A REVIEW FROM 20 YEARS AGO (3)

#3 : 13 by BLUR (Pitchfork, 23 March 1999 – Brent DiCrescenzo)

Six albums into their envious career, Blur have finally found a sound to match their name. I’m sure the name initially came from the donut- stuffed mouth of Virgin A&R; reps who feared selling a band called “Seymour” to the Teens UK. “Blur” fits the mold of the monosyllabic, schwa- voweled noun system of Brit-rock nomenclature– Pulp, Bush, Lush, Suede. Now, after nearly a decade, Blur have grown comfortable with their image and talents. From now on, it’s their mission to make ears and speakers uncomfortable. With producer William Orbit spreading gobs of digital fuzz, guitar wash, and deep- space bleeps in heavy strokes with William De Kooning- esque glee, the tracks on 13 bounce between studio walls, planets, and effects pedals until slowly unraveling and releasing with mercurian flashes and cherubic keyboard. It all… well… blurs.

The more Guitar God status fans and critics throw on Graham Coxon, the more Coxon attempts to vigorously destroy such notions with feedback, drilling, and controlled crust, which in turn just makes the fans and critics swoon even more. From the wandering melodies that twang and fall apart in “Tender” to the tongue- in- cheek metal- solo, vacuum theremin freakout, and surf- boogie ending in “Bugman,” to the crescendoing strums of “1992,” Coxon drops creative brain- blowers all over 13. Yet, the album sounds nothing like the band’s last self- titled LP. These days, Coxon’s guitars are manipulated to sound unlike guitars. Plus, layers of organs and loops balance out the intoxicating mix. But it’s Orbit’s UFO studio tricks make 13 a much more cohesive and consistant record than the eponymous LP.

Despite Graham Coxon’s fingerprints, 13 is Damon Albarn’s record from start to finish. From the opening epic, “Tender,” in which Albarn delivers the line “Love’s the greatest thing that we have” with a sarcastic croon after admiting that his heart screwed up his life, to the beautiful, stripped closer, “No Distance Left to Run,” in which he sighs with resignation, “It’s over/ You don’t need to tell me/ I hope you’re with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleep,” Albarn opens his veins over 13’s DAT tapes. Sort of. On “Swamp Song,” though, he goes all Iggy Pop, grabbing the mic with sass and pose. And “B.L.U.R.E.M.I.” could be a Brainiac song, the closest tune here to attaining the backlashed “Whoo-Hoo!”

Despite all the knob- twiddling and pedal- kicking, 13 contains several surprisingly subtle songs. “Trim Tramm” bobs along to quiet chords before kicking in the jets, and “Mellow Song” lets dainty moon- cocktail piano lines and hollow chimes swirl around lovely acoustic plucking. Each song is unique, yet fits perfectly into the overall hungover, psychedelic, 2001 mood. Once again, Blur has kept one step ahead of expectations (well, okay, they didn’t with The Great Escape, but that was still a great record) and continued to impress. In a way, Blur is one of the last big old- school “album” bands, a band more concerned with their entire career than radio singles, more concerned with “album” than “song.” The Beatles made a dozen albums in the ’60s and continually progressed. The reason why is simple: when a band is really, really good, they consistently make good records. Duh.

JC writes:-

I’ve always had more than a soft spot for Blur. I liked the baggy-era beginnings but there was nothing at the time that really indicated they would not only be able to stand out from the crowd but enjoy a near 30-year career that would see them sell out stadiums in the UK and arenas in many other places. I fell for them big time in the run-up to and release of the sophomore album, Modern Life Is Rubbish before Parklife and The Great Escape turned them into massive stars, achieving what had long seemed impossible with gaggles of screaming teenybop fans at gigs alongside chin-stroking musos and those of us who just wanted to do whatever dance was appropriate. I stuck by them and was rewarded in 1997 with the self-titled fifth album, one which I feel contains or leads to many of their best moments thanks to the remixes which sneaked out under the cover of the Japanese-only release Bustin’ and Dronin’ the following year.

William Orbit had contributed four of the nine remixes and this, as much as his work with others, led to him being taken on to work on what would become 13, recorded from June to October 1998 in London and Reykjavík.

I think it’s fair to say that 13 was unlike any of the band’s previous efforts but in this instance it proved to be an immediate strength; indeed the diversity of songs and sounds on offer make it an album which is still a joy to listen to, not burdened down by familiarity. I contrast it with Parklife, another excellent record with many diverse songs and sounds but one I can’t but help associate with the time and place of its release and success and the fact that Blur gigs, out of the blue, became gigantic sing-alongs.

In terms of the songs, I really don’t have much to add to what Brent DiCresenzo said all those years ago when he awarded the album a 9.1 rating. There are beautiful and heart-felt ballads, there are tracks which would be nigh-on impossible to reproduce in the live setting and there’s also the most wonderful and radio friendly pop-song on which Graham Coxon took centre stage, assisted ably on backing vocals and harmonies by Damon Albarn:-

mp3 : Blur – Coffee and TV

In later years, it would be revealed that 13 was made at a time of real stress for the band:-

William Orbit – “There was a battle between Damon’s more experimental direction, and Graham’s punk one, and Graham prevailed. If that tension had been growing on previous LPs, it came to a head here”

Dave Rowntree – “Things were starting to fall apart between the four of us; It was quite a sad process making it. People were not turning up to the sessions, or turning up drunk, being abusive and storming off.”

Alex James – “I had songs; I played them to William. He liked them. But I was sulking. I didn’t play them to the others… Now I know how George Harrison felt.”

Graham Coxon – “I was really out there around 13, which made for some pretty great noise but I was probably a bit of a crap to be around.”

Coxon is bang on the money:-

mp3 : Blur – B.L.U.R.E.M.I
mp3 : Blur – Trimm Trabb

13, in summary, is a noisy, abstract and rather experimental album, one which challenged everyone, long-time fans and casual listeners alike. Twenty years on, it’s the album I would contend has proven to be their masterpiece – not the one that most remember above all others, but the one which really does stand repeated listens.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #189 : BLUR

A GUEST POSTING by TEDLOAF

HUGE APOLOGY FROM JC :

TEDLOAF SENT THIS TO ME AS LONG AGO AS APRIL 2018….I STUPIDLY PUT IT INTO THE WRONG FOLDER AND FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT UNTIL THE OTHER DAY…..

I love Blur. They’re in my DNA.

A band that big that have been well documented, where do you start with an ICA?

Chronological?

”I Know” was the first Blur song I heard and I thought it was a double A side with “Sing“ but it doesn’t cut the mustard for this. It was the only song of the following 10 that I dropped. The others were my first choices with no straying so I’ve gone for spontaneity over doubt and procrastination.

Enjoy the music.

Side 1

1. Crazy Beat

Graham Coxon, what a guitar player eh? The way that he takes Damon’s rudimentary chord choices and scruffs them up into something much more aggressive, atonal, angular, abrasive, in order to give the songs some much needed “a.alt” to Damon’s “p.pop”. Whether it’s a Fender Tele deluxe or Les Paul, a Headrush or ProRAT, Coxon plugs in and fuzzes up. It was Coxon that derailed the Britpop train to funsville in favour of alt-City USA! USA! USA!

Norman Cook added some spacious lives and Graham wasn’t around much, if at all, for Think Tank.

2. Young & Lovely

In 1993 erstwhile disc jockey Goldie was about to take charge of the country, elected to high office by a burgeoning jungalist massive hell bent on bringing down the old guard of Robbie Vincent, Django Reinhart and Virginia Bottomley (especially.) Over in the world of Indie Rock the retro sound of Fred Perrys and fake Harringtons were shuffling in the shadows as Modern Life Is Rubbish spewed forth some singles that were really quite good. Some of the B-sides may even have had “la la laaas” in them which made for a very pleasant sing-song whilst in the pub. Blur got bumped up festival bills above Back To The Planet. Mods were invented. Again.

3. No Distance Left To Run

I can remember Damon on the South Bank Show traveling on a train with commuters from Essex, lambasting the way that their lives had turned out whilst wearing a pair of Elvis sunglasses and I thought, why can’t people stop interviewing pop stars? Just let them use the format of a song to complain about how their love lives have gone down the pan and the connection is made.

4. Sweet Song

Sweets are sweet and this is the second best sweet song ever. Except with better lyrics. I was on the other side of the world in transit in Singapore when I first heard this and it made me all wobbly. I wanted to go home and be with someone.

5. Yuko & Hiro

“Ken Livingstone is a folk hero” said Kevin Roland when his Dexys were still Midnight Runners and he was reminiscing part 1. Unfortunately, folk hero status from Kev only lasts for as long a bun in the window of the Little Nibble. Yuko & Hiro takes the well drawn out characters created by Damon such as Colin Zeal, Tracey Jacks, Phil Daniels (but definitely not Ernold Same) and develops new well drawn, tired out characters set on a global stage, portraying a dystopian future where people are called Yuko & Hiro living in a world where they work all the time and never see each other. Are they happy? Is anyone really happy? Maybe they asked Ken for his opinion and thought it best not to sing about that.

Side 2

6. Star Shaped

Returning to Blur’s sophomore slump that should have been produced by Dave Moulding of XTC and not Stephen Morrissey, a little known fact was the level to which the boys would highlight environmental issues through their music and words. At the time I would quite regularly throw my imitation Brutus Trim-fits into the wash after just one wear and several cups of sugary tea. Star Shaped taught us, wash with new soap, behind the collar and it helps your mum by having to do less washing which also reduces the amount of harmful detergents released into the water table. Thanks lads! We met them when Graham was in his Colin from Meantime phase, got given enamel train badges and sang all the way home. Halcyon, la. La. La.

