Yuko & Hiro

Closing The Great Escape (unless you count what sounds like a short reprise of “Ernold Same”) is this strange and sad song that on the surface appears to be sung from the perspective of a Japanese worker (hence the working title “Japanese Workers”) that has to work rediculously long hours and doesn’t have much time to spend with his loved ones, but in reality it’s presumably a thinly-disguised lament about Damon and Justine Frischmann not getting an awful lot of time together due to band obligations: “I never see you, we’re never together, I love you forever”. 

Their unidentified employing company, in the meantime, will protect them if they work hard, but from what do they get protection? Financial downfall? Evil britpop fans? Oasis? Not from loneliness and alcohol abuse, that much is certain from the lyrics.

Damon had wanted “proper Japanese singing, not some Japanese rock chick”, and doubting producer Stephen Street could get the right vocal threatened to buy a CD with the type of singing he wanted to use that instead. Street delivered though, and what we hear are some of the first verse’s lines translated (somewhat roughly) into Japanese.

A sweet live version can be found on Live At The Budokan.

Ben Folds, in the meantime, appears to have been fascinated by “Yuko & Hiro”. On his Songs For Goldfish album we find a “Hiro’s Song” in which Hiro is a 51 year old that leaves his family for his 22 year old secretary… named Yuko. Of course the age gap (and the fact Yuko was a highschool friend of Hiro’s daughter’s) gets between them and Yuko leaves Hiro again for a “drum programmer”.

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Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Inertia

Thanks to Star Shaped, this was the first b-side by the band I ever heard, although not until I bought the Japanese only Special Collectors Edition did I discover that this little pearl (which the band wished they’d included on Leisure) was not called “Luminous”. Highly uncharacteristic of early Blur (though not too far removed from some Seymour material), this is an honest and emotional song, with liquid sounding guitars that alternately sound like rays of light and dark clouds blocking out the sun. It does seem to work best on melancholy what-ought-to-be-summer-but-you-couldn’t-tell-from-the-weather days.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Magic America

Despite its title, this song says more about people outside America than Americans. We’re treated to the odd cliché, dreamed up by a character, Bill Barratt… a man whose Plan A has fallen through and now he’s his mind on a great escape. We don’t find out if he ever gets to realise his plans; during the second verse he surely is in America sending home postcards, but if detailing fast food prices is as interesting as his adventure is he may be heading back home very quickly.

It’s a catchy enough song, but since it appears to be written about a soulless character the song does its best blending in with its surroundings a bit too well. There’s no room for substance here. Bill Barratt’s Parklife‘s charmless man, and the song he inhabits is its “Charmless Man”.

Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kissin’ Time

“Sort of about Damon, and sort of about me” – Marianne Faithfull

I’ve tried writing about this song on a few previous occasions, only to be out of words within a few sentences. One approach was an introductory paragraph, detailing Alex James’ friendship with Marianne Faithfull as described in his autobiography Bit of a Blur, but so what if he tried to snog her and she refused. I feel a bit like Woody Allen’s character at the start of Manhattan. Maybe I should point out how ironic it is that the best Blursong of the past seven or eight years is not on a Blur album? Or that this is as good an indication as any of how Think Tank might have sounded had Graham not left? It’s got all of that album’s elements (sounding in need of a little oil, yet having an undeniable groove at the same time), but with someone who can actually play the guitar playing guitar… No wait, maybe I should begin by stating how effortlessly sexy Marianne Faithfull’s voice sounds after all these decades, like a female Bob Dylan in a world full of Minnie Riperton or Nina Hagen wannabees.

Nah, I’ll just steal a quote from Wikipedia, throw all these random thoughts into one paragraph and express my complete incomprehension this was never a single.

Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beached Whale

I have never heard this Modern Life Is Rubbish outtake (which for years I was convinced was called “Bleached Whale”), but it must be good as the band were really on a roll at the time. Here’s hoping that either someone can persuade Alex to leak it onto the net, or it’s released in some rarities collection.

Now, about the second option: do it well! That means, a CD or couple of CDs, handsomely packaged, and available at record stores. Whatever you do, band/record company, do not follow the cheap and easy way of releasing such a collection as an iTunes exclusive. Physical copies we can play on our stereo sets is what we want. Or worse, ff I were a U2 fan I’d have gone to Hogwarts to learn some curses by now; the audacity of releasing such a collection only as an extra in The Complete U2!!!! I’d put a fucking Banishing Charm on The Edge, landing him right in a dole queue. Anyone who wants to hear bands’ outtakes are those that own all the records, sometimes multiple times over. Surely no fan will want to have to buy several hundreds of mp3’s of songs they already have for several hundreds of dollars/punds/euros to get twenty “exclusives”.

Published in: on July 24, 2007 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Birthday

obsolete bridge syndrome:

  1. Phrase meant to describe Dutch habit of spending years building constructions only to disregard them as soon as they’re ready for use.
  2. Different bit added somewhere in the middle of a song that has absolutely no function whatsoever apart from harming the overall quality of said song. Example: Tori Amos’ “Girl”.

“Birthday” is an exceptional song in many ways. With the possible exception of “Sing”, none of the other songs on Leisure sound anything like it. Secondly, the heads of Food Records actually liked it. Thirdly, it sounds remarkably quiet. Had it been recorded in the past ten years surely all dynamics would’ve been squashed out of it so that people can listen to it properly in their car.

