Paul Draper: EP One album review

Paul Draper, the man from Mansun, returns in style with Steven Wilson in tow.

Cover art for Paul Draper's EP One

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It’s over a decade since the mercurial Mansun split. One of those bands who don’t fit into the prog canon’s fixed boundaries, the Chester-formed outfit were very successful (their 1997 debut album Attack Of The Grey Lantern went straight in at No.1 in the UK) but they divided critics, who couldn’t quite work them out. Too skilled and imaginative to be Britpop, but too adept at hooks and choruses to appease furrowed brows, they nevertheless built their own island, where they temporarily thrived.

Rumours of Draper solo material recently drew more attention than the singer/writer/musician/producer anticipated. His well-received collaboration with The Anchoress (Catherine Anne Davies) further encouraged him to re-emerge, as we now get an EP and what KScope declare to be a taster for an album to come. With contributions from both Davies and that present-day Zelig of prog, Steven Wilson, it’s a tantalising glimpse of what could well be a significant step back into the spotlight from a generally under-appreciated talent.

And – note – it is a brief glimpse, rather than a grand cards-on-the-table re-entrance. Just three tracks, plus a remix of the first by The Twilight Sad’s Andy MacFarlane. Feeling My Heart Run Slow opens, with a squeal of feedback and a clatter of drums, before a propulsive bass line reassures us that this will have structure. Draper’s vocal conveys both intimacy and drama, as it did in Mansun’s pomp. The song – that of a bitter, spurned lover accusing an ex of “sadism and big fun” – carries flecks of the industrial alt-pop of 90s peers like Curve, and breaks into a big, plaintive chorus. A Hillage-like guitar solo pierces the climax. It’s busy, and the attempts of the remix to turn it into Depeche Mode only make it busier, but packed with presence. It isn’t taking apathy for an answer.

A brief glimpse of an underappreciated talent.

No Ideas is more adventurous, and perhaps a cathartic study of writer’s block. Draper forlornly sighs of having
no ideas then digging up an old song called No Ideas: it’s all rather meta. A motif that might find a home in a James
Bond theme laps in, and Mr. Wilson accompanies on guitars, bass, Moog, Mellotron and synths. Rich with washes of atmosphere, Blur’s Parklife this isn’t.

The Silence Is Deafening is a co-write with The Anchoress, but begins with the sped-up voice of The Queen and her cut-glass diction bemoaning missing loved ones. It gallops along with an effective mix of swagger and vulnerability.

EP One is impressive rather than astonishing, but it serves notice that true talent is back in play.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.