7. Thought I Was A Spaceman

After having my hopes of becoming the world’s youngest Ronald Koeman impersonator dashed by a lack of jowls I decided to try my hand at traps round Flash’s house. The lessons went well until I ran out of cash and Flash ran out of patience. I stepped outside and smelt the cliché of change blowing down my street and with it an old gang had decided to get back together again. Even more amazing was that they’d let Graham mix & produce a new album. Amazing. Imagine all the angular, angrier, abrasiver, guitaryer noise he would heap on Damon’s love songs about people living lives that were incomplete but they weren’t going to complain about it because they were stoic, middle class commuters on the 5.15 to Greece. Or something.

Magic Whip is great. I’ve got kids now. They love Blur and me & my daughter play drums along to Thought I Was A Spaceman.

8. Strange News from Another Star

Having never been sued by David Bowie, Blur realised that their self-titled fifth album, also called Blur, gave them the solid gold opportunity to cover unchartered artistic nautical miles for lawyers when someone spotted the similarity between MOR & Boys Keep Swinging by David Bowie (nee Jones). Clearly the legal eagles couldn’t be bothered to listen the rest of the album. Pillocks.

9. Trimm Trabb

I always wanted a pair of Adidas Munchen that my Casual school mates wore in ’84. I was a second and a half time Mod at the time so wasn’t allowed proper running shoes which made my illicit desire all the more frustrating. The Munchen had a low drop at the ankle making it at the same time sexy as fuck and shit for 5 a side. I don’t remember Trimm Trabb first time round but judging by the song, they could really lull you into a false sense of security and then kick your head in.

10. Under The Westway

If London is a lady then The Westway is a road on the western side of the city that is called the A40 merging into the M40. I have no first-hand experience of being under the A40 but I’m guessing it’s melancholic and could probably prop up the end of a Blur album with a never-ending chord borrowed from some Liverpudlian chancers.

Bonus Song – Girls & Boys : Terry Edwards & The Scapegoats

TED

BONUS POST : NEVER CLEVER

I’ve not been very good with the whole blogging thing in recent weeks….especially keeping up with the wonderful comments left behind here after each post…..and I’ve not visited many old friends for far too long. Not sure when things will get back to normal, but I’ve a couple of hours tonight to catch-up on a few things with T(n)VV.

Delighted to see some love for Popscene and it’s b-sides. I’m a big fan of Blur…they are an act I’ve long wanted to do an ICA on but there’s too much to choose from. I have had an e-mail offer for an ICA from a regular reader which I’ve accepted so there’s something to look forward to.

The Robster said this earlier today….

Popscene was not the hit the band or label thought/hoped it would be. They were gutted. It was planned for the second album, along with the follow-up single Never Clever, but when Popscene bombed, they scrapped plans for Never Clever’s release. After the second album was rejected by the label (who wanted it to include some “hits”), the band decided Popscene should left off altogether in a bit of a strop. “We thought if you bastards didn’t want it then [when put out as a single], then you’re not getting it now.” Since then they’ve held true to that outlook and never released it again, despite many believing it to be one of their finest moments. Never Clever remains an obscurity…

That may well be the case….but it hasn’t stopped me all that often before.

mp3 : Blur – Never Clever

Enjoy. It’s a belter of a tune.

JC

 

 

HEY, HEY, COME OUT TONIGHT

Back in 1992, I bought a 12” single from a clearance/bargain bin in a record shop in Edinburgh for 99p. It was by Blur, and at the time all that I knew about them, as I was going through a phase of not buying music papers or magazines, was that I had quite enjoyed There’s No Other Way, their hit single from a few months previously.

The single I purchased that day was called Popscene.

Years pass, and this bit of vinyl has now become a lot more valuable. While it did reach No.32 in the charts, it was a record that was deleted shortly afterwards, never to appear again. It wasn’t included on the 1993 LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, nor was it included on the CD of the Greatest Hits package that Blur released in 2000. Bizarrely enough, it did appear on the Greatest Hits DVD, and it was played live on the Greatest Hits tour when the set-list consisted of all the singles played in the sequence they were released.

Incidentally, I was at the Edinburgh gig of that tour which was the opening night of the Corn Exchange venue. It was a strange one – aside from hating the layout and acoustic of that venue (a view I hold to this very day), it was odd knowing precisely which song the band was going to launch into next. It took away all of the anticipation of wondering about what may or may not be on the set-list that night.

But back to Popscene.

I’ve no idea why the band have made it so difficult to get a copy of this record. Perhaps it’s their way of rewarding all the long-term fans who were around prior to the success of ‘Modern Life’ and the phenomena that was Parklife. If I did want to flog it, I could ask for £20-£25 as a minimum…not a huge amount of money but not bad for something out of the bargain bin.

