Friday, August 29, 2014

A Time & A Place

Remember my friend JR, the one who bought me Metallica's S&M? Well, I bought him a CD in return - Attack of the Grey Lantern by Mansun.

Now, AotGL is one of my top ten albums of all time, and so I must confess that I was slightly saddened when JR posted a less-than-glowing review of the album on his own blog, Curios Mundane. Here's an excerpt:

"It's all very light, easy listening...I've had it on in the background for the past two weeks, and that's where it stays. The album has never jumped out from behind me and said, 'Hey you pay attention to me listen to how great I am!'"

Though he tries his best to cover it up ("That in no way means it's bad..."), it's clear that JR isn't mad about Grey Lantern. And this has me questioning my own opinions - why do I like the album? Do I 'get' it on a level that JR simply cannot? Does he just need to spend a little more time with it, to allow that gapless mesh of songs to gain a little more clarity?

Or am I the one in the wrong? The more I think about it, the more I wonder what I really like about AotGL. Do I love it for its sweet jams, its clever lyrics, and its colourful cast of characters? Or is it more to do with the memories that I associate with said jams, lyrics and characters?

Allow me to elaborate. Shortly after purchasing Attack of the Grey Lantern for the princely sum of £1 (thanks, The Record Shop!), I swanned off to Normandy with the Cardiff County & Vale of Glamorgan Music Service Brass Band. It was band camp, essentially, and that week in France was a lot of fun (not for any American Pie reasons, mind you).

"This one time..."

Now, that trip to band camp in summer '07 coincided with a prolonged period of iPodlessness on my part. My beloved Creative Zen Touch - the first MP3 player I ever owned - had finally given up the ghost, and with my 16th birthday still several weeks away, I was forced to make do with a portable CD player.

This put a serious cap on the amount of music that I could take with me to Normandy. With a colossal coach ride there, a colossal coach ride back, and quite a few little coach rides in between, I would have to choose my musical entertainment wisely, and I decided that Attack of the Grey Lantern - vast and impenetrable as it seemed after only a couple of listens - would give me a lot to chew over as we traversed those long stretches of French road.

I took some other CDs as well, but I needn't have bothered. Attack of the Grey Lantern got played to death that week, and I eventually came to know every nook and cranny of its gapless, '90s-sounding expanse. Time and again, I delighted in the big movie strings at the start of The Chad Who Loved Me; I thrilled at the big reveal that comes towards the end of Stripper Vicar; I even waited patiently for the hidden track, An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter, to arrive after the end of Dark Mavis.

Hm. See, I was going to suggest that I only like Attack of the Grey Lantern because I associate it with fun memories of that trip to band camp, but the more I think about it, the more I disagree with that hypothesis. Those memories add an extra dimension, sure, but the main reason I like that album is because it's a great album. It's dense, it's daunting, and it's difficult to get your head around until you've spent that much time with it, but I definitely think it's worth it.

Sorry JR, but you're wrong. Give the album a few more spins, listen properly (instead of just putting it on in the background), and I still think you'll grow to love it.

1 comment:

  1. I love AOTG, It's a mini masterpiece. However I was 18 in 1997.
    How old is JR now, maybe it's a teenagers album?