For­mer Man­sun front­man’s (very) long-awaited solo de­but.

Prog - - Intro - Johnny ShaRp

Twenty years used to be a long time in rock’n’roll. But al­though it’s been that long since Man­sun re­leased their de­but al­bum At­tack Of The Grey Lan­tern, de­scribed by their front­man/main song­writer Paul Draper as “half a con­cept al­bum – a con al­bum”, the pas­sion­ate fol­low­ing the shapeshift­ing, ec­cen­tric Ch­ester quar­tet at­tracted back then is still look­ing out for them. It was a hard core of those mad-for-it Man­sunites that launched a Face­book pe­ti­tion four years ago de­mand­ing that Draper fi­nally do the de­cent thing and fin­ish his long-post­poned solo de­but, demos and ideas for which had been float­ing around since his old band called it a day in 2003.


So maybe it’s no won­der that Spooky Ac­tion ben­e­fits from a strength of song­writ­ing most of­ten found on artists’ de­but al­bums, when they’ve had a life­time of tunes to draw on, rather than a few weeks holed up in a stu­dio with a record com­pany breath­ing down their necks.

And while Draper’s inim­itable, melo­dra­matic vo­cals still make Spooky Ac­tion in­stantly rem­i­nis­cent of Man­sun, par­tic­u­larly on the pow­er­fully melodic The Things Peo­ple Want, the pro­duc­tion and ar­range­ments are idio­syn­cratic and orig­i­nal enough to make it sound pretty much unique. You might de­tect echoes of Ja­pan and XTC in the up­tight synth rock of Who’s Wear­ing The Trousers, but those are fleet­ing touch­stones, and when it peaks with an in­stru­men­tal solo so other-worldly that it could have been played on any­thing from a gui­tar to a Moog to a stran­gled mar­su­pial, you know you’re in the pres­ence of a sin­gu­lar cre­ative force. Feel­ing My Heart Run Slow is sim­i­larly in­ci­sive, as puls­ing techno un­folds into big boom­ing cho­ruses and even a shred­tas­tic metal gui­tar solo.

A prowl­ing bassline un­der­pins opener Don’t Poke The Bear as eerie key­boards hover over­head. It then builds over nearly seven min­utes into hol­ler­ing hys­te­ria, and re­cent EP lead track Friends Make The Worst Ene­mies is clouded in a be­guil­ing scuzz of pink noise. Yet while this al­bum is pep­pered with pe­cu­liar sounds, it’s any­thing but in­ac­ces­si­ble – the sweep­ing synth washes sur­round­ing Jeal­ousy Is A Pow­er­ful Emo­tion boost it into an epic, crowd-friendly an­them, and the yearn­ing melan­choly of You Don’t Re­ally Know Some­one, Til You Fall Out With Them (he’s not one to un­der­sell his ti­tles, this lad) is full of arm­sout stretched, howl­ing-at-the-gods emo­tional catharsis.

This de­but comes in sev­eral for­mats, in­clud­ing a three-CD set with hard­back book, out­takes and a rea­son­ably il­lu­mi­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary about the making of the al­bum. As such, af­ter so long, all this should stave off his fans’ hunger for a while. And the taste left in their mouth will be a com­plex, savoury but highly mem­o­rable one.

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