Coffee & TV

“Y’know, one time coffee was believed to be the drink of the devil. When Pope Vincent III heard about this, he decided to taste the drink before banning it. In fact, he enjoyed coffee so much, he wound up baptising it, stating ‘coffee is so delicious, it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it’. I also feel that way about coffee. And about TV. And … about Blur.”
– Bob Dylan, introducing “Coffee & TV” on his radioshow (2006)

The most popular of three Coxon-sung Blursongs, “Coffee & TV” is yet another in a long line of I-gotta-get-out-of-here songs. The lyrics, penned by Graham, describe someone longing for a more quiet existance after partying and abusing themselves for long enough. Someone who isn’t actually fit for living an rockstar life, because on the one hand his social skills aren’t up to scratch and on the other he’s immune to the bullshit that comes with it: “your ears are full but you’re empty”. He wants to retreat, possibly to the country with a wife, but is aware that there he’ll have to deal with stereotypes. He is, after all, famous for being one of them party people.

This musically irresistable song, with the same light gallop that would later balance out the lyrically sad Manic Street Preachers’ “Ocean Spray”, was released as a single in July ’99 when it stalled just outside the UK top 10. It was accompanied by a simply fantastic video, in which a milk carton goes looking for the missing Graham. Equal parts funny, sweet, sad and downright terrifying, it deserved every award that it got, and anyone that sees it will be treating their milk cartons with a bit more respect. As they should.

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Published in: on August 22, 2007 at 10:02 am  Comments (3)  

Bugman

… aka the song with the billion remixes.

To prevent first time listeners thinking 13 was going to be a picnic, the lovely “Tender” is followed immediately by one of the scariest songs Blur have ever done. From a lyrical view point it appears to be about someone that’s been locked away being allowed back into society. His time out hasn’t much improved him however, and he’s shouting out warning that people should “watch out for the bugman”. For now he can “stay away from the bugs”, the bugs pressumably being a sort of MacGuffin for whatever the man’s after, but who knows how long? The chainsaw solo about halfway through the song does little to take away the sense that a bloodbath is only around the corner.

At one point “Bugman” was considered as a single. Artwork (which can now be seen in the booklet accompanying the anniversary box) was prepared and each band member did a remix; “Metal Hip Slop” (by Graham) and “Coyote” (by Dave) are nothing to phone home about, while “X-Offender” (by Damon/Control Freak) has some interesting ideas, but still sounds like a Gorillaz outtake. Alex’s “Trade Stylee” is the pick of the bunch: a fun Underworld-esque dance stomper that doesn’t apologise for its lack of subtlety. All of these remixes appeared as extra tracks on various formats of “Coffee + TV”.

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 10:55 am  Comments (2)  

Sub Species Of An American Day

As far as albums built from demo’s go, Democrazy, isn’t quite up there with Nebraska. Recorded while Blur was touring in support of Think Tank, here were a bunch of songs that were just a bit too unfinished, but the fact that the release was limited to 5,000 vinyl copies suggests that its creator understood how big the album’s importance in the grand scheme of things is.

One of these songs, “Sub Species Of An American Day” appears to have been develloped into a bona fide Blur song when the band reunited towards the end of 2005. It remains a guess if the result sounds anything like the demo, as Damon’s described the music during those sessions as punky and brash, while the 2003 effort sounds only a few steps short of a Gorillaz song. Having said that, it’s easy to imagine the last twenty seconds, with its increasing of both speed and volume, would make excellent cacaphony if assisted by guitars, bass and drums.

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Girls & Boys

Sonja: Sex without love is an empty experience!
Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.  
(from Woody Allen’s Love and Death)

While this probably has more to do with both being influenced by Chic, the first thing that comes to mind whenever I hear “Girls & Boys” is how much this sounds like an early Duran Duran. The leaping bassline is pure John Taylor, while the guitars (probably less intentionally so) sound like they were flown in straight out of “Friends Of Mine”. Add to that a firm discobeat, and we’re ready to party like it’s 1981.

Except by 1994 everybody, and not just middle class boys in funny suits with silly haircuts, could save up their money and go on a sex and drugs and rock n roll (ok, eurodisco) holiday in Ibiza or on Mykonos. Sex in particular is high on the menu, and it doesn’t matter who or what you do, girls, boys, or anything in between. What makes “Girls & Boys” so great lyrically, though, is that it’s full of ambiguities. Is Damon taking the piss out of the herd or does he show admiration? If there’s no work available, there’s no need to avoid it, is there? Is he implying they’re all a lazy bunch of girls who are boys who like boys to be girls? The line about everything being reproduced followed by something about getting nasty blisters, in the meantime, seems to point towards the holiday crowd needing to visit their doctors and gyneacologists as soon as they get back since with mass distribution of bodyfluids come conditions Morrissey could only dream of on “Frankly Mr Shankly”. And what’s up with these mentions of love? Are you kidding me, Albarn, or are the holiday crowd trying to fool everyone, including themselves and eachother?

Suede had been there a year before, but “Girls & Boys” breaking into the singles charts’ Top 10 is probably the moment Britpop hit the mainstream for the first time. Coupled with a tiny handful of excellent b-sides and a cheap but iconic video, it was nothing if not a classic single. With the possible exception of “Song 2”, it’s also the band’s song that even people who think they’ve never heard a Blursong have heard.

There have been a few good cover versions, including a hilarious take by Idlewild recorded for Radio 1, and one by the Pet Shop Boys that, not surprisingly, stuck close to the Boys’ remix of “Girls & Boys”. If that’s not enough madness I can also recommend the version on Live At The Budokan, which has some very interesting guest vocals by selected audience members.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 11:42 am  Comments (2)  

Maggie May

They could’ve just said “no”, but weakened resistance in three quarters of the band resulted in this Rod Stewart classic getting unceremoniously molested for 1992 compilation album Ruby Trax. Only Alex refused to play on it on the grounds of despising Rod Stewart, and all bass parts were played on a keyboard. If only the rest of Blur had been as sensible.

