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A prescription for art-rock withdrawal

Daniel J. Katz

In 1997, Radiohead released their critically acclaimed third album OK Computer. After a successful tour they took a long break, which was as deserved for the band as it was frustrating for the Britrock fans who have been waiting for a follow-up ever since. Welcomed substitutes have come from bands like Blur, Sparklehorse, and Remy Zero, but only one album has truly helped to quell OK Computer withdrawal symptoms. That album is Mansun’s second American release, Six.

While the varied soundscape on Six isn’t quite as progressive as Radiohead’s, it is an amazing effort. On Six, Mansun abandons the orchestral instrumentation that dominated much of its first album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, for a purely guitar-based sound. But as you can imagine, the guitars are modified by every effect under the sun, allowing the band to achieve impressively opposing styles, sometimes even within the same song. “Cancer,” the album’s seventh track, opens with menacingly hurried power chords, segues into a gospel-like chorus, and eventually winds into a piano solo before Mansun’s signature spacious Pink Floyd-esque guitar sound brings the song to a close.

Vocalist/songwriter Paul Draper’s intention with Six was to write unconventional songs that flowed into each other, giving the listener a truly holistic experience -- and he clearly succeeded. His songs are so eccentric and end so abruptly that not only is it difficult to notice when a song has ended, it often falsely seems like one is over when it still has a way to go. Other unique touches are present in “Special/Blown It (Delete As Appropriate),” which begins with a two minute instrumental that comes to a distinct end before the vocals suddenly appear, and in “Fallout,” a song with verses set to chimes from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.

Every moment of the album takes an unpredictable turn, and only after you get used to the weird segues you can start to appreciate the truly inspired moments. These moments include the killer guitar solo near the end of “Television,” the alternately spastic and calmed paces in both “Shotgun” and “Being A Girl,” and the expansive relaxed feeling of “Legacy.” Songs like “Fallout” and “Anti-Everything” unfold into choruses which seem to come from nowhere yet still find their place in a schizophrenic kind of way. The songs on Six are individual adventures, and the opening bars of a track seldom provide an accurate clue to where it will end.

There are only two straightforward modern rock songs on the album, and they occur right at the beginning. Both are terrifically hummable songs that would make excellent radio singles. The title track is steady rock that utilizes echoing over simplistic guitar parts to create a thoughtful and assertive song. “Negative” follows with a much more charged sound, dodging between restrained verses and a chorus backed with a searing guitar bent in every direction.

On this album, Mansun prove that they can easily work with existing rock genres, and at the same time take them in new and innovative directions. While it lacks the moody atmosphere of OK Computer, Six is a piece of art in the field of guitar rock and a worthy addition to any discriminating music fan’s library.