As for the song itself, I think it’s one of the band’s best. It was more frantic and less poppy than the stuff that had featured on the debut album and was an indication of the sort of sounds that would come out on the next LP, which I still reckon was one of the best released in the 1990s.

mp3 : Blur – Popscene

Three tracks were on the b-side, all of which are well worth a listen:-

mp3 : Blur – I’m Fine
mp3 : Blur – Mace
mp3 : Blur – Garden Central

I’m Fine could fit on either of the band’s first two albums in that it is sort of baggy sounding in places but it’s hinting also at the more classic pop material that would appear on Modern Life Is Rubbish.

Mace is perhaps let down a little bit by a less than stellar vocal – it’s almost as if the band has come up with a slightly out-of-kilter tune that Damon Albarn at that point in his career wasn’t entirely comfortable with….but once the hits eventually came, he would prove to have no such problems. It’s a song that wouldn’t have felt out of place on 13 a few years later.

Garden Central is a real curio….clocking in at the best part of six minutes in length. It’s an instrumental and very much displays the talents of Graham Coxon. It’s the sort of tune that I’ve long thought coule be taken and mixed to within an inch of its life to make a great dance number.

Maybe Blur weren’t as lauded as the likes of Suede or Oasis for the quality of their b-sides, but there’s no doubting they were always willing to offer something a wee bit different.

And I’m just saying….if anyone fancies it….there hasn’t yet been a Blur ICA (I don’t expect Drew to make the offer mind you……)

JC

 

30, 20, 10 (Part 6)

The latest installment in the monthly series looking back at the songs which were #1 in the indie charts on the first day of the month 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

Last month I threatened to call a premature halt to this series if it continued to throw up anomalies such as Elvis Presley gaining top spot in September 2007.  So what do we have this time round?

1 October 1987 : mp3 : M/A/R/R/S/ – Pump Up The Volume

Absolute class.  A bona-fide indie-hit and indeed regular chart hit, giving 4AD a hugely unexpected and welcome injection of cash.

1 October 1997 : mp3 : Blur – M.O.R.

The fourth song from the album 13 to hit #1 in the indie charts that year.  It’s easy to forget just how much was riding on that album given how much of a panning that The Great Escape had endured two years previously.

1 October 2007 : Jack Penate : Second, Minute or Hour

I mentioned Jack Penate back in July. I’ve no wish to go over old ground.

Two out of three….the series lives to fight another day!

 

JC

30, 20, 10 (Part 3)

The latest installment in the monthly series looking back at the songs which were #1 in the indie charts on the first day of the month 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

Thus far, it has shown decent enough stuff (for the most part) in 87 and 07 while demonstrating that 97 was a year in which the major labels took dross to the top of the indie charts thanks to the exploitation of a loophole around distribution.  R. Kelly and The Rembrandts cannot, by any definition, be classed as ‘indie’.  Third time lucky perhaps?

1 July 1987 : mp3 : The Soup Dragons – Can’t Take No More

The band’s fifth release and their first, and indeed only 45, to take the top spot in this chart. It was probably helped a bit by the fact it was released in three different vinyl formats – 7″, 12″ and a live 12″ , the latter which included a rather appalling version of Purple Haze.  It’s all a long way removed from the baggy/dance stuff that took them into the proper charts a couple of years down the line.

1 July 1997 : mp3 : Blur : On Your Own

Food Records by this time were completely owned by EMI and so Blur were only eligible for the chart via that loophole referred to above.  It’s actually one of my favourite tracks of theirs from that era – it’s since been said by Damon Albarn that it was one of the first tunes he wrote with Gorillaz in mind. It climbed as high as #5 in the UK singles chart, again helped by the fact that it was released on 7″ vinyl and well as 2xCD singles with a number of b-sided that had all been recorded live at John Peel‘s home studio at Peel Acres and broadcast on his show on  8 May 1997. Here’s some bonuses for you to celebrate this series featuring that very set:-

mp3 : Blur – Popscene (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Song 2 (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Chinese Bombs (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Movin’ On (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – M.O.R. (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – On Your Own (live at Peel Acres)

And now, especially for those of you who like the electronic sort of stuff:-

mp3 : Blur – On Your Own (Walter Wall Mix)

It’s a 15 minute remix courtesy of William Orbit.

1 July 2007 : mp3 : Jack Penate – Torn On The Platform

I was working in Canada ten years ago and hearing this makes me glad of that. This is my first exposure to this particular singer/songwriter.

He was on XL Recordings which that same year also released albums by Radiohead and M.I.A. I’m guessing it was the late teens/festival goers who took him to the top of this chart and to #7 in the UK singles chart. Wiki tells me he was popular in 2006/07 but his second LP in 2009 sort of sunk without trace. His fifteen minutes of fame had come and gone.

JC

A REAL GROWER….

Blur-Beetlebum-76612

The Blur v Oasis ‘war’ of 1995 had swung one way then the other. The Essex band were declared the initial winners thanks to Country House beating Roll With It to the #1 spot but before long the Gallagher Bros had captured the hearts and wallets of a nation once they heard Wonderwall.

