Lovingly described by Graham as comparable to “Barbara Windsor coming around to take you up the arse”, “Lot 105” was considered better suited to close Parklife than the gorgeous but heavy “This Is A Low”. Most people I know would probably rather spend time sick in bed, crying for England and listening to the shipping forecasts than being on the receiving end of Peggy Mitchell’s sexual fury, but Blur were always different. The title refers to the song’s organ’s lot at an auction. Quite what happens “eighteen times a week” remains unclear, but you can be assured it, as all things Blur-related, occurs at a lower frequency these days. If at all.
Sometimes misheard lyrics stick so long and rigidly that the mishearer ends up preferring their version than what’s officially being sung. When I first heard “Bone Bag” I thought Damon was singing about his cat called Shaking Bone Bag. At once I found this adorable, while I did worry about the poor kitty’s health a little. On subsequent listens I realised that Damon ain’t no Pete Doherty (even though The Libertines hadn’t formed yet at the time and Pete was still queuing outside HMV for Oasis releases and impressing MTV reporters), and he must have been singing something else. I’ve googled the words several times, but no website has given me a convincing alternative yet.
“Bone Bag” was recorded around the same time as “Oily Water” and “Resigned”, and shares those songs’ hazy production and introspective themes, while adding some Indian flavours in the percussion. Apparently Dave programmed those, went to the pub and returned to the studio to find the finished song. It remained unreleased until April 1993 when the band put it out there along with several other high quality b-sides to go with “For Tomorrow”. It fell off the radar almost immediately but resurfaced in September 1999 when it was played twice.
If this turns out to be Blur’s last ever b-side they’ve at least finished in style on that particular front. Co-written with Graham Coxon, it’s the sound of Blur evolving into something completely different, as opposed to Damon doing whatever he wants like much of Think Tank (a great album, but not a band album). It, along with “Battery In Your Leg” and “The Outsider”, makes you wonder how the album could’ve turned out had the band remained a foursome. “Morricone” does that even more than those two songs perhaps, because it combines Damon’s interests in African music with Graham’s trademark exceptional fretwork. The slightly mocking backing vocals are the cherry in the meantime. What any of this has to do with Ennio Morricone, after whom I presume the song’s been called, is a mystery, but it makes a change from calling it “Song 2”, “Good Song”, “Sweet Song” or “A Song”.
Alex doesn’t like this one, but this track off Leisure deserves at least some recognition for preceding the current cowbell fashion, popularised by one Timbaland on the likes of Justin Timberlakes “SexyBack”, by some fifteen years. Maybe even more, as “Repetition” was already in the band’s sets during the Seymour days. Not much else is too notable about the song, or it should be the contrast between the light verses with some interesting guitar work and the slightly plodding chorus, which Billy Corgan may or may not have nicked from for the Smashing Pumpkins song “Try, Try, Try”. Presumably not, but the guy was so short on good ideas around the turn of the century he could have been desperate. Come to think of it, I think I have heard this song’s opening guitar notes in an earlier Pumpkins song too.
When in 2007 some mysterious fellow named demodude leaked some 1993 Parklife demo’s onto the net, Blurfans were understandably excited. It had been a very long time since we had heard anything new. What the demo’s proved was that at the time the band knew exactly what they were doing. The released versions didn’t differ too much from the infant installments, and when they did they benefitted from the additional work, with the possible exception of Alex’s “Far Out”.
The biggest improvement was made on “Trouble In The Message Centre”, or “Trouble” as the working title appears to have been (at least, that’s how the track was tagged, and as there is no mention of centres, message or otherwise, in the original lyrics I’m assuming this to be a case of correct tagging). Most of the published version was already in place, but without the synths toying with the main melody and awkward lyrics about someone with no personality, the demo misses anything resembling a drive to grab a listener’s attention.
