By: Gaz Cloud
Paul Draper | website | facebook | twitter |
Overshadowed in the commercial press by the return of Radiohead and amongst nostalgists by The Stone Roses comeback, nonetheless the promise of new material from Paul Draper had 90s indie purists purring. For the uninitiated, Draper was the lead singer and creative force behind Mansun, the greatest group of the late-Britpop era and arguably one of the finest bands of all time. Their debut album, Attack Of The Grey Lantern, set out their stall: a singular combination of Draper’s distinctive melodic language and dark, seedy songs full of colourful comic-book characters. Their second album, Six, is something else altogether: a beguiling body of work at once too punky and too proggy for the then current climate, its opening side-long medley contains more ideas and invention than the second side of Abbey Road. These cornerstone releases were supplemented by a host of numbered EPs, each favouring more throwaway material, but snapped up by collectors aware of the fact that here was a band at the peak of their powers.
Here we have a brand new EP One, announcing the start of Draper’s solo career proper. Kscope feels like the perfect fit for Draper’s return; Six still regularly features in prog-heads favourite album lists in spite of the band having never been retrospectively canonised into that great genre. Earlier in the year, the label released Confessions Of A Romance Novelist, the debut album from The Anchoress, featuring Draper’s writing and production. Setting aside that record’s musical virtues momentarily, it felt commercially at least as though Kscope were testing the waters for Draper’s solo endeavours to come. News of this EP, combined with the information that both the Anchoress herself, Catherine Anne Davies, and new prog royalty Steven Wilson would both feature, surely generated significant pre-sales for the outing.
Whilst Radiohead’s new opus continues their fearless exploration of new musical territory, The Stone Roses effort is an admission that their glory years are behind them. It’s tuneful and will appease fans, but it attempts to break little new ground. Sadly, Draper’s EP One has ambitions that more closely match Brown, Squire and co’s latest. The sound is exquisite at all times, and Draper’s vintage white soul voice is improving with age, far from the nasal whine he’s oft accused of. As on Confessions Of A Romance Novelist, bass duties are handled by Ben Stack, the former Nebraska man proving a perfect fit for Draper’s sound with incisive, instinctive playing. ‘Feeling My Heart Run Slow’ opens with rapid fire, machine gun drums and stuttering guitar, redolent of Prince’s ‘Dance On’. The feedback fades to reveal a tune that’s classic Draper, but lacks the poise and wit that made his contributions to Romance Novelist so enjoyable. It’s passable, but as comeback singles go, it’s somewhat lacking.
Any hopes that a collaboration with Steven Wilson would pick up on the weirder end of Draper’s musical spectrum, as covered on Six, are dashed upon hearing ‘No Ideas’. This instead sounds like several of Mansun’s more conventional career highlights mashed together as one. In fact, there are moments during the song where any listener familiar with ‘Legacy’ will struggle not to impose that track’s high-pitched “nobody” refrain over this one, only changing the lyrics to “no ideas”. It’s as though the conversation between Draper and Wilson went along the lines of “Hey, Steve, I hear you’re a Mansun fan. Wanna do a pastiche of our style and sound with me?!” Sonically it’s gorgeous, with epic, widescreen paranoia writ large in the music and ‘Taxloss’-esque burbling Bond style synths accompanying the chorus vocal. But with lyrics such as “I did a Google search to find out what comes up when I type in that I’ve got no ideas”, it’s hardly thematically inspired. Of course, both Draper and Wilson have referenced such subject matter before: Draper on ‘An Open Letter To The Lyrical Trainspotter’ and Wilson’s admission in ‘Happiness III’ – “is there anything I can write that I haven’t read; it’s all been said”. It all amounts to a strange sensation – master musicians, respected for their originality, creating something beautiful whilst laughing all the way to the bank.
‘The Silence Is Deafening’ is more good-yet-disposable Mansun-esque material that wouldn’t sound out of place on Draper’s former band’s EPs. The Twilight Sad replaces the urgent guitars and live drums from ‘Feeling My Heart Run Slow’, but his synth and drum machine rendition inventively subverts the melody of the original, and rounds out the package nicely.
In the sleeve notes to Mansun’s posthumous fourth album, Mark Beaumont inventively describes the band following Six with Little Kix as follows: “once you’ve revealed yourself as a sorcerer and visionary you can’t just put the peasant rags back on a get back behind the market stall”. Perhaps Draper’s career will forever be blighted by the sheer invention of Six, as what we have here is a very strong EP, yet, ultimately a disappointing one. Draper, a self-proclaimed critic of Little Kix, has spoken in interviews about his new material continuing where Grey Lantern and Six left off. The problem is that this record doesn’t follow these landmark releases as much as recycle their successes. Rarely has a record’s narrative so massively overshadowed its musical content.
Draper can and will do better. Here, it seems the EP’s running time is an obstacle to be surmounted. Draper is here, bereft of ideas. It is inevitable that the album will amount to more than this taster, and here’s hoping that Steven Wilson’s involvement on that record is more emphatic than on this one. This writer recently joked with The Fierce And The Dead, themselves fans of Mansun and Six in particular, that they may be forced to give up the title of “Best Album Named Spooky Action”, after Draper announced that he would be using this moniker for his full length. Based on this salvo, they may retain that crown yet. What we have here is a fine EP, just one that further underlines that Six was a one-off, whose creator doesn’t understand its own genius.