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)  

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.

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)  

Trailer Park

A preview of coming attractions: the unspeakably cool “Trailer Park”, which I believe was intended for a South Park soundtrack, sounds more like a Gorillaz song than any other by the band (with the possible exception of “So You”), while it has one foot in “I’m Just A Killer For Your Love”. It’s also the only song on 13 not to be produced by William Orbit.

Within the context of the album it’s tempting to see “Trailer Park” as another break-up song, with lines about Damon losing his girl “to the Rolling Stones”, but as sweet as the image of Justine waking up in bed with Mick, Keith and the ones whose names I can never remember is, the overall looseness of the song and the rest of the lyrics suggests Damon was pretty much singing a load of nonsense. “Freestyle 45”, for sure, country boy. He didn’t even bother to come up with words for the chorus!

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Tender

Described as their most graceful single since “To The End” by several magazines just before its release, “Tender” looked like a surefire number 1 hit. A passionate song about all aspects of love, from the beauty of love via loving too much to love hurting, it’s all in there along with beautiful vocals by the London Community Gospel Choir to back up both Damon (who had grown immensely as a singer) and Graham who collaborated on writing the song. And then some Lolita from Louisiana dropped her single “Baby One More Time” on an unsuspecting world and kept “Tender” from joining the chart topper camp with “Country House” and “Beetlebum”.

I never really liked the Cornelius remix of this song, it doesn’t hang together too well, but it has one great reason for existing; in stripping back many elements from the original mix to let the song breathe it allows Damon’s harmonising with himself to jump into the spotlights. Simon & Garfunkel who? It makes you wonder why they buried those on the album/single version. The remix is a bonus track with 13‘s third single “No Distance Left To Run”.

Officially released live versions can be found on the 2 CD version of The Best Of, and the DVDs The Best Of (the video version, which has a wonderful moment where Damon nearly makes Graham crack up in laughter by coming close to spontaneously combusting from singing “oh my baby”) and No Distance Left To Run (The Making Of).

On the 2003 tour in support of Think Tank this appears to have been the most difficult song to play without Graham. Introducing it at that year’s Reading Festival, Damon told the audience that, “Graham wrote this song as well. You know the bits he sings and I want you to sing them as loudly as you possibly can. Everyone needs to sing this song.”

Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

1992

I have a confession to make: the first time I listened to 13 I was horrified. This was not the band I’d known and loved ever since seeing them perform “For Tomorrow” on MTV in 1993. I even went so far as to give my copy, the not so limited edition in the white box, away to my sister who was also a Blur fan, and short on cash. I didn’t need it.

Soon after something began to gnaw at me. What was that song that sounded a bit like “Sing”? Not wanting to ask my sister if I could please have my CD back I rushed to a second hand store and got myself a new copy. In a jewel case, because limited edition Blur CD’s kind of suck (ask anyone that has Think Tank with the red booklet; they may as well have produced it with factorymade scratches). I rushed home, put headphones on and skipped to song 5.

“People asked us what it was like being in Blur last year… 1992”, Damon says at one point in the fabulous tourfilm Starshaped, before dropping a deafening silence. “As you can see, nobody has anything to say about it”. It certainly wasn’t an easy time for them. Their best single to date flopped, they recorded a great album only for the record company to tell them to go back into the studio, and to make matters worse a new band was getting all the publicity. The band of Damon’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. One song that was written during this rotten year was “1992”, but it remained unreleased until 1999.

13 is often said to be about Damon and Justine Frischmann splitting up (though bassist Alex has since stated that the others’ relationships were also going to the dogs), and this song to me always seems like a sort of “No Distance Left To Run Begins”; here there’s no closure, maybe not even actual sadness, but, to quote one Bob Dylan, someone going out of his mind with a pain that stops and starts. Repeated through the song is the line, “you loved my bed, you took the other instead”, instantly sparking rumours that Justine had gotten back with Suede’s Brett Anderson. It’s over, but he doesn’t know yet that he doesn’t want to see her.

The music reflects the nightmare in the lyrics. As noted above, there are quite a few similarities with “Sing”; monotonous piano, bass notes shot from all over the neck and a simple and steady drumbeat. It’s the guitar that gets to star in the song’s most awe-inspiring moment though; feedback builds and builds, and there’s no doubt something is about to happen. It builds some more, disappears completely for a moment, and then comes jumping out of the darkness, screeching like the devil has actually taken possession of its soul… and then it falls and collapses into a thousand little pieces, sparkling beautifully but leaving a mess all the same. But what a gorgeous mess it is!

Published in: on June 2, 2007 at 7:16 pm  Comments (3)