Come 1997 a new and different sounding Blur emerged. The fun-loving Britpop band had gone to be replaced by an altogether more serious sounding lot. There was an edge to the lyrics, but much more impressively, there was also an edge to the music. Above all else, where Oasis had seemingly stood still and simply wanted to regurgitate the songs that were the cash-cows, Blur challenged their fans to keep on loving them.

The Comeback single was released on 20 January 1997.

mp3 : Blur – Beetlebum

Was it a dig at Liam & Noel with their never-ending fixation on The Beatles? That’s what it sounded like first time round. It was one of those tracks that sounded OK on the radio but not one that would instantly stick in your brain. But it was popular enough to reach #1, only the second time this had happened to Blur after the afore-mentioned Country House (strangely enough it would be the last #1 single they ever had).

But it wasn’t until around three weeks later that I really appreciated Beetlebum for being a truly great song. I bought the new album, called Blur, and gave it a listen. The lead single was the opening track and as I was impatient, I hit the skip button to listen to everything else afterwards. After about eight songs I realised I owned a CD that was a bit special so I stopped there and there and went back to the beginning. And listened properly to Beetlebum. It sounded so much better played loud on the stereo than it did on the radio…the talents of Graham Coxon, Dave Rowntree and Alex James really shone through…and Damon Albarn provided a great reminder of how good a singer he was. Forget the fact that Oasis were now in a different league to Blur in terms of popularity and record sales…..this was the sound of the most important British band of their era coming good yet again.

Here’s all yer b-side of the single. Warning…there’s a reason they didn’t end up on the LP…..

mp3 : Blur – All Your Life
mp3 : Blur – A Spell (For Money)
mp3 : Blur – Woodpigeon Song
mp3 : Blur – Dancehall
mp3 : Blur – Beetlebum (Mario Caldato Jr Mix)

Enjoy

THE £20 CHALLENGE (Week Seven)

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SWC writes…..

This week has been crazy. Exeter has been taken over by Radio 1 and it is bedlam. Badger and I have both been asked to work on the Saturday on site at Powderham Castle. This might sound exciting but it really isn’t. The office where I am sitting, I say office, I mean portacabin, has a view of the back of the urinals from one side and a ‘burrito stall’ from the other. I am not sure which smells worse. The place is over run by people who have never been to a festival or music event before. People who are complaining that you get precisely no change from a tenner from the bar when you order two bottles of pear cider. People who do not normally drink in the afternoon, and in the heat, people who are moaning that there is no big screen TV to watch the rugby.  We also ran out of toilet paper around an hour ago. Its ok – I’ve spied a copy of the Sun which I am reserving for any ‘emergencies’.

And then there is the music. Sigh

Saturday headliners are Mumford and Sons, I’ve seen one of them walking about back here in the ‘enclosure’ wearing a fedora and sporting a beard that looks like he has wrestled a cat and stuck it to his face. They are joined on the bill by the likes of Meghan Traynor (no me neither), Nick Jonas and an act called Sigma who to make matters worse have promised that they will be joined on stage by horse faced professional stupid person Paloma Faith and wanky professional tax dodgers Take That for their brand of watered down pop rave. Its torment. The one saving grace if you can call it that is Jake Bugg, he’s alright, if you like watching a teenager pretend to be Ian McCulloch. Which I do. So there.  Actually his set was pretty good – I watched it later on telly.

The ‘New Music’ tent is marginally better, you do at least get Chrvches, and Tame Impala which should be pretty good and I have scheduled my break in order to watch both. I have also just seen Spring King on the Introducing Stage who were amazing and if you haven’t heard them yet I urge you all to check them out as soon as you can.

mp3 : Spring King – City

To top all this, Badger has just swung by my office – he is one of the lucky ones who has been allowed backstage into the VIP area. He said that it is full of journalists trying to interview Gary Barlow – not that good – but they have flushing toilets, fresh fruit and free water back there. I have a warm bottle of Volvic, a banana that looks like it’s been smuggled anally from the Dominican Republic and a sandwich that looks like it has been trodden on by the crowd on the way back from watching the earlier performance by Sigma and Take That. Anyway, Badger has swung by with this weeks CD.

“I thought you’d be bored so I thought I’d drop this by for you to listen to”.

He’s right I have been bored, so bored that I have just finished counting that there are 73 screws and 19 bolts holding this portacabin together. When the bass from the nearby whirly-gig roundabout throbs the whole places vibrates.

“I got it from the Teignmouth branch of ‘British Heart Foundation’ price £2, I must go, I’m needed to drive Meaghan Traynor to Exeter Airport at four pm.”

This is a true story. Badger drove a pop starlet to the airport on Saturday. He has barely mentioned it.

I open the bag that Badger has left on the desk. It has a note stuck to it which in true Badger style is written in green ink. He does this all the time when he thinks he is being clever. The note reads ‘Another Greatest Hits CD to add to your growing collection’. It is the ‘Best of Blur’. It is the 2xCD set – but in true charity shop style, CD2 appears to be missing. Genius.