It was also a b-side on “Chemical World” and subsequently included on The Special Collectors Edition in favour of the likes of “Young & Lovely”, “Uncle Love” and “Explain”. What really takes the biscuit though is that Blur’s label thought it’d make a good single, which, as far as record company blundering goes, would have been up there with Decca turning down The Beatles, Virgin Records buying off Mariah Carey for a rediculous sum only for her to release her biggest selling record on a new label a short time after, or Linkin Park being allowed near microphones and amplifiers.

Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Caravan

Listening to this, one of Think Tank highlights, always transports me right back to the boiling summer of 2003; I’d take the tram to work and had “Caravan” on high rotation on my discman. It made every mix CD I made at the time. Even surrounded by many of my favourite songs at the time its unreal beauty just stood out.

The music is pretty minimal. There’s some percussion, some guitar and a little bass lying as a not so firm fundament over which Damon sings a distorted vocal and weaves beautiful melodic parts. There’s a return of the la-la-la’s as well, although this time they sound more melancholy than hopeful (“For Tomorrow”) or a bit fucking arrogant (“Magic America”).

The titular caravan is, I think, a metaphor for love, or positive vibes (well, Damon’s a bit of a hippy, isn’t he?). During the first verse the feeling’s lost, and the narrator feels alone, but he knows that positive spirits will come back and when they do, he’ll know it immediately.

PS. Is that a deliberate homage to Sinatra’s “That’s Life” (to put it politely)?

Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Got Yer!

While it’s really hard, if not impossible, to love this waltz including possibly the sleaziest vocal Damon’s ever committed to tape, I can appreciate it on occasions, possibly because it happens to have more than a few similarities to Faith No More’s fantastic “RV”. It’s got some grumpy fellow attempting to kill a fly. It’s got sounds of geese and gunshot (a speeded up sample of Dave hitting a snare). And that’s about it. You can find it on one of “To The End” singles if you’re curious.

Published in: on August 9, 2007 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

You’re So Great

One of the biggest arguments I’ve ever had about Blur was about “You’re So Great”, essentially Graham’s first solo song (it really wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Graham’s excellent The Sky Is Too High). A friend of mine, a casual fan, saw this as ultimate proof that the band didn’t give a shit about their fans, claiming “they could’ve bothered recording it properly!”. I tried explaining that the fact that it sounds like mixing this song meant soaking the tapes in a large vat of vodka for a month complements “You’re So Great”, a song about friends pulling eachother through hard times. Alas, there’s no convincing some people.

Graham sings “tea, tea and coffee” in the second verse by the way, and not “DT and coffee” (and he’d save “TV and coffee” for the next record).

Published in: on August 9, 2007 at 11:42 am  Comments (16)  

Music Is My Radar

For their greatest hits compilation, Blur had already completed “Black Book” when “Music Is My Radar” came around. A minimalist dance-but-not-really song, including what one reviewer unfavourably called “Graham Coxon farting over a basic track”, it was destined to become known as the token new song to lure in completists… except those completists could have just picked up the single, so some live recordings were added to a limited edition of about five million copies of The Best Of as well.

The only time the song has been mentioned since was when Think Tank was released. Reviewers trying to convince themselves and readers that Graham leaving was a good thing pointed towards this “lacklustre last recording by the original band” (before, ironically, raving about said album’s “Battery In Your Leg”, a song featuring Graham and often singled out as a highlight).

But all this is rather too cynical for what’s ultimately a fun song about dancing and nonsense. Famously contains lines about Tony Allen getting Damon to put on his dancing shoes, well over half a decade before Tony drummed for The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

The promo including the band looking monumentally bored some six years before Bloc Party’s “The Prayer”, in the meantime, is unique in that it’s Blur only video not to have been included on a DVD release.

Published in: on August 3, 2007 at 11:47 am  Leave a Comment  

One Born Every Minute

July 28, 2007: Many unsuspecting members and lurkers at the official Blur message board surf in for their daily dose of speculations about the original four’s reunion or to check if there are any new interviews, only to find something remarkable: some poster named demodude has uploaded an album’s worth of what appear to be demo’s from 1993. While some of these demo’s appear to have doubled as radio sessions and two have had official releases, there are some others that have never been heard before.

One of the more intiguing of these is named “One A Minute”, released later as “One Born Every Minute”, known to have been written during the same end of the year 1992 holidays that saw the birth of “For Tomorrow”. Some elements from the demo sound like they’ve been carried over into the released version (the guitars in the two versions sound so similar I’m inclined to say they’re the same take), but the lyrics are very different, at least during the verses. Likewise, there’s no sign of the rediculous but fabulous Sesame Street-like weird effects (it always brings to mind a scene between Bert and Ernie where Ernie annoys the former with his comb-and-paper wind-instrument). In fact, it sounds perfect for the children to sing along to.

Was it attempted for Parklife, shelved, and finished two years later so it could accompany “Country House” up the charts? Was it finished earlier and pulled out of the vault when a b-side was needed? Why is the version given away on a flexidisc with The Bob magazine Nr. 52 called a demo when this is (apparently) the same version as on “Country House”? Or is the released version just a slightly more evolved version of the demo. All the questions… so many questions…

And they don’t really matter one bit. What’s important is that “One Born Every Minute” is yet another in a long line of excellent but underexposed songs by the best band of the past twenty years. And I ain’t biased! Altogether now, “Here we go, here we go, here we go again, dirty knickers, pop music, vodka beer and gin”.

Published in: on August 1, 2007 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment