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 Addidas 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