2020 has been a year of very few certainties but there was no doubt in my mind that the first instalment of this year’s ‘Record Store Day’ on the 29th August would provide something very special indeed: ‘The Dead Flowers Reject’ by ‘Brit Pop legends’ Mansun (a term I loathe as I feel it undermines their integrity). It’s not new in the sense that it’s newly written material, rather a collection of songs that were recorded around the same time as their 1998 masterpiece ‘Six’, now housed neatly in a nicely presented, limited edition white vinyl release (courtesy of cracking independent label, Kscope). For Mansun fans, this is a real treat. The band split up in 2003 and there has never been a glimmer of hope in terms of a reunion so any new release will always be welcomed with open arms.
For a start, I love the artwork. The flowery flamboyance of the front cover’s text set against the minimal, wooden-effect background is simple yet really effective.
As stated on the back cover, this collection could effectively be seen as the follow up to ‘Six’. Now….I hold that album in extremely high regard. A desert island album if you will. It’s a stunningly immersive suite of music and I’ll always be arrested from the opening strains of the eponymous first song through to the closing chaos of Being A Girl. So, while I had very high hopes for this release, it was up against some pretty stiff competition. Then again, having preconceptions about music (or anything else) never did anybody any favours so I just poured a glass of wine and settled in.
Well, it’s excellent isn’t it? Opening track ‘What It’s Like To Be Hated’ kicks off with a sleazy, distorted bass line and a groovy verse which dives willingly into an infinity pool of typically lush and devastatingly melodic Mansun magic in the chorus. It’s washy and warm and instantly memorable. Quite the moodsetter.
This leads seamlessly into the jaunty, straight-talking, terse charm of ‘GSOH’. It’s a short-lived, tongue-in-cheek song and serves as an effective segue to the spiky, distorted lead guitar intro of ‘Been Here Before’. This could easily take up residence amongst the songs of ‘Six’. It opens up wonderfully and the guitar sound that precedes the verses is immediately identifiable, commanding the song with confidence along with the impossibly effective chorus harmonies. I love the dark cadence of the closing chords too.
‘When The Wind Blows’ starts portentiously with eerie keyboard notes and then bleeds disarmingly into a loungy, dreamy verse with a ghostly, hypnotic drum beat. The bass meanders mournfully like a sad drunk lost in the night. I could listen to this part of the song on repeat for quite some time. It’s peak Mansun. The chorus then jolts you from the reverie, exploding with Paul’s authoritative vocals, declaring “I’ll still love you when the wind blows through”.
‘Can’t Afford To Die’ is a bendy, metallic, dancy, catchy number with a really hooky, radio effect chorus and a verse that all parts of your body can shake to. Lovely, ethereal vocal effects in the verses and my word, the melodies in the chorus…the band were an authority in this regard. I was instantly there with them and I shivered my way through. How did they keep coming up with this stuff? This song is so, so cool.
‘Church of the Drive Thru Elvis’ is a chilled out, acoustic affair. Almost claustrophobic in its closeness and sense of intimacy. The songs have been pretty pushy up to this point so a change of pace provides a nice dynamic shift. The background plucked notes in the latter stages are a lovely touch too. The apathetic lyric “You’ll take life better than me” is beautifully delivered.
‘I Care’ opens with a dreamy phaser which surrenders to airy slides in a comfortable lull which then completely morphs into an upbeat, mid-tempo chorus and repeats the theme already established in punky, rocky fashion before retreating to the calm elegance of the verse. It’s quite a juxtaposition throughout the song that works well.
‘King of Beauty’ showcases both the gripping androgyny and spitty attitude of Paul Draper’s voice. It’s littered with gorgeous effects throughout and wailing wahwah guitar notes. I like the downscale build-up to the chorus and when it booms in it strikes me as a song that I could have easily lost myself in if I had ever been lucky enough to have seen them live. *sigh*
‘But The Trains Run On Time’ has a feeling of The Cure or even Duran Duran about it. It shimmers darkly. I think it might be the sleek nightclub swing of the bass line, the occasionally atonal guitar notes and the prominence of the vocals in the mix. It’s a pretty hypnotic and addictive song.
‘Check Under The Bed’ is a straight-to-the point rock song with strong, lifted vocals and a climbing, driving bass line. The bass in general is the focal point of the song for me. It’s awesomely groovy and roomy and serpentine. Ah, here come the shivers again. Love the dancy hi-hat rhythms tucked into the chorus too amongst the deftly delivered melodies. I also like the brief breakdown towards the end which makes you think that the song might be over before treating you to a final refrain.
‘I Deserve What I Get’ is quite an experimental track. It has a weird and wonderful feel. Plenty of strange noises and effects here but it’s definitely quite catchy. It strikes me as a band trying new things. I love it when they go experimental.
‘Railings’, the closer, provides a suitable finish to the record. Rainy day piano notes pepper the verses and the reflective lyrics suit them perfectly. The choruses stand tall and proud before crashing back down as quickly as they erupt until the latter stages of the song send you down a river of beautiful noise.
It will take several more listens before I properly get to grips with this but it’s clearly a great collection of songs. There is a ‘Six’ feel running through parts of it without it ever being too Sixxy. It’s definitely its own thing and holding a new release from this band is something rare and incredibly exciting.