Legacy: The Best of Mansun
hat Mansun’s seriously posthumous Best of compilation begins with “I Can Only Disappoint U” speaks volumes—it was the flagship single from their third album, Little Kixx, the moment when Mansun, previously wilfully obstinate in creative terms (as demonstrated by the bizarre, cringing excesses of their second album, Six), started hedging their bets and tried to write straight-ahead indie rock songs that could sit on the radio without having 70% of their (ostentatiously tempo-shifting) length edited. The group’s debut album, Attack Of The Grey Lantern, spawned a handful of top 40 hits, and even Six fired a couple of chart-bound missiles. But Little Kixx, in trying for anthemic orthodoxy, stuttered, stopped, and collapsed the band, no casual listeners won over, and reams of die-hard fans left, well, disappointed.
Of course the group had already written one deliberately vapid, anthemic song which torpedoed the airwaves (“Wide Open Space”). Only, back then, the band were tongue-in-cheek, doing it to see if they could, and the public took to it with complete sincerity. With Little Kixx Mansun themselves were desperately serious, only the public, for whatever reason, didn’t care. “I Can Only Disappoint U” got to number eight, making it the band’s second biggest hit, but it wasn’t enough.
“I Can Only Disappoint U” was the only straight single release of Mansun’s entire career—every other single was actually an EP, given a numerical title in order of release date. “I Can Only Disappoint U” would have been Twelve EP but wasn’t, for some reason—although the two subsequent “singles” from Little Kixx, “Electric Man” and “Fool,” were known as Thirteen EP and Fourteen EP. It seems like a tiny, negligible thing, but these discrepancies matter to serious fans (take a quick look at the numerous, fanatical Mansun fansites out there).
Legacy: The Best of Mansun portrays an idiosyncratic but still essentially orthodox 90s alternative rock band; a shame because Mansun really should have been, and occasionally were, much more than this. Their singles (or lead EP tracks) showcase an energetic, hooky, and lyrically conceited (this is a good thing) act, but not the full-on technicolor prog lunatics that Six revealed them to be. Exhibit A is “Being a Girl – Part One,” two minutes of kinetic, thrashing punk. The album version, four times longer, closed the record, a crazed, time-changing behemoth. This kind of thing is sadly underrepresented here—instead we get the early-Verve-with-puns indie of “Take It Easy Chicken,” “Stripper Vicar,” and “Egg Shaped Fred.”
When Mansun hit top gear they hit it hard though. “Legacy,” their biggest hit, still sounds eerily prescient and laudably ambitious, while the anti-capitalist disco breakdown of “Taxloss” is several galaxies more evolved than the likes of Razorlight will ever be. Even the vapid grandeur of “The Chad Who Loved Me” is still enough to justify the conceit, while “Negative” and “Six” offer glimpses of the band’s most joyously deranged moments.
Fourteen consecutive top 40 singles is a decent career for any band, let alone one as odd as Mansun, but five years after their demise their actual legacy seems rather pallid and neglected. This overdue obituary of a compilation is unlikely to spark much interest, however worthy it may be.