Six is the least coherent of Mansun's three albums. It varies greatly in style through the album, and there are songs which seem to be made of several different songs chopped up and stuck together, with wild tempo and mood changes. A listener's review on epinions.com put it perfectly:
"If you like music nice, straight forward and easy to listen to erase all thought of this album from your head and go buy a Boyzone album. Six is an album of interwoven themes, complicated arrangements, eight minute songs, opera, and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."
It took me a while to truly appreciate this album. It's the kind of album you'll pick up, listen to, think "What the hell?", put away for a few days, listen to again, start to like a couple of songs, forget about for a while, then discover again one day when you're in the mood for a change of music and become addicted to.
The album was entirely written in the studio - the band went in with a basic idea of how the album was going to start, a notebook full of thoughts and conversations, and a new philosophy of recording gained from two and a half years doing live shows, and worked from there. According to Dominic Chad, Mansun's guitarist: "The first thing we did was Six, the last thing the end of Being A Girl, and a lot of it was improvised and most was spontaneous, down to the lyrics - writing the lyrics on the spot a lot, that kind of thing... I still think Six was entirely a guitar record but people think a lot of synths but it isn't - we just really went to town with the processing of guitars. I was playing the guitars through old analog synthesizers..."
The album switches between slow quiet piano, contemplative guitar-driven pop and full-on rock - all within the first song, the title track of the album.
"I feel no pain...I feel no...I feel no pain, the Jabberwocky haunts me in the memory it's caged..."
Paul Draper's voice is beautiful, changing from soft and haunting to sharp and emotional, helped by a large array of effects and skilful production.
The second song on the album, Negative, is fast-paced, dark guitar rock with Mansun's typically eccentric lyrics.
"Son you tested negative, panic in your bedsit goes away...You converted to scientology to feel a part of something once again."
It's hard not to try to interpret the lyrics, despite Draper's insistance in Open Letter to a Lyrical Trainspotter, the secret track on Attack Of The Grey Lantern, Mansun's first album:
"The lyrics aren't supposed to mean that much, they're just a vehicle for a lovely voice...the lyrics don't mean nothing, won't right any wrongs..."
The third song on the album, Shotgun, starts with twenty seconds of hard guitar rock complete with cartoon sound effects, then segues into a brief electric piano, bass and drum improvisation, back into guitar rock, then changes tempo and time signature totally and becomes dark and brooding. This lasts about thirty seconds before the band kicks into a groovy, vocal-less riff which lasts for a couple of minutes before returning to a more rhythmic version of the earlier slow, dark section.
"The nature of uncarved blocks is how to describe what's hard to describe...vinegar taster says more force I apply more trouble I'm in..."
Inverse Midas is a slow, contemplative piano piece, providing respite from the more guitar-driven first three tracks. The last few bars of the song act as a sort of overture for Anti Everything, a slower, lighter guitar rock song.
Fall Out starts with the theme of The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker, with distorted, processed vocals, electronic percussion, and synths layered over it, then switches to more eccentric guitar rock.
"I know you're purely Marxist, your philosophy's so cool, with your tranquilisers, valium and gin... you talk of euthanasia, your breakdown was so cool, did Stanley Kubrick fake it with the moon?"
Seratonin is a short bass-driven rock song about depression and chemicals.
"Redux, redux, redux, redux - my chemist is the only friend that I've got."
Cancer starts with harsh, dark guitar rock, then slows down and goes through an emotional spectrum from dark and brooding to sad and contemplative. Draper's voice is at its most beautiful and wistful in this song, as are his lyrics of disillusionment and need.
"What now of my faith? Just a desperate exercise to limit pain...
I am weak, I'm emotional and sensitive and frail...In need of some love, pull the cancer from the Vatican's own state... Uninformed, you will harbour those who nurtured Europe's War."
After Cancer, there is a short pause of around twenty seconds, before Witness To A Murder, which features a spoken word piece by Tom Baker and opera singing, providing an interesting break between the two halves of the album.
"All my life, what I mistook for friendly pats on the back were really the hands that pushed me further and further down; the more I struggle, the less I achieve. Deep, chlorine breath, minutes bleed into hours, bleed into days; something keeps me in this disinfected womb."
The second half of the album is slightly weaker and less interesting than the first, but the two together combine to make a fascinatingly diverse album.
and, of course, my own ears.