Lot 105

Lovingly described by Graham as comparable to “Barbara Windsor coming around to take you up the arse”, “Lot 105” was considered better suited to close Parklife than the gorgeous but heavy “This Is A Low”. Most people I know would probably rather spend time sick in bed, crying for England and listening to the shipping forecasts than being on the receiving end of Peggy Mitchell’s sexual fury, but Blur were always different. The title refers to the song’s organ’s lot at an auction. Quite what happens “eighteen times a week” remains unclear, but you can be assured it, as all things Blur-related, occurs at a lower frequency these days. If at all.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 11:30 am  Comments (1)  

Trouble In The Message Centre

When in 2007 some mysterious fellow named demodude leaked some 1993 Parklife demo’s onto the net, Blurfans were understandably excited. It had been a very long time since we had heard anything new. What the demo’s proved was that at the time the band knew exactly what they were doing. The released versions didn’t differ too much from the infant installments, and when they did they benefitted from the additional work, with the possible exception of Alex’s “Far Out”.

The biggest improvement was made on “Trouble In The Message Centre”, or “Trouble” as the working title appears to have been (at least, that’s how the track was tagged, and as there is no mention of centres, message or otherwise, in the original lyrics I’m assuming this to be a case of correct tagging). Most of the published version was already in place, but without the synths toying with the main melody and awkward lyrics about someone with no personality, the demo misses anything resembling a drive to grab a listener’s attention.

New lyrics were written around the 1993 holiday season, if Parklife‘s booklet, where the words written on a hotel bill were reprinted (as was Kevin Godley’s phone number… he was in the running to produce the video for “Girls & Boys”, and had to change his number shortly after the release of Parklife). The lyrics are said to have been inspired by the keys on the hotel telephone, while the line about just striking it “softly away from the body” came from a book of matches next to the phone. The former is presumably true, but I doubt the latter statement due to the fact that said line was present in the demo version too, albeit far less effectively so.

However, as is often the case in Blur’s discography, it’s wordless vocals that make the song immediately catchy. Simple it may seem, but it’s harder to come up with an original and catchy la-la-sequence than the stream-of-consciousness rubbish or 6th form poetry that are too often confused with depth and poetry.

Strangely enough producer Stephen Street didn’t like this song. Maybe producing The Cranberries had affected his judgement a little. Just listening to their music for 2 minutes is like having a flock of dementors flying over at close range. One can onl imagine the horror of being holed up with them at Azkaban studio’s in Limerick for a few months

Published in: on May 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  

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)  

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  

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  

End Of A Century

When my parents took my two sisters and me on holiday to Luxembourg in 1994, Parklife was the soundtrack to our ploughing through the country’s lovely landscape. I tried, for variation, to slip in some cassette’s with self-made Death Metal compilations, but my mum would protest as soon as the mighty Chuck Schuldiner and his ape(r)s opened their mouths.

While transferring Parklife to tape someone (mum with vacuum cleaner?) had knocked against the CD player, and towards the end of “End Of A Century” the music skipped back some ten seconds, causing the final words out of Damon’s mouth to be sung twice. However, it skipped so perfectly that everyone in the car that didn’t already know the song thought that was the way it was supposed to go, and only later when they heard the album as intended did they get to hear the real version. My dad still prefers “the Luxembourg version”, as it’s become known in my family.

Of all Blur’s opening lines, “she says there’s ants in the carpet” is my favourite. It sets the scene for what is to follow, a song of comfort. Or too much comfort, depending on the listener’s own opinion of a life spent with television and going to bed on time. The protagonists of the song certainly sound not only safe and secure, but dulled.

The music is nothing short of perfect, equal measures Kinks and Beatles shaken, stirred and poured into a Blurglass. Ice is provided by Graham; Confronted with Damon’s statement that the final song isn’t notably different from his original demo, the guitarist replied, “if he wants to think that, I’ll let him”.

The single didn’t do too well when released in November 1994, presumably because it was the fourth single from an album that everyone that would buy a Blur record by then had already owned for the better part of the year, and the b-sides weren’t much to phone home about.

Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Clover Over Dover

Nearly everyone that’s been in transit long enough to become so bored that not even the changing landscape can please the eye anymore will be familiar with singing about 99 bottles of beer on the wall getting passed around until someone has to go to the store to buy some more because there are no bottles of beer on the wall no more. Less well known is “Roll Me Over In The Clover”, which contains such verses as:

Well, this is number one, and the fun has just begun
Roll me over, lay me down and do it again
Roll me over in the clover, roll me over, lay me down, and do it again.

Numbers two, three, four follow, as the horny singer tries to get it on and scores with some dirty girl over and over again, until she’s had enough:

Well, this is number twelve, and she said “You can fuck yourself”
Roll me over, lay me down, and do it again.
Roll me over in the clover, roll me over, lay me down, and do it again.

Compare these lines with the second verse of “Clover Over Dover”, the beautiful harpsichord-led song (that apparently started life as a ska song!) nestled halfway through the second half of Parklife:

I’d like to roll in the clover, with you over and over
On the white cliffs of Dover and then I’d let you push me over.

Had Damon (and the boys) been singing dirty songs again on tour? Maybe not, but the lyrical similarities certainly are too obvious to ignore. The action’s been moved to Dover, and the singer is uncharacteristically (at the time) hard on himself, suicidal even, culminating in what is possibly the saddest line in the entire Blur catalogue when he requests that, “when you push me over, don’t bury me, I’m not worth anything”.

Apart from the harpsichord and the naked lyrics that easily transcend the overly obvious rhymes, there are two further touches that make this my favourite song on Parklife. Graham’s arpeggios offer beautiful melodies and counter-melodies, and the backing vocals during the last verse, although difficult to decipher, add some drops of rain to the lonely cloud hanging over the entire song.

Published in: on June 4, 2007 at 9:18 am  Comments (2)