Caramel

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.

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Published in: on April 28, 2008 at 8:15 am  Comments (2)  

Out Of Time

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.

Published in: on April 10, 2008 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Beard

Having just spent half an hour writing about “Fried” only to realise that I already wrote about it before I am in no mood to treat any Blursong with respect. Which brings me to “Beard”. Now, I don’t think music ought to be taken too seriously, and don’t mind artists indulging their whims, especially when it comes to b-sides and such. Only fans will want to listen to those anyway, so you can get away with quite a bit. However, what the hell got into them when they thought releasing “Beard”, a complete waste of jazzy instumentalism, as a “Parklife” b-side was a good idea? It’s annoying, it sucks, and in comparison “Alex’s Song”, “Ludwig” or “Supa Shoppa” are right up there with the band’s best tunes. And it sucks. And it got included on The Special Collector’s Edition while “Young & Lovely” and “Explain” didn’t.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Death Metal

Every young boy needs to go through a heavy metal phase, rediculous t-shirts included. I have fond memories of my days as a headbanger, even going so far as to occasionally listen to some of the better records released at the time, most notably Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, Pestilence’s Spheres and Morbid Angel’s Covenant. Funnily enough it’s my discovery of Blur (and to a slightly lesser extend Suede and, erm, The Lemonheads) that spelled the end of this spell, and prompted me to go get a haircut.

Blur and Death Metal crossed paths again during the sessions for 13 when Blur recorded a 30 minute song called “Death Metal”, probably inspired by Graham Coxon who claimed to be something of a fan of the genre. Whether the song’s got Damon grunting and Dave using double bass drum or whether it’s just a title remains unsure. The chances of it ever seeing the light of day are about as big as England winning the European Championship football this summer. Not impossible (just ask Denmark), but very very slim.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 7:59 am  Comments (1)  

Oily Water

Initially released way back in 1991 on indie compilation album Volume 2, and regularly played live at the time (as can be seen on the DVD reissue of Star Shaped, which is only worth buying for the bonus footage as the sound on the original film is the worst I’ve ever heard on an official release… shame on you’s, EMI!), the marvellous “Oily Water” was dug up when it came to completing Modern Life Is Rubbish‘s tracklisting. It sounds as out of place there as it did performed live accompanied by a load of Leisure-era tracks.

It is, however, a monumentally intriguing song. Lyrically, it was a massive step forward for Damon, while the watery sounds of the guitar sound as uncomfortable as said words detailing what sounds suspiciously like a hangover. Quelle surprise. The effect achieved by Damon hollering into a megaphone adds to the spookiness, as do the wordless chorus and the seemingly randomly inserted hooks here and there.

I remember listening a live recording of the song from Rotterdam around 91/92 on the radio, and a painful amount of feedback came through the PA system at some moments. When I heard the album version they were sadly missing, but bless them for not reparing a tape drop outs (or is it tape drops out?) or two.

File under songs that fade out/end to soon, next to the likes of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Purple Rain”.

Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 10:44 am  Comments (2)  

Peach

The lyrics sheets that accompany Japanese releases are notoriously unreliable. It appears that they’re translated from English to Japanese and back again, with often delightful errors, such as, say, “Chemical waste, best part of the beach”. And there was I thinking it was about being lovesick about some violent hippy chick eating peaches. It’s an anti-Greenpeace song, in which birds have no business nesting anywhere apart of the gaping hole in your head. Morbid stuff.

Very laid-back morbid stuff at that. The song’s strums and echoes recall “Blue Jeans” (which was released later in the same year), and was revealed to be a favourite of Damon’s when Select Magazine did that article about every Blursong. He still played it to himself regularly at the time. It’s doubtful he still does, but “Peach” is definitely yet another embarrassingly amazing “For Tomorrow” b-side, vinyl-skip-gimmick et al.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

So You

Sounding like it could grind to a halt at any time, 1999’s “So You” brought together post-Britpop Blur past and future like no song from the era. Its pleasantly underproduced sounds recall the Blur-era recordings while also hinting at Think Tank‘s more mellow moments. There’s more than a hint of Gorillaz in the melodica solo, while the words seeming to detail a relationship breakdown echo those of “No Distance Left To Run”. Which it is a b-side of.

Sadly, this song wasn’t ready when Blur released the singles boxset so the only way to obtain it is by buying the single. Or maybe it was ready, but wasn’t released when it could’ve been so as not to take away from the single’s sales. In either case, it’s an absolutely essential little jewel that deserves far more listeners than your average bonus non-album track.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Comments (1)  

She’s So High

Early in 1995 I decided I needed to learn to play the guitar. From my dad’s dusty bookshelves I grabbed a book of chords, and from my own CD-rack the booklets from the Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife albums. “End Of A Century” didn’t sound too difficult. It was. “No problem”, I thought, and tried “Advert”, which only had a few easy chords. Dreadful. Frustrated I began strumming away some random chords, and before I knew it I was playing “She’s So High”, the band’s first single from 1990. I imagine that’s kind of how the band came up with the song, and the lyrics.

Still, it may not have been “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but something was undeniably catchy so it was decided that this should be the song to introduce Blur to the children of the world. Alas, hardly anyone bought it at the time (least of all the children of the world who were in thrall of New Kids On The Block and Milli Vanilli), something not even a small riot caused by feminists over the supposedly sexist imagery on the sleeve could do anything about. Maybe they should’ve brought their boyfriends along.

Apart from being the band’s first official release, “She’s So High” also functioned as the opening track of Leisure, and several alternate (live) takes have been released over time, amongst them an excellent session version recorded at the BBC in 1990 and available on one of the “Music Is My Radar” CD-singles.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment