Twenty years used to be a long time in rock’n’roll. But although it’s been that long since Mansun released their debut album Attack Of The Grey Lantern, described by their frontman/main songwriter Paul Draper as “half a concept album – a con album”, the passionate following the shape-shifting, eccentric Chester quartet attracted back then is still looking out for them. It was a hard core of those mad-for-it Mansunites that launched a Facebook petition four years ago demanding that Draper finally do the decent thing and finish his long-postponed solo debut, demos and ideas for which had been floating around since his old band called it a day in 2003.
Full of howling-at-the-gods emotional catharsis.
So maybe it’s no wonder that Spooky Action benefits from a strength of songwriting most often found on artists’ debut albums, when they’ve had a lifetime of tunes to draw on, rather than a few weeks holed up in a studio with a record company breathing down their necks.
And while Draper’s inimitable, melodramatic vocals still make Spooky Action instantly reminiscent of Mansun, particularly on the powerfully melodic The Things People Want, the production and arrangements are idiosyncratic and original enough to make it sound pretty much unique. You might detect echoes of Japan and XTC in the uptight synth rock of Who’s Wearing The Trousers, but those are fleeting touchstones, and when it peaks with an instrumental solo so other‑worldly that it could have been played on anything from a guitar to a Moog to a strangled marsupial, you know you’re in the presence of a singular creative force. Feeling My Heart Run Slow is similarly incisive, as pulsing techno unfolds into big booming choruses and even a shredtastic metal guitar solo.
A prowling bassline underpins opener Don’t Poke The Bear as eerie keyboards hover overhead. It then builds over nearly seven minutes into hollering hysteria, and recent EP lead track Friends Make The Worst Enemies is clouded in a beguiling scuzz of pink noise. Yet while this album is peppered with peculiar sounds, it’s anything but inaccessible – the sweeping synth washes surrounding Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion boost it into an epic, crowd-friendly anthem, and the yearning melancholy of You Don’t Really Know Someone, Til You Fall Out With Them (he’s not one to undersell his titles, this lad) is full of arms-outstretched, howling-at-the-gods emotional catharsis.
This debut comes in several formats, including a three-CD set with hardback book, outtakes and a reasonably illuminating documentary about the making of the album. As such, after so long, all this should stave off his fans’ hunger for a while. And the taste left in their mouth will be a complex, savoury but highly memorable one.