New lyrics were written around the 1993 holiday season, if Parklife‘s booklet, where the words written on a hotel bill were reprinted (as was Kevin Godley’s phone number… he was in the running to produce the video for “Girls & Boys”, and had to change his number shortly after the release of Parklife). The lyrics are said to have been inspired by the keys on the hotel telephone, while the line about just striking it “softly away from the body” came from a book of matches next to the phone. The former is presumably true, but I doubt the latter statement due to the fact that said line was present in the demo version too, albeit far less effectively so.
However, as is often the case in Blur’s discography, it’s wordless vocals that make the song immediately catchy. Simple it may seem, but it’s harder to come up with an original and catchy la-la-sequence than the stream-of-consciousness rubbish or 6th form poetry that are too often confused with depth and poetry.
Strangely enough producer Stephen Street didn’t like this song. Maybe producing The Cranberries had affected his judgement a little. Just listening to their music for 2 minutes is like having a flock of dementors flying over at close range. One can onl imagine the horror of being holed up with them at Azkaban studio’s in Limerick for a few months
When Vox Magazine reviewed Blur as the record began hitting the stores they noted that David Bowie’s sollicitors might want to listen to “M.O.R.”, as the song had previously been employed as “Boys Keep Swinging”. Not long after, the song’s credits had the names of Bowie and Brian Eno added to them. Fair enough. The two songs do have a thing or two in common.
Lyrically, “M.O.R.” appears to deal with Blur’s career trajectory, while also being a statement of intent. Yes, their edge had been missing a bit in recent times, but this time around they’re taking no prisoners. Getting the popular vote doesn’t weigh up to artistic intents. “Fall into fashion, fall out again”, Damon sings before blatantly claiming that they “stick together, cos it never ends”. Really?
For the video four stuntmen would be wearing masks of the band’s faces while doing all sorts of dangerous shit on fast vehicles. Unfortunately, it turned out the masks looked nothing like any of the bandmembers and instead the stuntmen did their tricks with balaclava’s over their faces. We know they’re supposed to be the bandmembers because of the nifty anagrams we’ve been given at the start of the video: Morgan C Hoax, Lee Jaxsam, Trevor Dewane, and Dan Abnormal (of The Great Escape and Elastica fame).
Two different versions of the track were released for the UK and US singles, confusingly both called “Road Version”. The American one is the faster one used in the video, while the UK got something not too far removed from what was already on the album. It was, at number 15, the band’s lowest charting single in their home country since “End Of A Century” three years earlier, and wasn’t included on The Best Of (although a live version was on the not so limited edition’s CD2).
Recorded when Blur were still called Seymour, “Tell Me Tell Me” is a trashy little number not a million miles removed from the (slightly) better known “Fried”. Loud, fast and about some chick with a chip on her shoulder, it can hardly be called a highlight in the band’s oeuvre, but is enjoyable all the same because of the abandon with which it’s performed. Particularly of note are the aiaiai’s and barking sounds that Damon produces to complement the sound of guitars being manhandled. It’s got more in common with what Blur would be working on in 1997 than the Madchesteresque sounds that were in the immediate future. This little curio was ultimately released in 1993 as one of “Sunday Sunday”‘s many b-sides.
Back when I was still young and didn’t have a job I had to save up my pocket money to buy music. Three weeks saving would get me one album. One week’s allowance bought a single. I had just taken up the hobby of smoking cigarettes in abandoned buildings however, so not a lot of new records made my bedroom (this was the time when for the prize of one CD Single you could buy 3 cartons of Camel Lights… how times have changed). When “Country House” and “Roll With It” were released this caused some trouble. Which one should I buy first?
As I lived in Holland it wasn’t a case of supporting one band so they could get to Number 1 in the charts next week. Neither band would even dent the Top 40. I liked Blur better, but it wasn’t that easy. My sister’s two favourite bands were Take That and Blur. Buying “Roll With It” would annoy her no end. For any 16 year old boy enough reason to go up the hill backwards, so to speak.
