It is said that you have your whole life to write your first album, a year for your second. Normally this would mean a mere 18-20 years of experience is poured into a debut offering. Not so with Paul Draper’s first album, the 46-year-old Mansun front man has a wealth of experience to draw upon and decades to have worked on this album and it shows. Not only has he released a very personal album full of songs which obviously come from his own experience, but he has nailed every detail of the arrangements too. Without wishing to carry on about his ancient history in Mansun, fans of old will be satisfied that this seems to be a logical step from the last Mansun LP.
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An intensely personal record which has been bourn from trauma and the therapy which music gives, it is possible, one would imagine, to track much of Draper’s personal life through the songs. Mansun were often lauded/criticised for veering off on a prog rock tangent with overblown intros and instrumentals and that is again the case here. If you like tracks to build, repeat, grow and take a riff or melody to breaking point before shooting off in another direction you won’t be disappointed but therein lies the commercial problem with this album. It doesn’t contain any pop songs, the nearest it gets is the delightfully off kilter ‘Things People Want’ a song which follows a standard radio friendly format but is still probably off-key enough to dissuade extended listening from today’s saccharine reliant Xfactor spoon-fed music listeners.
‘Spooky Action’ is a grower and benefits from repeat listening, initially there is so much going on in many of the tracks that the sheer volume of stimulus takes the listener a moment to adjust to. The famous complaint which Emperor Joseph II made about Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro – “too many notes” could apply here so Draper is in good company. Vocally he has quite a range and chooses different voices for different emotions as you would expect with the emotionally charged subject matter and this works overall as this is not an angry album or a happy album. Indeed, it doesn’t rely on a single mood to characterise or define it, instead it’s an honest album with peaks and troughs which reflect the human condition in all its frailty and strength. Musically there is a myriad of elements from 80s electro pop through to the aforementioned shades of prog rock but with the almost undercurrent of synthesiser it always seems a modern album.
In today’s world of MP3 downloads there is a tendency to listen to tracks in isolation which would be a shame with this album, it’s grandeur lies in how the tracks fit together, in truth it is a present-day concept album about some nameless guy and the last two decades of his life. You could take episodes out of context and enjoy them but to really appreciate what the artist has gone through to release this album you need, just like any good story, to start at the start and then fully engage until the final note of the last track ‘The Inner Wheel’.