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.

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

Caravan

Listening to this, one of Think Tank highlights, always transports me right back to the boiling summer of 2003; I’d take the tram to work and had “Caravan” on high rotation on my discman. It made every mix CD I made at the time. Even surrounded by many of my favourite songs at the time its unreal beauty just stood out.

The music is pretty minimal. There’s some percussion, some guitar and a little bass lying as a not so firm fundament over which Damon sings a distorted vocal and weaves beautiful melodic parts. There’s a return of the la-la-la’s as well, although this time they sound more melancholy than hopeful (“For Tomorrow”) or a bit fucking arrogant (“Magic America”).

The titular caravan is, I think, a metaphor for love, or positive vibes (well, Damon’s a bit of a hippy, isn’t he?). During the first verse the feeling’s lost, and the narrator feels alone, but he knows that positive spirits will come back and when they do, he’ll know it immediately.

PS. Is that a deliberate homage to Sinatra’s “That’s Life” (to put it politely)?

Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Sweet Song

For a band that have been dubbed “The Streets with guitars” by those that care less, Blur have an awful lot of truly heartbreaking songs. The one that gets me choked up without fail is “Sweet Song”, a song whose lyrics are easily interpreted as an au revoir aimed at Graham Coxon (“someone here’s really not happy”, “it seems I never got through to you”, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, it takes time to see what you’ve done”). There’s also an unassuming line in the song’s second verse that, at least in my eyes, manages to sum up the so-called Life-trilogy it’s not even a part of: “people get so lonely”. It’s a truly magnificent moment.

Sadly, this quiet ballad with an effortlessly beautifully sad melody suffers from some digital clipping, the biggest evil of a lot of modern records (for a truly insulting example of this, check out Depeche Mode’s otherwise excellent Playing The Angel). A lesser work would never be listened to again. Hopefully one day, when the war is over, all great albums from this decade will be remastered to sound quieter.

A bare demo was included on a CD given away with The Observer, and matches the Think Tank version in sheer beauty, despite what sounds like some improvised and mumbled lyrics. More disturbingly, a version with a rap by Dave may or may not exist.

Published in: on July 13, 2007 at 10:15 am  Comments (3)  

Me, White Noise

“I’d really like to use him (Phil Daniels) again, because he’s one of these people that… he’s just great company, but I don’t think it’ll work again” – Damon Albarn (1995) 

Two different versions of this song exist (not counting the live performance that was given away on a CD with The Observer newspaper), one with vocals by Damon and one with Phil Daniels, of “Parklife” fame. And he was in some film too, I believe. And on EastEnders.

The Phil Daniels version appears as a hidden track on Think Tank. You have to rewind at the start of “Ambulance” to hear it. Recorded late at night in Devon by a drunk band and actor, Phil sounds slightly psychotic, shouting lines such as “You look at the wall, what does the wall say to you? I ain’t a mirror, fuck off!”, backed by an aggressive track that sounds unlike anything else in the entire Blur catalogue.

Damon’s “alternate version” is a b-side on the single for “Good Song”, has completely different lyrics, and its key line is “being English isn’t about hate, it’s about disgust, we’re all disgusting”. Someone was a bit grumpy when he did his vocal!

The music aside, the only constant factor between the two versions is the chorus, “why am I here? I’m here because I got no fucking choice. And furthermore, you’re booOOORINGGG” (cue very scary vocal effect). Pissed off to be in England instead of Morocco perhaps? Nonetheless, one of the very best songs on Think Tank.

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 10:52 am  Comments (1)  

Crazy Beat

Like pretty much all bands with big catalogues, Blur have released a fair few weaker songs, but there are only two that I actually hate. One of them was only a b-side and is easy to overlook (at least until I decide to write about it). The other one was not only an album track nestled in between two of that album’s highlights, but unforgivably deemed good enough to follow the unquestionably excellent previous singles up the charts.

Maybe it’s because of having a universally acclaimed guest vocalist that the band or record company thought this Think Tank‘s answer to “Song 2”, but fact is that not even Donald Duck could save this Norman Cook produced monstrosity. It did manage to get to number 18 on the UK charts, the worst that any Blur single had done since “End Of A Century” at that point, and I suspect that it would’ve sold even less hadn’t one of the b-sides been one of the last songs the band had written and recorded with Graham Coxon, who famously left the band during the sessions for the album.

Donald Duck went on to collaborate with Scott Walker on “The Escape” to much greater effect, but has, for now, put his singing career on hold.

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 9:06 am  Comments (7)