The other day I bought Badger’s next CD (from the Rowcroft shop in Totnes) – or I thought I did – it was a copy of the debut album by Rage Against the Machine – only to get it home and find out that it was copied version of the sleeve and inside was an burnt CD of American nu metal fucktards Korn – never has the sound of case crushing underneath wellington boot sounded so refreshing.

I’m not a big Blur fan. However I’ll say this for them, they were incredibly consistent. It is rather ‘Parklife’ heavy for my liking and their best album ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ is woefully under represented here – with ‘Popscene’ and ‘Chemical World’ omitted but the rubbish ‘For Tomorrow’ included.

The thing that used to annoy me about Blur the most was their singer Damon Albarn – his mockney Cockney Cheeky chappie persona annoyed me to the point of violent swearing. I find ‘Country House’ difficult to listen to – the use of the word ‘Jackanory’ to describe how things are going for instance – its just too fake. I also used to live near a bloke who looked like Damon – and then spent all his time and money on perfecting this – and in the mornings when I left for work I use to see him walking to the train station – and it always put me in a bad mood.

Although today, it is cheese making, mates with Dave Cameron, bassist Alex James that annoys me more – no idea why.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the material that made it to this record. The early not quite shoegaze shine of ‘She’s So High’ the bouncy dance cross over of ‘Girls and Boys’ and the newbie (at the time) ‘Music is My Radar’ to pick three excellent tracks.

mp3 : Blur – She’s So High
mp3 : Blur – Girls And Boys
mp3 : Blur – The Universal
mp3 : Blur – Music Is My Radar

It’s a good album – if you own no Blur albums – its worth checking out, but it’s definitely not good enough to joining my list of Greatest Hits Albums worth buying.

So here is the skinny

Bought from Teignmouth British Heart Foundation

Price £2

Left £7

Weeks left 3

S-WC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (35)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MONDAY 7 APRIL 2008

fortomor_cd1_cover_big
The first time I can ever recall Blur was seeing their video for early single There’s No Other Way on TV and more than anything else it was made memorable by the lead singer’s truly awful bowl-style haircut. The song was no more than a standard bit of indie-pop of its time that sounded pleasant enough on the radio and gave the kids something to shuffle around to on the dance-floor. That was early 1991.

The band then disappeared off my radar and I thought nothing more of them. Then about a year later, I picked up a 12” single of theirs in a bargain-bin for 99p. It was called Popscene and it was a radical departure away from the previous single that I had known about – it was fast and dynamic with a horn section blaring away in the background and quite unlike anything else being released at that time.

Again its hard for younger readers to imagine that music fans were once completely dependant on the likes of the NME every week or Q magazine every month to keep abreast of what was happening. All I could gleam was that Blur were trying to crack America without any degree of success, and Food Records were threatening to drop them. Then I read that their second LP had been delayed, partly because sessions with Andy Partridge hadn’t worked out.

In May 1993, they released the song that I’ve selected at #35:-

mp3 : Blur – For Tomorrow

I didn’t actually buy this single – it was a time when I had stopped buying vinyl, and wasn’t prepared to be ripped off at £3/£4 for a CD single when the album would soon be available at £10-£12. So I wasn’t someone who contributed to it reaching the giddy heights of #15.

I listened a lot to the LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, and felt sorry for Blur that the success they craved and deserved continually seemed out of reach. It was a fantastically inventive LP, not unlike so many others by XTC which was hugely ironic given the sessions with Andy Partridge had been ditched in favour of working with Stephen Street of The Smiths/Morrissey fame.

But then out of seemingly nowhere monthly glossies in particular began to take an interest in the band. The fact they were articulating an argument against grunge, which was just about everywhere at the time, struck a chord with a number of emerging young journalists looking to hitch their star to a different wagon. Thus the seeds of Britpop were sewn…

The attention given to the band became justified with the release in 1994 of the single Girls And Boys, a celebration/parody of the particularly British style of hedonism known as an Club 18-30 Holiday which gave the band a Top 5 success and further platforms to slag off the influence of America on British music. Other singers and bands started doing the same – and if you want a perfect example, just check out the song The Campaign For Real Rock by Edwyn Collins – one of his finest ever recordings, and one whose lyrics became part of a series called Poems On The Underground (one of my most treasured possessions is one of the posters from the underground signed by Edwyn…tune in next Monday for more on this!!).

Blur released the LP Parklife in 1994 and went mega. Then they went head-to-head with Oasis for supremacy, and while the single Country House won the initial battle, The LP The Great Escape lost them the war.

The band went off and re-invented themselves yet again. Comeback single Beetlebum struck a chord with many, although I always found it a bit too-Beatlesque to be wholly enjoyable. Then came ‘Whoo-Hooooo. When I Feel Heavy Metal…’

Song 2 is something I will never tire of, and would probably have been the single of choice from Blur, except for one small fact.