The music reflects the lonely lyrics that are slightly on the wrong side of self-pitying. Maybe it was the hangover; legend has it the song was written after a wild night out after which Graham woke up in bed with a friend and his lady, Alex in a different town altogether, and Damon in jail. But really, we’ve all had to spend a birthday or two in the presence of a bottle of vodka and absolutely nobody to have a laugh with. Get over it.

But why that fucking loud part some two and a half minutes into the song? Is it to make it sound more like “Wear Me Down” or something?

Published in: on July 23, 2007 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Country Sad Ballad Man

Blur may have been a radical departure, but the sequencing of the album really suggests that while the band wanted to “scare small children”, they didn’t want to scare them too much too quickly. “Beetlebum”, which had been released as a single before the album arrived, may have had a different sound, but it was essentially a well-written pop song. “Song 2”, loud in a “muppets doing Nirvana” way (copyright Vox Magazine), could’ve been the token loud song (see also “Globe Alone” and “Bank Holiday”).

“Country Sad Ballad Man”, with its badly recorded drums, rediculous falsettoing Damon, acoustic guitars, ploinks and weird sounds, is where the fun really begins. It appears to be another song about retreating after spending too much time in the spotlights, with a protagonist who doesn’t sound even remotely sorry about losing touch with his friends (“forgot their numbers”): he’s got more important things to worry about. Or not worry about. He sounds slightly numb, despite describing himself as a blizzard on the comeback road. Coming back to what?

All the same, it had been a while since the band sounded so laid back on a record, and while this may have been the moment some of the fans they’d picked up during the previous years started to get frightened, for the rest of us it was positively refreshing. The front row would never have no pubes again, to paraphrase an Alex James joke. We’ve got Gorillaz for that.

A lovely acoustic version was released as an extra track when “Song 2” came out as a single.

Published in: on July 13, 2007 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sweet Song

For a band that have been dubbed “The Streets with guitars” by those that care less, Blur have an awful lot of truly heartbreaking songs. The one that gets me choked up without fail is “Sweet Song”, a song whose lyrics are easily interpreted as an au revoir aimed at Graham Coxon (“someone here’s really not happy”, “it seems I never got through to you”, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, it takes time to see what you’ve done”). There’s also an unassuming line in the song’s second verse that, at least in my eyes, manages to sum up the so-called Life-trilogy it’s not even a part of: “people get so lonely”. It’s a truly magnificent moment.

Sadly, this quiet ballad with an effortlessly beautifully sad melody suffers from some digital clipping, the biggest evil of a lot of modern records (for a truly insulting example of this, check out Depeche Mode’s otherwise excellent Playing The Angel). A lesser work would never be listened to again. Hopefully one day, when the war is over, all great albums from this decade will be remastered to sound quieter.

A bare demo was included on a CD given away with The Observer, and matches the Think Tank version in sheer beauty, despite what sounds like some improvised and mumbled lyrics. More disturbingly, a version with a rap by Dave may or may not exist.

Published in: on July 13, 2007 at 10:15 am  Comments (3)  

Far Out

My sister’s favourite Blursong, for the simple reason that it’s sung by Alex (her favourite bandmember) and better than the released version of “Alex’s Song”. According to the Select article about all songs by the band until 1994, the version on Parklife is a reworked version of a faster “Far Out” the band recorded earlier. It’s been made to sound suitably spacy to reflect its subject matter, basically a selection of names of a whole load of crap that’s out there in the universe. Something to do with the stars it seems. It’s very sweet, mind. You can picture Alex lying in the grass, bare feet, piece of straw in his mouth and looking up at the stars, recording the vocals onto a dictaphone.

Interestingly, a “remix” of the song is included on the No Distance Left To run DVD, accompanying some text about space stuff… Something to do with Beagle 2, I believe. This remix is faster, rougher, and has an additional bit, with Alex excitedly singing, “ten billion light years wide and time on either side and inside outside inside outside in far out far out”. Or something. Could this remix be the earlier version with some keyboard effects from the later version included? The guitars certainly sound very ’93/’94 Blurlike, and while it goes on a bit (it’s more than twice as long as the better known “Far Out”), I actually prefer it to the Parklife version.

Published in: on July 12, 2007 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

All Your Life

From the band’s let’s-see-if-we-can-get-away-with-stealing-from-Bowie phase. They were unmasked in the case of “M.O.R.”, but last time I looked the credits of “All Your Life” still read Albarn/Coxon/James/Rowntree. A miracle, because the verses of the song share more than a few similarities with the great Dave’s “Oh, You Pretty Things!”. Had it been included on Blur, instead of the “Beetlebum” single, surely two songs on that album would’ve partly been creditted to Bowie. All that should not obscure the fact that “All Your Life” is a marvellous song, and another contender for a b-sides compilation, should there ever be one.

Lyrically, it reads as a goodbye to the Britpop-scene:

Put a new t-shit on and wash my face in beer
Fall through the crowd and disappear

Hold my breath and count to a hundred and ten
And back up the hill to start again

Oh England, my love, you lost me
Made me look a fool

A change of scenery after the highly succesful but emotionally draining year of 1995 kept the band together, and Damon sane. “It was only whilst being in Iceland overlooking the Arctic Ocean and the glorious mountains that I had a very different feeling towards creating songs”, he said, and the line about going up the hill to start it again may reflect that (though it may also be yet another Bowie reference, but admittedly that would be pushing).

In any case, as far as b-sides go, they don’t come more essential than “All Your Life”, a four minute summary of what happened to Damon (and Blur) in 1996, the year they were on the receiving end of much ridicule as that other band involved in the Britpop wars grew to rediculous size. How fortunes have changed since then.

Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment