The Mansun family

Britpop is officially dead. The void it leaves behind has been stuffed with a succession of bandwagoners and wannabes. Is there any hope for the coming year? Ryan Gilbey thinks a new cohort of rock bands holds the answer
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The Independent Culture
First there was Britpop. Then there was - what? Some of us don't care what comes next, so long as there are records on the radio that we like. But some of us like a bit of unity in our musical culture - a meeting of ideas and tastes and inspirations. We like the sight of pop music gathering itself up like an army and making tea-time raids on unsuspecting sitting- rooms. That's the sort of thing that Britpop - or punk or grunge or baggy - did very well. Was it any good? Yes, because it made people who never even talk about pop music start wondering: who will be number one? who's that song by? Oh, I do like them. It got pop music on News at Ten and that gave you the same feeling as when you stole into an 18-certificate film when you were 14.

Naturally, after any scene or trend has imploded, there is a period of dissipation. Britpop seemed to fall apart around the time that Oasis began outgrowing it and Blur started to deride it. It's not that the British actually stopped making pop music. It's not that Britpop ever actually went away. It's just that the new bands who fuelled that trend became old bands or, in the case of Gene or Sleeper, were revealed as bandwagoners. We needed another reason to get excited about pop music, and quickly, before Alanis Morissette invaded Poland or something.

And then this happened. This: Cast, Kula Shaker, Ocean Colour Scene. They made records that sounded like old soup. That was all very well, but then they had to go and start appearing on the covers of magazines, and that just isn't on. If you got a kick out of Britpop's colour and vitality and its look-at-me-I'm-on-the-telly impertinence, then the past year of British pop must have made you feel like unplugging the phone and going back to bed forever. Or maybe you just threw in the towel and pretended you liked The Spice Girls.

Will it get any better? It could do. Here are some names that may mean something to you soon. Broadcast are from Birmingham; they play spaced- out mood music, sometimes eerie, always delicately beautiful, which you might describe as the aural equivalent of one of Douglas Gordon's slowed- down movies, if that didn't suggest that Broadcast are boring. In fact, you will leave a copy of their new single "The Book Lovers EP" on your coffee table the way you did with your Portishead album, and you will play it every day. A band that you can show off to your friends about and actually listen to! That's what life's about, isn't it?

It's slightly embarrassing to have tipped the band Raissa for success exactly a year ago, and to still be here, tipping them again this year. But damn it, they deserve it. Their album Meantime was released two months ago, and confirmed what their live shows had suggested - that their fusion of jagged guitar patterns, ghostly samples and incisive melodies, not to mention Raissa Khan-Panni's soaring, amorphous voice, which can fell you where you stand, makes them the only possible alternative until Kate Bush joins Stereolab.

The most thrilling new rock band in the country, Mansun, are already on their way. They've been in the charts, and on TFI Friday and everything! And yet you could play their records side by side and still be no closer to defining exactly who they are, or what they're about. Their last single, "Wide Open Space", was a near-operatic chunk of moody-bloke rock, the sort of desperate anthem that makes grown men howl at the moon. But before that came "Stripper Vicar", a seedy tale of transvestism and the clergy whose Undertones-meets-the-Clash singalong chorus compensated for some rather Blurred lyrics. No matter how much you like Mansun - and make no mistake, they're a band to swoon to, a band to wear eyeliner for - you never really know what they've got up their sleeve.

Mansun formed because they wanted to: they wanted to be a band; nothing more driven than that. They signed to Parlophone after various record company heads practically offered their first-borns in exchange for Mansun's "x" on the dotted line.

"We're a weird signing for Parlophone", reckons Paul Draper, the band's singer, songwriter and guitarist. "They cottoned on quite early that we weren't just some pop group. We said, `You give us some space and we'll metamorphose into the huge stadium rock band that you desire.' And they believed us. The stupid twats."

The world of Mansun is a place where songs are not only called things like "Egg-Shaped Fred", "Skin Up Pin-Up" or "Ski-Jump Nose", but they actually turn out to be every bit as brilliant and startling and bizarre as their titles. Draper won't elaborate much on the contents of his lyrics, though the word "gobbledygook" crops up a couple of times during our conversation. He's a man of quick humour, and some self-deprecation, as you'll hear in much of his writing ("The lyrics aren't supposed to mean that much", runs one song, "they're just a vehicle for a lovely voice"). But you're also struck by his seriousness, his unwavering sense of purpose. Some of those who work with the band at Parlophone have likened Draper to Morrissey in his unshakable conviction.

Reading the past year's clippings from the music press, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Keith Moon was a more apposite comparison. Draper is less than pleased with the party animal reputation that Mansun quickly attracted. Not that it wasn't deserved - the guitarist and wildboy-in- remission Chad wears the sort of expression of calm and resolve that can only be reached after one-too-many whiskeys, or wrecked hotel rooms, or broken bones, forces you to call it a day. But until recently, the music weeklies were reporting the parties and shunning the music. Draper believes that was down to geographical and musical snobbery.

"I find it disturbing that if you're from the North of England, everyone expects you to be a certain thing," he complains. "People refuse to believe that there's anything in the North other than trainers and Adidas tops. And of course, we're a rock band too, which is very unfashionable. The thing I despise most right now is English guitar music. The Smiths were great but now everyone's been playing at being The Smiths for the past 10 years. I prefer to use a bit of synthesiser meself."

The words of a man once hopelessly devoted to Soft Cell or Adam Ant?

"Absolutely", he enthuses. "And that's stuck with me, because as a band we dress up, which is the antithesis of what we're portrayed as: lager- drinking hooligans. I would not say we were camp but we're certainly theatrical. I couldn't bear the thought of going on stage and playing dressed in jeans and trainers."

True to his word, Draper appears on stage that evening at London's Astoria dressed in tartan trousers that are a testament to his fearlessness. Better than Mansun's off-kilter-dress sense is their performance - the bull-in- a-china-shop rampages transform their pop ditties into full-on rock 'n' roll behemoths, while there are some moments of unexpected finesse during the eardrum-jeopardising finale "Take it Easy, Chicken". Most impressively, they don't come up for air - each number rolls into the next, giving a sense of coherency to songs that might as well have been written in different languages for all that they've got in common with each other.

Draper is understandably excited about the imminent release of Mansun's first album Attack of the Grey Lantern. "It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to write an album of singles. But I'm beyond that. I've tried for something more, something closer to the structure of classical music, the way symphonies are built. And I know I might have failed dismally, but that doesn't matter. Most of the beauty in pop music is in having a go"n

`Attack of the Grey Lantern' (Parlophone) by Mansun is released on 17 Feb, preceded by a single, `She Makes My Nose Bleed', on 3 Feb. Mansun are on tour with Suede from the end of this month. Raissa will tour next month to coincide with the re-release of their first single `Your Summertime' (Polydor). Broadcast support Pavement and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci at London's Astoria on 23 Jan. `The Book Lovers EP' (Duophonic) is out now