Back in May 1994, just before Girls and Boys/Parklife took the band to new heights, myself and Mrs Villain went to see Blur at a now demolished venue called the Plaza in Glasgow. It was an old-fashioned dance hall, and not widely used by touring acts. It was one of those magical gigs where the band hit a high on the first song of the night and never let the momentum drop. The highlight however was For Tomorrow which everyone was now beginning to realise should have been a classic that hung around the charts for months, only we were all too busy either shoe-gazing or listening to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

It was a genuine hairs on the back of the neck moment….and that’s why For Tomorrow got the nod over Song 2.

The irony of Somg 2 is that it became huge in the States thanks in part to its adoption by so many sports franchises as music to accompany clips played on large screens in baseball, basketball, ice hockey and American football stadia. It was maybe as well that no-one dug too deep to find the anti-American sentiments that were being expressed just a few years earlier…

Blur haven’t officially broken up. Damon has enjoyed great success with his spin-off bands, Graham has become a bit of a cult act with his solo LPs, Alex has written a book, and Dave…..well he seems to be enjoying himself in his own techie-driven world.

We might yet see another album from them in due course. Or maybe not.*

*   that was a real sitting-on the fence prediction back in 2008 wasn’t it?????

 

A FORGOTTEN VICTIM OF THE BRITPOP WARS

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History shows that Country House by Blur beat Roll With It by Oasis to the #1 spot when both singles were released in the same week in August 1995. It also records that in the immediate aftermath, Oasis won the Britop war as the critics adjudged (What’s The Story) Morning Glory as far superior to The Great Escape, a view backed by the general public if sales were anything to go by.

The sad thing of course is that the initial singles battle was fought with two really inferior bits of music, especially when you consider the quality of the follow-ups, neither of which reached #1 despite deserving to do so.

The next single by Oasis was Wonderwall, released on 30 October and considered by many to be as good a song to stall ay #2 as any, and probably the song most associated with the band all these years later

Blur waited a further two weeks before releasing their follow-up and they went with the one truly outstanding track from the parent LP:-

mp3 : Blur – The Universal

It’s a song filled with melancholy and despair. It’s more or less saying, again, that modern life is rubbish and that there’s little chance of that ever-changing. The tune is haunting and moving while the icing on the cake is the truly magnificent video in which the band paid tribute to A Clockwork Orange, a movie which at the time was still impossible to see in the UK as its director, Stanley Kubrick, had had it withdrawn back in 1972 in response to accusations that the film had encouraged copycat acts of violence (the ban wasn’t lifted until after Kubrick’s death in 1999).

It’s a song which, if truth be told, would have been better served by wither being the lead single off the album or else kept off it entirely and released as a stand alone single once the promotional work for the LP had been completed. That way, it might have got what it deserved and not the miserly #5 chart position from where it quickly drifted away while Wonderwall kept selling and selling during a lengthy stay in the charts right up to and beyond Christmas.

The Universal came in 2xCDs, one of which featured four live recordings from a BBC Radio 1 session in September 1995 as part of the promotion of the parent album.

mp3 : Blur – The Universal (live)
mp3 : Blur – Mrs Robinson’s Quango (live)
mp3 : Blur – It Could Be You (live)
mp3 : Blur – Stereotypes (live)

Enjoy.

A LONG WAY REMOVED FROM PARKLIFE

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In 1993 and 1994 it was all a bit ‘cor blimey guv’ and catchy upbeat sing-a-long numbers driven along by the classic sounds made by a line-up consisting of singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer.

Things had changed a lot by 1997….

To be fair, Blur released a lot of great songs in 93 and 94, many of them being introspective and sad ballads, hat have aged a lot better than the likes of Parklife and Country House. And yes, it wasn’t always down to the use of the guitar-genius of Graham Coxon to make these songs memorable – some of their best and catchiest somgs used keyboards – e.g. Girls and Boys.

But very few fans were prepared for the self-titled 1997 LP. It sold less in the UK than more recent albums but sold far more in other countries. Blur and Britpop had parted forever….indeed their turning their back on the sound and movement that had brought them immense fame and fortune was the beginning of the end. That and it being endorsed by politicians.

I was thinking all this the other day when a stunning remix of one of the tracks on Blur came on the i-pod shuffle. The song that to me was their sign-off from Britpop. Something that I had not quite forgotten how good it was, but for the first time I was listening with a decent pair of headphones and I turned it up loud. Sorry it’s the usual shitty mp3 low-fi quality on offer. But you should get the drift:-

mp3 : Blur – Death Of A Party (12″ Death)

It’s taken from a Japanese CD called Bustin and Dronin’ although it may well be available elsewhere. As I said, it’s stunning…..it’s more than 7 minutes long ….it’s a mix by Adrian Sherwood and it’s miles from the poppy stuff – it’s almost reminiscent in places musically of Ghost Town – and it has a chorus Mozza would have been proud of:-

Another night
And I though well well
Go to another party
And hang myself
Gently on the shelf.

Feel free to sing along girls and boys.