Well, everybody knows that Blur’s single went to the top of the charts in their homecountry, and that Oasis had to take the silver medal. Then some other stuff happened, I’ll spare my dear reader the usual cliché’s, and these days Damon is an absolute genius, Graham a veritable solo artist, Alex an interesting and ever funny jack of all trades, Dave, ermmm, a very good Dave, and Oasis release the same record with some slight variations ad infinitum, while giving enough priceless interviews to justify their being around. Which makes the 14 August battle all the more silly.
But Christ, what glorious silliness! People taking sides, newsreports, the video’s on MTV every hour, a thousand other bands riding the waves made by the giants… a genuinely great time for music (and clothes!).
Hindsight has it that neither “Roll With It” nor “Country House” were much cop. Bollocks. The former has grown tired indeed, but Blur’s song is still an excellent popsong. It’s got everything, from pleasant verses to an excellent singalong chorus, a sad undercurrent that bursts into the foreground long enough to give the song genuine emotional weight, and a lyrical nod to “Morning Glory” that may or may not be a dig at Oasis (or Jamiroquai). Yes, it even has mystery.
Unfortunately, all members of the band with the exception of Alex seem to have disowned the song and its accompanying video, and its value has been in decline ever since. We, the people, in the spirit of Max Brod owe it to our children to preserve this monumental creation, and protect it from its creators.
I know better than to take Alan McGee’s word for anything regarding music, but when he published a blog about Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden in The Guardian a few weeks back I was sufficiently intruiged to get my hands on a copy. It arrived in the mail this Saturday and I haven’t listened to anything since.
Apart from the usual reactions (“whoa, what the fuck is this?”, “that’s the best use of feedback I’ve ever heard” and “is this the same guy that wrote that song that No Doubt covered?”), I couldn’t help but wonder if Blur had listened to the album before recording “Caramel”. It’s all there, from the song’s length to weird bursts of feedback, very effective use of dynamic range and vocals alternately mumbled and yelped.
It’s also happens to be one of 13‘s best moments.
Wow, it is already five years ago that one night I fell asleep on the couch and got woken up some hours after midnight by my girlfriend, “there’s a new Blur video on MTV! WAKE UP!”. I can’t have done too great a job at waking up, because I remember seeing this beautiful animated video, set on a ship or something. Not much later I bought the DVD version of the single, and couldn’t wait to see it again. I popped it into my DVD player and started watching. Except it wasn’t animated at all, but a documentary-like view of work on a warship.
It can’t have been a coincidence that the Iraq war that had been in the works began around the same time, and this added poignancy to the lyrics that could’ve been about any relationship spinning out of control. In fact, it’s now impossible to hear the song without placing it in the context of war, with the singer appealing to people’s love and dreams as the one and only way to “clear the clouds”. He isn’t blaming anyone, just pointing out that as people we’ve been so busy lately that we haven’t really stopped to think about what’s happening to the world. A world that, if we don’t start caring now, will have some serious trouble to endure in the near future.
Paradoxically, the video takes this wider perspective and then focusses back on the personal effects of this great big mess. A soldier stands on the ship’s deck and remembers her boyfriend, and sadly has to conclude that their time apart in these inhuman conditions has numbed them, and it seems unlikely they’ll ever get back together again.
Musically, this is the most graceful song in the band’s catalogue to be released as a single. It’s got a Moroccan orchestra doing beautiful slightly under-the-radar things, subtle drumming by Dave, a very prominent yet inconspicuous bassline by Alex, hardly noticeable guitars (Graham is rumoured to have helped out on the song despite him having left/been kicked out of the band before the song was recorded), and, not unimportantly, one of Damon’s most soulful vocals that instantly makes you forgive the slightly clunky verse about the sunshine being “in a computer now”. The public must have agreed, because the single shot to number 5 in the UK charts. Considering the song’s many qualities, even this seems an underachievement.
A slightly ragged acoustic version has appeared on a promo disc that was given away with The Observer newspaper. A nice little curio, but it’s strange to have Think Tank‘s crowning moment play second fiddle to “Sweet Song” all of a sudden.