Twenty years later and the shock of hearing Six for the first time still stays with me. I’d already heard the single “Legacy”, which was one of the best things I’d heard in years, and I’d also stumbled across “Television” on a front-of-music-magazine CD and that was a bit weird. Regardless of this, and as much as I had been anticipating the follow up to the mind-bogglingly brilliant Attack of the Grey Lantern, I really wasn’t expecting what we were presented with. I don’t think many of us were.
The signed were there though, from the artwork, laden with iconography but still evoking the 80s output of Marillion, to the fact that from the opening title track, it was obvious that this was not going to be an easy musical journey. The choruses and purposeful contemporary rock tunes of Attack of the Grey Lantern had disappeared and Mansun’s Prog-rock influences now held sway, as segments of songs were thrown together in an attempt to make coherent and pleasing sounds. That certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
Given time and repeated listens, Six does reveal its charms though. It was a contemporary Prog-rock record, released several years before Mars Volta would make that kind of thing cool again, and different enough from OK Computer and Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space, to silence any accusations of bandwagon jumping. Other than the previously mentioned “Legacy”, and the propulsive “Negative” there were no obvious singles here, but there are still plenty of quite brilliant moments, like the sudden change of pace that precedes the arrival of vocals in the second half of “Special / Blown It”. It even has an ‘interval’ section where veteran Dr Who actor Tom Baker gets to talk nonsense while we take time out to recover from the shock that Mansun had so totally and utterly abandoned any hint of the brain-engaging Britpop that they had made their name with.
Once you’ve got over the shock of just how different Six sounds its ambiguous lyrics and musical detours do start to coalesce into a cohesive album. Yes, it is still a little unwieldy in places, but it’s misshapen pieces do fit together. Given that so few other acts had tried to create an album this ambitious within the guitar-rock format for some time previous to Six being released, it was perhaps inevitable that anyone hearing it for the first time back in 1998 would have been confused.
Six was undoubtedly a brave move back in the day, and history has proved it to be every bit as enduring as Mansun’s chart-topping debut album. It’s a shame then that the band were seemingly put under pressure to abandon Six’s waywardness to record something more radio-friendly for their next album, which when you consider that “Legacy” had been their highest charting singles, and that Mansun’s fanbase were so enamoured with them, that three of the four singles from Six hit the top 20, was a dumb move based on the fact that the record label had just wanted another Attack of the Grey Lantern.
An awkward, wayward, but utterly unique album, Six not only stands out from Mansun’s discography as their most daring album, but one of the most interesting album’s from the late 90s.