PS : I make no apologies for this particular re-post from October 2012 as it features a cracking piece of music that might surprise those of you who normally have no time for the band.

A LA FIN

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May 1994.

Blur had just enjoyed their biggest chart hit to date with Girls & Boys. The song chosen as the follow-up single was a bit of surprise. Instead of taking the easy way out with another upbeat indie-pop number, the boys went for a very sad ballad, complete with lush orchestration and some lyrics that needed subtitles:-

mp3 : Blur – To The End

It climbed to #16 in the charts which was higher than most of the band’s previous eight singles, but was probably something of a disappointment to all concerned at the time. The co-vocal is provided by Laetitia Sadier who was at the time part of the wonderful Stereolab.

The single was released in 2 x CD format, with one of the formats featuring a couple of non-album tracks:-

mp3 : Blur – Threadneedle Street
mp3 : Blur – Got Yer!

Both tracks are perhaps a little bit Blur by numbers, but that doesn’t mean they are dull and boring. Got Yer! in fact must have been a candidate for inclusion on the LP Parklife as one of those odd little tracks that the band were fond of using to break up the pop songs.

Of much more interest was the fact that two versions of the Pet Shop Boys remix of Girls & Boys were made available on the other format:-

mp3 : Blur – Girls & Boys (Pet Shop Boys 7″ remix)
mp3 : Blur – Girls & Boys (Pet Shop Boys 12″ remix)

Some 15 months later, an awful lot of people would find themselves owning a new, longer, lusher and more French version of To The End thanks to its inclusion as one of the tracks on the smash single Country House:-

mp3 : Blur – To The End (comedie)

This time the co-vocal was provided by the iconic chanteuse Francoise Hardy whose recording career stretches back to 1962. She was 50 years of age when she sang alongside Damon Albarn which seemed ancient to me back then.  I’m now nearly 51 years old………………

Enjoy

AS SEEN OVER AT THE OLD PLACE : FEBRUARY 2007 (1)

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Interesting that this month saw me chastise myself for spending so much time writing live reviews and featuring stuff on CD singles.  The purist in me came up with a week-long series entitled going back to my roots which would be vinyl, vinyl, vinyl all the way Here’s a summary version of each post :-

Monday 5 February

From The Cost of Living EP, a re-working of the song Capital Radio along with an additional 45 seconds tagged on at the end…..a little Clash-mercial pleading with everyone to get down to their nearest Clash showroom

So here’s all 04 minutes and 05 seconds of:-

mp3 : The Clash – Capital Radio (Cost Of Living EP version)

Tuesday 6 February

Looking in the vinyl cupboard for something to show that there’s more than just twee-pop bands and the collective works of lesser-known Scottish geniuses living in there. And I found a 12″ single which, in the true spirit of TVV, put up a fantastic remix version that was available only on the reverse side:

mp3 : Senser – Eject (Over Zealous Mix)

Wednesday 7 February

Back in 1992, I bought a 12” single from a clearance/bargain bin in a record shop in Edinburgh for 99p. While it did reach No.32 in the charts, it was a record that was deleted shortly afterwards, never to appear again. It wasn’t included on the 1993 LP Modern Life Is Rubbish, nor was it included on the CD of the Greatest Hits package Blur released in 2000.

mp3 : Blur – Popscene

Thursday 8 February

So many things were going on in my life at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s that I wasn’t able to keep up with much new music.  Jacques the Kipper, aware of my fondness for what became known as Madchester, would periodically throw in my direction a rectangular box containing a cassette tape (young people – activate your google search now). Said cassette tape contained 90 minutes worth of songs, many of which I became very fond, not least today’s offering.

Fast forward to January 2007. A work colleague, on learning that I had started the blog, handed over around 15-20 records that he no longer wanted. Tucked away in the middle of the pile was this, and on the small indie label the band started out on:

mp3 : Paris Angels – All On You (Perfume)

Friday 9 February

I’m up late cos I can’t sleep. I never can when Mrs Villain is working away overnight. Right now she’s in Manchester on behalf of her company for a presentation to an important client just 24 hours after a previous presentation to a would-be client here in Glasgow who are likely to turn her down. Bastards.

So I thought I’d end my five days of postings from the original vinyl with the one song that always make me think of her.

There we were at a Carter USM gig at Barrowlands, Glasgow in the early 90s – me, Mrs Villain and Jacques the Kipper. Us blokes being experienced moshers felt it was just a bit too crazy with all those young folk being awfully lively down the front, so we were strategically placed just left-of-centre maybe halfway back.

Then the opening notes of today’s song came through the speakers.

DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAAAAAAAH

And before the same notes were repeated prior to the crashing guitars, Mrs Villain had gone….right down into the melee. I was gobsmacked. But I left her to it – we hadn’t long drawn up wills leaving all our possessions to one another.

5 and a bit minutes later she came back, drenched in sweat but with the most fantastic grin on her face.

So this is her song.

mp3 : Carter USM – Bloodsport For All

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