Paul Draper – ‘Spooky Action’ reviewed

❉ The music world is a better place for the return of former Mansun frontman Paul Draper.

Albert Einstein, whilst he wasn’t being photographed poking his tongue out or hanging out with Charlie Chaplin, rather spectacularly revolutionized quantum physics in the first half of the twentieth century. Amongst the concepts he clarified was the notion that one object can be affected by another without being touched – the term he used was ‘spooky action at a distance’. Later, less romantic physicists have removed the spooky part, but as a poetic concept it’s a rather fine description of the relationship between musician and listener. It’s a title Paul Draper waited over a decade to borrow, originally giving it to the collection of songs he wrote and demoed in the wake of Mansun’s break up but never released, lost in disillusion with the music industry.

Draper’s low profile has been something of a disappointment over that decade. Mansun were always one of the most intriguing late Britpop bands, Dominic Chad’s inventive guitars underpinning Draper’s inventive lyrics and way with a title. Attack of the Grey Lantern remains one of the more pleasingly odd records to get to number one: a concept album rooted in new wave and synthpop about a superhero saving an English village from its own depravity and garlanded with titles such as Stripper Vicar, Dark Mavis and The Gods of Not Very Much. Even better and stranger was the Tom Baker starring Six, a grand folly to rank with Suede’s Dog Man Star or Pulp’s This is Hardcore as an example of where ambitious bands can go when backed by success. It certainly beat the hell out of the cocaine excesses of Be Here Now, being darker, wilder and stranger than their first album and taking in the death of Brian Jones, Tchaikovsky and being emotionally raped by Jesus.

Draper’s first solo album, after testing the waters with two EPs, refreshingly retains the ambition and musical fearlessness that seemed to have gone astray over Mansun’s last couple of albums. As an opening salvo Don’t Poke the Bear doesn’t lack for confidence – after crashing in with an approximation of a siren the song establishes a hypnotic, eerie groove from which Draper himself doesn’t emerge for nearly three minutes.  It’s almost purpose built for a grand opening number to any live shows, with Draper’s compelling, still slightly hysterical delivery often reminiscent of Matt Johnson. After the slightly more paranoid groove of Grey House, Things People Want is a disillusioned critique of capitalist society over a pulsing synth. Draper’s delivery and suggestion of better ways to look for happiness makes the song a far more enticing than it sounds.

Indeed, the whole album has the feel of catharsis, someone restlessly exploring and expressing the darker side of their nature. Who’s Wearing the Trousers is fairly clear that it’s another party, Jealousy Is a Powerful Emotion weaves a tale of betrayal over colder synths and Friends Make the Worst Enemies is hard not to read as the story of Mansun’s break-up. If it’s another Draper concept album it’s far more solipsistic than before: dispensing entirely with the Damon Albarn comedy characters, Taoism and Winnie the Pooh references of former days in favour of capturing a snapshot of the paranoia and darkness of a life falling apart.

This might all sound like the self-pitying actions of a confused rock star but it never feels that way: there’s always a certain electrofunk to the songs that makes it compelling. On the other hand, if this is something Draper had to get out of his system it makes where he hopefully goes next a fascinating prospect: if he’s stopped his inner wheel and learned to live again as he sings on the final track. It’s a return that’s everything you’d hope for, and even his former parter in crime Dominic Chad isn’t missed. The musical world’s a better place for Draper’s sharpness, wit and magpie inventiveness returning to it.

‘Spooky Action’ tracklisting:

  1. Don’t Poke The Bear
  2. Grey House
  3. Things People Want
  4. Who’s Wearing The Trousers
  5. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion
  6. Friends Make The Worst Enemies
  7. Feeling My Heart Run Slow
  8. You Don’t Really Know Someone ‘Til You Fall Out With Them
  9. Can’t Get Fairer Than That
  10. Feel Like I Wanna Stay
  11. The Inner Wheel

Paul Draper plays a sold out tour of the UK in September with a full live band that includes regular studio collaborator Catherine AD (the Anchoress). These are his first solo live dates. Paul will play at:

Thu 14th   Leeds, Brudenell Social Club

Fri 15th   Manchester, Gorilla

Sat 16th   Glasgow, King Tuts

Thu 21st   London, Scala

Fri 22nd   Bristol, Thekla

Sat 23rd   Birmingham, Institute 2

❉ ‘Spooky Action’ is released on Kscope on 11 August 2017. Formats: 3CD deluxe hardback book set / Gatefold 2 LP / CD /digital. Click here to order.

❉ Jon Arnold is the author of two volumes of the Black Archive series and the forthcoming Silver Archive ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Surprise/Innocence’. He is also currently working on ‘Seasons of War: Corsair’.

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