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)  

Villa Rosie

The only Blursong that has the honour of being included in Wikipedia’s now removed “list of songs about masturbation” (prudes!). Now, not being a native speaker of English there may be some cunning reference in the lyrics, but frankly, I can’t see where the noble art of pleasing oneself comes up. The titular villa sounds more like a brothel to me, while the band, who recorded the song in October ’92, say it’s about a fabulous drinking place. The line “wearing boots can prevent the leaches in the long grass”, in the meantime, is seen by some as a reference to crabs, but that would be very poor sex education for the masses indeed.

The song is tucked away halfway through the album’s second half, and is often overlooked. It’s a very infectious little number though, with glorious “woo-hoo-hoo’s” (a miracle it hasn’t become known as “The Woohoohoo Song” in these filesharing days), and a very busy arrangement: at any given moment ten different things are happening.

Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 11:07 am  Comments (1)  

Chemical World

Right at the heart of Modern Life Is Rubbish, “Chemical World” offers as perfect a summary of modern citylife, illustrated by an intriguing set of characters that each deserve an entire song devoted to them. There’s a girl who works at a checkout counter that tries to escape from her exhausting routine life, and gets rewarded with eviction from her appartment by an unsympathetic landlord. There’s a voyeur and an exhibitionist, in a scene reminiscent of James Stewart’s character and Miss Torso in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, complementing eachother’s lives. They have probably never exchanged as much as a single word, but they “stick together so they never get lonely”, while in the acoustic version on the Basically Blur promo they “sleep together”.

This gorgeous song, with it’s spiralling guitars, ends on a pessimistic note however; “they’re putting the holes in, until you can see right through”. Who “they” are remains unresolved. Could it me the townies themselves? Their landlords (in the broadest sense of the word, including local and national gouvernment and employees)? All the same, it’s a grim prediction of these people’s futures, and one that’s still as valid today as it was in 1993. In fact, one could argue we are more transparent and own less of ourselves than ever the farther we move from the year 1984.

“Chemical World” became the second single to be released from Modern Life Is Rubbish, and managed to reach a miserable number 28. It cannot have been for want of a good video, because the promo picturing the band hanging around in forests and fields and frolicking with birds and bunnies is one of the more lovely they have made. It’s as if someone said, “we got to go to the colourful country for this one, because if we make a black and white one in London like last time around everyone who sees it will want to hang themselves”.

The studio version was probably too good for the Americans, so they released a demo on their Modern Life Is Rubbish. Another (at least, I think it’s a different one, but it’s been a very long time since I heard the one the USA got) demo was a bonus track on the single. A wonderful live version is on the Japanese “It Could Be You” single.

Published in: on July 3, 2007 at 9:54 am  Comments (3)  

Turn It Up

The chances that this Modern Life Is Rubbish track ever shows up on a Blur setlist again are about as slim as Damon joining Noel Gallagher and Sting to cover a My Chemical Romance song for a pro-war-in-Iraq tribute album, since pretty much everyone in Blur thinks it’s a bit crap, and many fans agree. Well, nonsense! Granted, its lyrics are nothing worth analysing (but when was that ever held against “Song 2” for example?), and it doesn’t fit well with most of the rest of the album (but aren’t incoherent albums something of a trademark for this group?), but it’s fun and melodic and seems to have three choruses, no verses and one middle 8. Perfect single material in other words, and someone at Food (Dave Balfe?) must have thought so too, since alternative artwork suggests that this was considered as a double a-side with “Popscene” at one point.

Published in: on June 14, 2007 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Colin Zeal

Thanks to Starshaped it’s become impossible to hear the opening of this song about the “nasty little Colin Zeal” without images of a hungover and sweaty Damon, tie undone, nearly throwing up over his shoes. We can almost make out what he ate that day, and we won’t have to guess which liquids were consumed.

Of all their character songs, and there are many, this is one of the more mean-spirited ones. Not only is there straight name-calling (Colin Zeal is “ill” and “a modern retard”), but his trait of feeling pleased with himself when on time (his world is built round punctuality) is ridiculed with a contempt only a few, if any, of their other protagonists have had to deal with. He’s made to sound like a complete pain in the arse, really.

The music itself is odd. There’s a ska-like quality to the guitars during the verses (complemented by somewhat dubby Dave drumming), though they’re covered under a layer of melodically woven patterns anytime Damon isn’t taking the mic. For the chorus some power chords are whipped out. In fact, for all their talk about wanting to kill grunge with Modern Life Is Rubbish, there’s something distinctly quiet-loud-quiet about the song structure here, almost like Pixies (fronted by someone who can actually sing) attempting to write “A Well Respected Man” after listening to Sandinista! in its entirety. Twice.

Published in: on June 3, 2007 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment