with current bands like the Joy Formidable and My Vitriol. While many Britpop bands have recently reunited to great fanfare, a Mansun reunion is sadly unlikely. Though I never saw Mansun live, all of the concert footage that I've seen is positively electric. I suppose I'll just have to keep hoping for the return of the grey lantern.
Check out Kayley's Mansun YouTube playlist here.