Country House

Back when I was still young and didn’t have a job I had to save up my pocket money to buy music. Three weeks saving would get me one album. One week’s allowance bought a single. I had just taken up the hobby of smoking cigarettes in abandoned buildings however, so not a lot of new records made my bedroom (this was the time when for the prize of one CD Single you could buy 3 cartons of Camel Lights… how times have changed). When “Country House” and “Roll With It” were released this caused some trouble. Which one should I buy first?

As I lived in Holland it wasn’t a case of supporting one band so they could get to Number 1 in the charts next week. Neither band would even dent the Top 40. I liked Blur better, but it wasn’t that easy. My sister’s two favourite bands were Take That and Blur. Buying “Roll With It” would annoy her no end. For any 16 year old boy enough reason to go up the hill backwards, so to speak.

Well, everybody knows that Blur’s single went to the top of the charts in their homecountry, and that Oasis had to take the silver medal. Then some other stuff happened, I’ll spare my dear reader the usual cliché’s, and these days Damon is an absolute genius, Graham a veritable solo artist, Alex an interesting and ever funny jack of all trades, Dave, ermmm, a very good Dave, and Oasis release the same record with some slight variations ad infinitum, while giving enough priceless interviews to justify their being around. Which makes the 14 August battle all the more silly.

But Christ, what glorious silliness! People taking sides, newsreports, the video’s on MTV every hour, a thousand other bands riding the waves made by the giants… a genuinely great time for music (and clothes!).

Hindsight has it that neither “Roll With It” nor “Country House” were much cop. Bollocks. The former has grown tired indeed, but Blur’s song is still an excellent popsong. It’s got everything, from pleasant verses to an excellent singalong chorus, a sad undercurrent that bursts into the foreground long enough to give the song genuine emotional weight, and a lyrical nod to “Morning Glory” that may or may not be a dig at Oasis (or Jamiroquai). Yes, it even has mystery.

Unfortunately, all members of the band with the exception of Alex seem to have disowned the song and its accompanying video, and its value has been in decline ever since. We, the people, in the spirit of Max Brod owe it to our children to preserve this monumental creation, and protect it from its creators.

Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 8:28 am  Leave a Comment  

Yuko & Hiro

Closing The Great Escape (unless you count what sounds like a short reprise of “Ernold Same”) is this strange and sad song that on the surface appears to be sung from the perspective of a Japanese worker (hence the working title “Japanese Workers”) that has to work rediculously long hours and doesn’t have much time to spend with his loved ones, but in reality it’s presumably a thinly-disguised lament about Damon and Justine Frischmann not getting an awful lot of time together due to band obligations: “I never see you, we’re never together, I love you forever”. 

Their unidentified employing company, in the meantime, will protect them if they work hard, but from what do they get protection? Financial downfall? Evil britpop fans? Oasis? Not from loneliness and alcohol abuse, that much is certain from the lyrics.

Damon had wanted “proper Japanese singing, not some Japanese rock chick”, and doubting producer Stephen Street could get the right vocal threatened to buy a CD with the type of singing he wanted to use that instead. Street delivered though, and what we hear are some of the first verse’s lines translated (somewhat roughly) into Japanese.

A sweet live version can be found on Live At The Budokan.

Ben Folds, in the meantime, appears to have been fascinated by “Yuko & Hiro”. On his Songs For Goldfish album we find a “Hiro’s Song” in which Hiro is a 51 year old that leaves his family for his 22 year old secretary… named Yuko. Of course the age gap (and the fact Yuko was a highschool friend of Hiro’s daughter’s) gets between them and Yuko leaves Hiro again for a “drum programmer”.

Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Charmless Man

“Charmless Man” doesn’t have an awful lot going for it. As far as character songs goes, this is one of the band’s more one-dimensional ones. While some other songs on The Great Escape make up for that lyrical flaw by featuring innovative arrangements and a million brilliant things happening slightly off the radar, musically it’s not that interesting either. And Damon has never been quite that punchable in his sneer before or since. It’s even hard to care about who the charmless man actually is; Morrissey? Probably not. Brett Anderson maybe? Justine Frischmann’s brother? Whatever. He sounds like a right bore.

The video on the other hand is the source of some good fun; if you think Graham looked miserable in “Country House” you should see him here. Not even Damon being molested by the charmless man can bring a smile on his face. Towards the end the band get run over, unfortunately only to reappear alive and well and grinning stupidly at the end. Good lord.

If you need evidence why it was a good thing Blur made a clean break with the next record, “Charmless Man” offers a glimpse of what would’ve happened if the band had all the sense of adventure of a Gallagher.

It still made number 5 in the UK charts though when released as a single in May 1996.

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

It Could Be You

Opening with a reference to a controversial 1995 incident when a collection of Winston Churchill writings called The Chartwell Public were bought with 12.5 million GBP of National Lottery money, “It Could Be You” observes people’s obsession with getting rich quick, set to what sounds like an bonedry XTC song. Funnily enough, it started as a piano-led ode to The Kinks’ Ray Davies called, interestingly, “Dear Ray”.

There are nods to television programmes Telly Addicts and The Likely Lads (or possibly, the later sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads… ), and an early draft of the lyrics apparently also referred to The Beatles, maybe next to the lines about having “to have the best tunes, or that’s it, you’ve blown it” as another dig at Oasis. Or maybe not.

In Japan “It Could Be You” was released as a single in a horrible, spelling-out-the-lottery-theme sleeve, coupled with live versions of the a-side, “Charmless Man” and a glorious take on “Chemical World”, all recorded at the Budokan on the same night as the songs from Live at the Budokan, but for reasons unknown to me they weren’t included on said live album, while “She’s So high”, recorded a day later, was.

Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Mr. Robinson’s Quango

After the huge success of Parklife, “Mr. Robinson’s Quango” offered the first taster of where the band were heading when it was performed at the Alexandra Palace towards the end of 1994. This performance appeared on the videotape Showtime (where’s the bleedin’ DVD already?!) some six months before The Great Escape.

When it did arrive in all its glory on said album, it did so with a rather dubious placement of the apostrophe; Mr. Robinson was called Mr. Robinsons all of a sudden. Whether this was done intentionally or not I’m not aware of, but a look at the lyric sheet suggests it a mistake. In any case, on later releases Live At The Budokan and the single for “The Universal” the punctuation mark moved to the left again, the opposite of Mr. Robinson’s political preference.

We know a lot about Mr. Robinson. In fact, like a proper tabloid journalist Damon seems intent on revealing as many details of the man’s private life as he can. So much for discretion. During the course of the song we find out that he’s got a hairpiece and health problems (one of ’em is semi-cleverly rhymed with his choice of baldness concealer), likes to sexually harrass his secretary and is a confirmed transvestite (unlike Tracy Jacks who’s just rumoured to be one) with a penchant for damaging state property.

A Quango, by the way, is a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Gouvernmental Organisation. In this particular one members are doing tango’s. While this may just be a case of “well, it rhymes and sounds nice” it also echoes Morrissey’s “National Front Disco”; the dance, the uniform and methods are different, but there are more than a few similarities.

The song itself is a stomper, and as good a summary of Blur’s music at the time as can be found; inventive guitar by Graham, keyboards subtly and unsubtly adding colour, a brass section, a little waltz, and little things that keep popping up on repeated listens.

Published in: on June 1, 2007 at 9:30 am  Comments (2)